National Graphic Novel Writing Month, Day 15: Plotting Your Way Out Of A Paper Bag
Let me give you an example of a bad plot that you’re already familiar with– the story of William Tell.
The legend has it that William Tell was known as an expert shot with the crossbow. In his time, the new ruler of his land raised a pole in the village’s central square, hung his hat on top of
it, demanding that all the townsfolk bow before the hat. When Tell
passed by the hat without bowing to it, he was arrested. As punishment,
he was forced to shoot an apple off the head of his son.
Otherwise, both would be executed. Tell was promised freedom if he
successfully made the shot.
Now, ladies and gentlemen– do you think there’s any doubt that he made the shot? Of course he did.
In history, this is an exciting moment, because you don’t know if a real person could do it. But in fiction? BORING.
Why? Because in fiction, you can have your characters do anything. They can be good enough or lucky enough to make the shot because the author says he’s lucky enough to make the shot. There is no suspense there.
I’ve said before that one of the things that drives me nuts about most fantasy novels, and a problem that I discovered when first writing Star Trek
stories, is that any story that you can technobabble your way into to,
or technobabble your way out of, is inherently boring. It’s make
believe. There’s absolutely no tension, the writer will wave his wand
and make everything come out. There’s nothing to resolve.
By contrast, any story with an choice – what do you do and
why? – has interest. Think about all the stories that haunt you, and
you’ll find that there’s often a choice that’s presented in the story,
and you revisit the story because the dilemma is still not fully
resolved in your own head.
This was brought home for me a few years back watching Star Wars— the real one, thank you– in a theater. The audience applauded and cheered like crazy during the final attack on the Death Star, but they surprised me by applauding the most during what I thought was the pivotal moment.
Quick now– you know the scene. What’s the pivotal moment?
The death of Biggs or Porkins? Spurs him on, sad, but no.
Blowing up the Death Star? Anticlimax. Go back earlier.
The death of Red Leader? Closer. Luke takes over command because there’s nobody else to take over at that point, and he chooses to do so, but that’s not much of a choice when every commander above him has been taken out.
No– the crowd went wild when Luke turned off his targeting computer. He chose to accept the world around him, and to take faith in his own abilities to solve the problem. No crutches, just him.
And then it’s followed up by the second great cheer, when Han Solo chooses to come back and join the fight just in time to save Luke’s hash, when Han chooses to be about something more than money.
Make your characters work for a choice, show how they change to get there– and you have a story worth telling.
So– it’s Day Fifteen. Half way through the month. How are you doing?
Remember: you can follow all the NaGraNoWriMo posts here!