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Fiction Plotting 2/4
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Fiction Plotting 2/4
BookMarc – Plotting Fiction
In part one of the discussion on plotting, we said the
more obstacles Protag overcomes through tenacity and
ingenuity--traits readers identify with--the more intense will
be their desire to see Protag to succeed. But everything, all
the difficulties and successes, must play as real life.
(Protag short for out protagonist)
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. It's like listening to a dull
sermon, while the preacher's droning on and on while
we're thinking lunch. There is also the danger of reader
fatigue setting in. Occasionally something should break in
the hero's favor.
The other thing about television shows is that even when
they build up a modicum of suspense, they screw it up
cliché obstacle. Have you ever seen a hero rush from one
place to another or head for the airport w/o running into a
traffic jam? You’ve heard of gratuitous sex? Meet
gratuitous obstacles. Both rob our story of authenticity. If
you’ve brought your reader into a state of suspense,
don’t risk it all with a cliché traffic jam.
Instead try to ratchet the main theme tighter till it crackles
at the breaking point.
Let’s take an example from Dean Koontz’s
Ticktock. In the climactic chapter, with a beast advancing
across the livingroom to devour the hero, Koontz wants to
stretch out the moment 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. What's the
result? One part of our mind is absorbed with the
beast's appearance while the other part is screaming for
the hero to get the hell out.
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?
Also, everything must be logical.
When our hero returns to his apartment and hears someone
scurrying about inside, it might be good for our story for him
to climb out a window over the balcony to catch the bad guy,
but why not just call the police? Why would he put himself in
jeopardy? It also might be good for our story if someone
clicks on his revolver's safety, but there ain't no
safeties on revolvers. Story line must always follow real
world logic rather than trying to alter real world logic to
follow story line. Once we lose credibility with our readers,
they may not walk with us again.
Oooo-kay, with the preliminaries out of the way,
we're ready for Protag to tackle Plot-line Mountain which
is the subject of BookMarc #11, part 3/4 of Plot.
For upcoming subjects click on Table of Contents at top of
Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998. Updated
August 16, 2014
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