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Fiction Plotting 3/4
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Fiction Plotting 3/4
BookMarc – Plotting Fiction
In talking about plot in part one and two, we mentioned
the need to face and overcome obstacles to build reader
interest, and need for these obstacles to be logical.
For our example, let’s not start with a preconceived
need–like joining meeting a friend at the top of a
mountain. Rather, instead, in the opening lets create a need
that will require our protagonist, Protag, to climb the
mountain, just to show another way of doing it. This, BTW, is
one way to handle thrillers, take an ordinary person and put
them in an extraordinary situation and see how s/he plays the
hand. So, remembering we said about hopping into a Humvee and
plowing straight to the top is bo-oringgg, lets begin.
Objective: climbing Plot-line Mountain.
Starting point: the base of the mountain.
Our hero, Protag, is out for a Sunday drive in the
wilderness. He crosses a bridge on his planed drive around
Plot-line mountain, but jams on the brakes as the road is
blocked by logs. Then an explosion blows away the bridge
behind. And bullets start zinging off the Humvee’s
downhill fenders. See folks, a casual afternoon has turned
into what’s called, in Cliché City, a situation.
Protag has a sudden need to get the heck out of there by the
only way open to him, over the mountain, and maybe needs a
restroom as well.
Protag slams the Humvee into gear, yanks the wheel and
mashes the pedal, spraying gravel as he bounds over rocks and
humps and bumps, hell-bent on a yo-yo for the summit. A few
hundred feet up, out of rifle range, he finds an old logging
road and eases along it with birds singing in filigree
sunlight. All is right with the world. Oh yawn.
Then Protag barrels around a curve and over a crest hiding
a deep wash, and the Humvee soars like a lead eagle. It
mashes nose-down into the gulch, and Protag, neglecting to
wear a seatbelt, no doubt earning him a traffic citation,
crashes against the windshield. The birds now sing inside his
head, and the Humvee rolls downhill. Backwards. Toward a
sheer drop-off. And the brakes no longer work. Oh, and the
door won’t open. On either side. Protag hops in the
back and by punching and kicking and cursing and--when all
else fails--praying, breaks open the tailgate. He dives out
pancake-flat into a bed of thorns. The Humvee scrunches over
him and plunges off the cliff. And we listen with Protag,
dear writers, and wait, wait, and wait. A crunch of metal
meeting stone, followed by an explosion, disturbs the idyllic
day. A black cloud rides on an updraft to waft away in a
gentle breeze. Ssssson-ofagun. Is this too obvious?
Protag climbs back up to the logging road on the other
side of the gulch. Now the grade is easy again. A lazy
zephyr drys the sweat on his brow, a chipmunk complains at his
passage, and the scent of pine needles fills his nostrils.
The sun is warm on his back. The reader’s eyes start to
When Protag checks out the view from a rock overlook, tiny
puffs blossom at his feet, sprouting sprays of stone shards.
Say what? A rifle crack echos in the mountain air. And
again. Holy excrement--or whatever--someone is shooting at
him. Protag dives for cover and lands in a rocky wash,
bashing his knee. Oh darn. And breaking his elbow. Oh
pshaw. And loose stones send him sliding down an escalator to
hell. Egad gazooks.
Weeeell, you get the picture. All of this up and down is
to get our readers to buy deeper and deeper into Protag's
future, to grit their teeth in determination to hang with him
till journey's end. Compare this to a Humvee driving up
to the top in third gear.
Also notice that these setbacks are not equal in
intensity. Or shouldn't be. At the outset there's
a blast of guns and he quickly and easily gets out of danger.
When he plows into the gulch and starts rolling for the drop
off into oblivion, things become rather more stimulating. But
once he is out of vehicle, the climb up the gulch to the trail
is mainly one of exertion rather than danger. And finally
when he is on the overlook and someone starts shooting at him,
he easily dives out of the way, but the significance is that
whoever shot at him at the bottom, is still around ready to
take him out. Then landing on the loose stones and slipping
down the hill presents another level of anxiety, Protag
against the mountain.
If the intensity of our obstacles is always the same, it
becomes obvious and therefore intrusive, and anything
intrusive yanks us out of the story. So we need to plan our
obstacles so they vary in intensity. It should be pointed out
that I've used a lot of exaggeration–oh
really–just to give the example. For instance, if your
initial incident has too many things piling up again Protag,
it becomes obvious. And I think it's worth repeating,
when any technique becomes obvious it is intrusive, and
intrusive yanks the reader out of the story.
One other thing we need to notice. Occasionally things
happen in our hero's favor. Riding along on the easy
road, and then walking on it after wrecking the Humvee. We
could have had one bad thing happen after another, the ride up
toward the trail and falling into the gulch and climbing up to
an outcropping and getting shot at. I have read books like
this, piling one obstacle relentlessly upon another, but I
believe this brings about reader fatigue. It gets to be so
much that it doesn't jive with what we would expect from
real world events. Remember what we just said about a device
becoming obvious. So we want to bring some relief into it and
have things sometimes go easy for our hero, or at lest appear
The mountain is a metaphor for all plots. It is not the
story, but an example of how to build our plot line before or
as we write our story. As we mentioned earlier, Protag must
continually face downturns and overcome them, growing stronger
each time, mentally if not physically, till at last he’s
ready for the big finale, the mountain-top climax we have
targeted from the beginning.
But before that, in BookMarc #12, we have one more thing
to do before the denouement, the final outcome.
How's this for leaving you in suspense?
Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998. Updated
August 23, 2014
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