Not for Always

For any novel that depends on plot elements to move a story forward, it’s useful to keep in mind that a plot event is not necessarily an advance set in stone. It’s easy to see why an author might make this mistake. Once a plot advance is written, it’s down on paper. Check it off the list of outline notes. Yet what is done can be undone by sleight of hand.

Let’s consider the example of an accountant coming upon odd entries in a company’s records. A scene is written for the first discovery, perhaps another scene for a more extensive search, and something looks very suspicious. At some point the accountant will report the findings to a superior. You have the reader on the hunt. Finally, the crooks will be uncovered. Yet what happens if the superior is the embezzler, and the accountant the next morning is found floating in the river?

The character scored only a temporary win. What does that mean in terms of overall story dynamics? You still derive the benefit from those scenes building up the hunt. Plus, the knowledge is still a suspense element even though the accountant, in this case, is no longer in a position to build it further. That’s because you have imparted evidence to the reader—but not to other characters who are in a position to right the wrong. 

A plot gain can also be reversed. This is true especially when tracking a character’s  emotions. The pathway to blissful sex for the rest of a character’s life is a common aim thwarted in the romance genre. Great sex early on, yes, but then the stud muffin makes a typically stupid male error, the heroine is offended, and the reader is frustrated for another 50 pages. Lest the more literary types scoff, think of a daughter’s yearning to be accepted by her mother. What seems like a victory could be snatched away the very next day—because the problem all along has been that the mother is unstable.

So that plot element is not crossed off the list at all, if you don’t want it to be. Story tension is like musical tension: a crest is succeeded by a trough and a new way to find the next climax. You can design a plot advance so that it becomes a setback when experienced by a minor character, such as the accountant, but becomes a watershed when discovered by your protagonist later on. You can go back to the same well, only the guise—and more important, a reader’s emotional involvement in a character—is different. 

Exercise: Review the manuscript for great ideas that seem, in the long run, to have been cut short. Who is the event assigned to? If you repurposed an event to be private rather than  “a plot event,” could it become a cog in a larger wheel? You can create progression in an idea merely by how it is perceived successively by the protagonist.

“Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity.” —Thor Heyerdahl

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.