Throwing Characters Into a Plot
There are endless varieties of plot types. For example, when multiple characters react to an everyday event. Spy novels have complex plots with many interactions. Mystery novels feed the reader scraps and challenge them to uncover hidden motivations. The classic plot uses three acts to form a complete story.
Of course, I take a unique approach. I start with basic characters, get the readers comfortable with their backgrounds, and then throw them into an unpleasant situation. They react, struggle, and pick up the pieces. Some things happen, and I throw them into another bad situation, followed by another. By the end of the book, they are beaten up and confused. Only then can readers enjoy a nice epilogue.
A few writers appreciate this kind of story. Die Hard with Bruce Willis follows a police officer with issues to an office party. Then he gets hit with all kinds of chaos. Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox has a kid with a crazy friend having a tough time getting his band a gig. Then he is transported back in time.
As a reader, I enjoy these kinds of plots because I can imagine myself taking part in the action. I find it difficult to relate to an outlandish character like James Bond, who glides around danger without consequences. It is perfectly natural for James to parachute out of an airplane onto a speeding train and then have a cup of tea. In actual life, such a feat would require an infinite amount of confidence, skill, luck, training, and support. Even a well-trained special forces soldier would have difficulty performing such a feat. They defiantly would not calmly drink a cup of tea afterward. I cannot imagine any of my readers or myself possessing such an extreme skillset, which makes the story difficult to relate to.
I can imagine being in a plane that is about to crash, having no choice but to save my life by parachuting out and finding that the only place to land is a speeding train. These dire circumstances would force me to react. Is this realistic? No, but it is remotely possible. Bad guys have forced people onto unsafe planes, forced to jump out of airplanes, and trains move all day long. Therefore, I can imagine a character thrust into a horrific situation and surviving.
A person can go from a known place to an unknown place. Right now, I am at my comfortable desk, and by the end of the day, I could be forced to parachute onto a speeding train. (I probably would die in the process.) My point is that I would never plan for such an event and would only attempt such an action to save my life.
When developing a plot, it is impossible to go from unknown to unknown. For example, Darth Vader waking up on the death star. I am never going to be in a different galaxy, a supervillain, or wake up on the death star. I dislike plots that go from unknown to known. For example, if I woke up on an alien planet and tried to get back to earth. I guess this is remotely possible, but unrealistic and more to the point; it is difficult for readers to follow this path.
For 99% of us, our daily lives are boring. The 1% exception is people with action careers such as firefighters, emergency room doctors, soldiers, or police. There are thrill-seekers and people who demand drama. I still consider those to occupy 1%. However, our lives do contain worthy events like car crashes, family members passing away, fires, or terrible arguments. Also, random awful things can happen, such as a kidnapping.
Let’s examine a typical major event. On the drive to work, Tim’s tire blows out, and he hits a tree. Let’s build on that idea. An angry driver cuts Tim off, and he swerves into a school bus causing it to catch fine. Let’s create some more. One of the dead students has a mob boss, father, and he wants justice. Is that combination of unlikely events possible? It is a remote possibility. However, the story would certainly be dramatic and a good read.
During my plot creation phase, I push the plausibility levels to the extreme. My readers encountered a 500-year-old woman, characters on a distant planet, and a colossal spy operation. Do 500-year-old women exist? Biology says no. But how do we lead readers to such a being? I take an average person, throw them into a bad situation, and eventually, they encounter the impossible.
I imagine most authors would scoff at my approach and blatantly jump into a plot. Poof, 500-year-old woman walks into the room. Next scene. This reality disconnect makes characters like Darth Vader and James Bond possible. While I enjoy these fantasy story arcs, I have no desire to write one. I need to stand on a healthy foundation of familiar situations that allow me to leap into the unknown.
You’re the best -Bill
August 12, 2020
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