Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Building Better Plots" by Robert Kernen, part 17

Kernen didn’t say I had to have 6 - 10 major plot points on my first effort at listing them. I have 20. Okay, so I need to cut! Actually, it’s a true miracle that my first pass had *only* 20. After a lot of hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth, here are my 10 points:

1.  Spurred by a beating, and an outside offer of help from Sandy, Neal leaves his street gang.
2.  Neal finds his lovers and his kids, all murdered by the gang.
3.  Sandy admits to feeling responsible for the deaths of his cousin Renee and of his friend Greg.
4.  Neal gives up on drug rehab once, then realizes he has to try harder. Drugs continue to be one part of his past that he can’t seem to leave behind.
5.  Neal agrees to Sandy’s suggestion of starting a non-profit, and being an active and equal partner.
6.  Neal begins a life-changing relationship with Laurie. Her death sparks a serious falling-out with Sandy.
7.  Neal is caught in the Rodney King rioting, and is kidnapped by Tony Esteban, his biological father. While in captivity, Neal meets up with his mother, who abandoned him at age 10.
8.  Sandy struggles with the possibility that he can’t save Neal just as he couldn’t save Renee and Greg years earlier.
9.  Neal reverts to some gang-like behavior when Tony threatens his friends’ lives; Sandy and April fear how deep the reverting has gone.
10. Neal experiences his first tour as a member of the band. When he gets home, he’s frustrated by the lack of rebuilding after the riots and twists the mayor’s arm till he agrees to a tour of hard-hit barrios. (This point will probably change by the time my outline is finished.)

I cheated a bit by having more than one sentence for some points. I’m still not happy with this list, because I really feel I’ve left out big things that move the plot forward. Maybe professional agents and editors would come up with different points for me. At least it’s a starting place. I’m keeping my list of 20 points, because I think the two lists are important lessons in cutting.

And damn it, I feel like I’m giving my plot away here!  :P

Kernen says settings should be chosen with each scene in mind. He uses the example of Hamlet. The prince confronts his mother about her rush to marry Hamlet’s uncle, and he does it in his mother’s chamber—an intimate setting that amplifies Hamlet’s emotions, and is the same room where his mother slept with his father.

In my WIP, Neal and Sandy have their first confrontation—about staying with the gang or leaving—in the gang’s rattletrap hangout. In his comfort zone, Neal seems to hold all the cards in the scene. Sandy got himself lost and doesn’t know what neighborhood he’s in, yet he meets Neal’s belligerence head on. Suddenly Neal feels less sure of things, though he’s still in his own territory.

If that scene happened in Sandy’s neighborhood, the impact would be lessened. Some years later, Neal is kidnapped by his biological father, whom he’s only met recently. He’s hauled across the country in handcuffs and leg chains. He’s worse for wear, having been caught in the Rodney King rioting and been kicked around by cops. That’s all bad enough, because he’s treated like the gangbanger he thought he no longer was.

He’s in his father’s prison (a stinking, windowless room) with his ankles chained together, in pain from beatings. It’s here Neal faces his mother. She tells him he’s better than where he was born, but at that moment, all he knows is that he tried to get away from his past, and it’s swallowing him whole.

This scene would also have less impact on both characters and readers if it happened somewhere else. Plus, even minor scenes benefit from being in the right setting. See Becca’s *awesome* guest post for more on setting.

Next post—a bit of a rant about the sometimes hit-or-miss publishing industry. I learn something from my own rant J

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