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Author Topic: Plot -- Part 2  (Read 5753 times)

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Bob Mueller

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Plot -- Part 2
« on: October 17, 2006, 04:55:46 PM »

Date:         Thursday, January 14, 1999 11:53 AM

BookMarc #10
Plot - part 2

We left off in part one talking about difficulties. The more we build the intensity of desire for Oself, our other self, to reach the goal, and the more difficulties in the way, the more the reader is glued to the page.

But the difficulties must be logical. Everything must play as real life. We've all seen television shows where everything that possibly can go wrong, does, even to the point of nonsense. The problem with just making everything go wrong is it becomes an obvious device. Instead of building suspense, it yanks the rug from underneath it. Haven't we all reached a point in some TV shows where we just want to get the dumb thing over with? What happened is they crossed the line into gratuitous obstacles. You've heard of gratuitous sex? Meet gratuitous obstacles. Both rob your story of authenticity.

The same thing could be said if you're vocally telling a story, like a life history. If you keep dragging it out because for once you have the spotlight, you reach a point where your listeners' eyes glaze over and they tune you out. Have you ever listened to a dull sermon in church? While the preacher's talking about God we're thinking about lunch. How about the guy who can't tell a joke? Usually it's because he drags it on so long we've either forgotten the point or no longer care.

In one of my early works I had everything rushing towards a climax when I decided I'd throw in a traffic accident to spice it up. My freelance editor said, "Why do you do this? With real suspense driving the story, why throw in something that doesn't add anything, but only annoys?" It woke me up.

If you've brought your reader into a state of suspense, don't risk it all with a cliche traffic jam. Instead try to ratchet the main theme tighter till it crackles at the breaking point. How do we do this? Limiting time is probably the best way.

If our story covers five years and we're in the second month, we have no sense of urgency to bring a murderer to justice. Ah, but if the statute of limitations is about to run out, we better get on the stick. Our love is on the way to the airport and we'll lose her/him because we haven't asked forgive ness. A bomb is going off in five days and we only know it's somewhere in New York City. Why do you think movies are filled with atomic bombs with digital clocks ticking away the seconds? With each countdown we ratchet up the tension. It has almost gotten to be a cliche, but it still seems to work. For now.

Another way of increasing tension is moving into the unknown. Darkness in a foul smelling dungeon with torches burning out. Or we can increase the danger of the known. Climbing the face of a melting ice-cliff with handholds falling away. Or we can increase the odds. Pacing through a chewing-gum bureaucracy in a desperate attempt to get medical help for a dying love.

Let's take an example from Dean Koontz's "Tick Tock." In a climactic chapter, with a beast advancing across the livingroom to devour the hero, Koontz wants to stretch the moment out for the reader's pleasure. Does he bring in a traffic-jam cliche? Chandelier suddenly falls in the way? Floorboards break without warning? No, Koontz does it naturally and cleverly by simply adding a few paragraphs to describe the beast in detail as it advances, the eyes, the sound it makes, the way it moves and how it smells--sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. One part of the reader's mind is absorbed in the beast's appearance while the other is screaming for the hero to get the heck out of there.

What matters is not how we do it, but the finesse with which it's done. Once the device becomes obvious, it's as effective as a lawyer teaching ethics. A politician lecturing on truth?

All right, the preliminaries out of the way, in the next installment we're ready for Oself to tackle Plot-line Mountain.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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