Monday, January 31, 2011

"Building Better Plots", part 3

In chapter one, Robert Kernen discusses narrative and targeting a story’s focus. He says that deciding on your tale’s perspective is not a simple decision. Every story, whether in print or on film (or digital), is told through the filter of its author. Everybody reading my blog could take my story idea, and all of us would tell it differently. The first thing to think about is what to include in your story.

Kernen uses the example of World War II. Just sticking to books, several dozen have been written that, in one way or another, include the war. But they have different perspectives from each other, because there’s no point in using the same details. As I see it, an issue as huge as a world war *has* to focus on one or a few people to give readers something to grasp. My WIP, using the working title “Street Glass”, in a broad sense is about class and race differences in the U.S. If I spread the story from one coast to the other and pull in a representative character from every level of society that impacts the story, readers are going to find it hard to focus on things.

Instead, I’m going to keep my spotlight on two characters, from opposite sides. Readers get a look at Neal’s life in a street gang up close. Things like violence, the loss of one’s individuality, and general hopelessness are the obvious things that he puts a face on. I throw in a love interest because that rounds out his character and provides opportunities for plot twists. Readers are brought face to face with a snarling gangbanger who’s ready to slit somebody’s throat. I aim to show that he treats people the way he gets treated, because that’s what most of us do. How much is he to blame for his actions?

On the other side, musician Sandy has lost a family member to drinking and a good friend to drugs. I take readers through Sandy’s memory of his last encounter with his cousin and show his guilt at his part in her downward spiral. I haven’t decided where to work in the mention of his friend Greg’s drug addiction but I do think it should come out sooner rather than later. These points humanize Sandy, who would otherwise stay part of a rarified group that most readers couldn’t relate to.

Neal’s part Latino and part Anglo or white, though he identifies much more with Latinos. Sandy’s the privileged white guy.

So far, so good. I have a basic idea. I believe alternating between the points of view of both characters will draw readers into the human side of the general conflict, and make it real for them. Now I have to decide what details to include, which to leave out, and in what order to tell things. Ha! Simple, right?

Next post, I muse about leaving in or tossing out information.

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