Wednesday, January 19, 2011

“Building Better Plots” by Robert Kernen - Part 1

Because plotting is the thing I’m having trouble with, I’m going to take my time with this book. I’m going to do the exercises and think about things when the author suggests I pause to do so. You guys get to watch my progress. I’m not the only one with plot issues, so come along. And hey, if anybody gets a plot idea they think may fit in my story, do share. I’m not shy about thanking people where it counts ;)

These are the exercise questions from chapter one.

1. Does my concept create obstacles that effectively challenge the characters? 
     Well, yeah.

2. If so, which specific elements will be the source of that challenge?
     Class conflict—lower vs. upper, minimal education vs. higher education; racial conflicts.

3. Does my concept provide a strong backdrop for exploring the strengths, limitations, and psychology of my characters?
    I believe so.

4. What specific elements does the plot have that provide vivid comparisons and contrasts that will delineate my character in intriguing ways?
     A low-class, minimally educated young Latino man (Neal) befriends a white, upper-class musician (Sandy) and becomes part of his society. They both learn things about certain segments of society that challenge their preconceived ideas about themselves and others. Neal faces the fact that his biological father is the sort of man he hates. Being caught in the L.A. class/race riots of 1992 force him to realize what’s really important to him. Sandy lost a relative to alcohol and a good friend to drugs, and he now sees a chance for redemption in saving Neal.

5. Does my concept provide a strong environment for the messages and themes I want to explore?
     Neal directly confronts personal demons as he tries to fit into a society he previously saw as ignorant and even abusive. These confrontations allow him to learn to trust others, and to find his own strengths. Sandy deals with similar demons from a different angle.

6. What metaphors and motifs grown naturally out of that environment will illuminate those themes and messages?
     Uh, in English please? I show how different elements of American society, as personified by Neal and Sandy, can work together for the betterment of all sides. As Neal lets go of his prejudices and fears, he grows into a self-confident mover and shaker, bridging the gaps of class and race. Sandy discovers that preparing the soil and planting seeds is sometimes as far as one should go; taking charge sometimes means letting go.

Here I’ll stop to let you guys consider how these questions can help in your own work. Next post will finish the questions and spend a few minutes on the issue of tension. I’ve discovered a new meaning for “tension headache”!

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