Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Jaws of the Plot

There are two sessions left in the Writing Romances class I'm teaching at USF. (Go Bulls!) We've covered all of the basics I can think of except for tonight's topic - PLOT.

Time and time again, I've heard talented writers say they could pen a bestseller if they just knew WHAT to write. Yeah, that can be a problem. Because if you don't have a plot, then you just have a bunch of characters wandering around aimlessly. Kind of like junior high school.

Anyway, one of the things I plan to discuss is how things must fit together, must grow from the setup, must make sense. It's like that age-old expression tells us: If there's a cannon on the stage in act one, you damn well better fire it before the final curtain.

Conversely, if you intend all along to fire a cannon at the finale, you need to have a cannon onstage at some point. You can't have your hero in the middle of a horrible fight and have him at the last minute declare, "Oh, look! There's a cannon we can use!"

In JAWS the movie -and I presume also the book - we early on see compressed air canisters on the boat and are warned to be careful. They're explosive! So when we get to the end with Chief Brody fighting for his life on a sinking ship, we all see the tank and the rifle and scream at him. "Shoot the tank! Shoot the tank!" He does. And lives to tell it.

So when we talk about plotting, the question becomes - which came first? Was the tank already there, so Benchley thought of using it, or did he come up with that in the end and go back to put the tank on the boat early on?

The answer is, it doesn't matter. As long as the sequence of events makes sense and keeps the characters true to themselves, go for it either way.

The point being, if you need it, put it onstage early. And if you put it onstage, use it.

Just don't go swimming after dark.

Have a great day

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