Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Building Better Plots" by Robert Kernen, part 24

Still grappling with the issue of those two world tours Neal comes along for, and how they should be represented in my manuscript. I’ve been stuck on the questions “What happens to the main characters during those tours? How can events during the tours advance the plot?” Maybe I’ve been stuck inside that “what happens?” box.

In chapter 7 Kernen says that “creating good plots is distilling a character’s life down to just the good stuff.” Recently, I’ve begun thinking that maybe it’s really not so important to show the details of those tours; maybe what I really need to show are the results, the impact on Neal’s character. Maybe some entries from his journal can be blended with interpersonal scenes that could happen anywhere in the world. That would allow me to focus on what happens between characters without having to fret over what goes on behind the scenes on tours.

“…Pull the noteworthy events together to become the major plot points of the story.” Ha! Really? But that’s sort of what I started out doing: only writing pivotal scenes involving the same set of characters. I didn’t think at all about how to bridge the scenes to make a coherent story.

I have a feeling Kernen is not telling me it’s okay to string together (mostly related) scenes and call it a novel. Darn.

Narrowing the scope of a story is one way to distill events. In my case, I’ve finally decided where the story should end, so where should it begin? I don’t think readers will be able to appreciate Neal’s changes unless they see what his life was like before he met Sandy. That’s not a failing on the readers’ part, it’s simple logic. So I can give a definite start point and end point now — yay!

I’m very interested in Kernen’s example of the movie Two for the Road. He says it’s about the disintegrating marriage of a couple, as shown through the prism of their yearly trip to the south of France. Viewers get to watch the couple without the distractions of friends or family, and they get to see how the couple changes over the course of the annual trip.

That’s a brilliant idea, if you want the focus of the story to be on the couple. I’m pretty much focusing on a couple too. Therefore, I should be able to show that while keeping other parts of their lives in the background. Theoretically, anyway!

I’m still needled by the idea that all of Neal’s experiences once he leaves the gang contribute to his development, and therefore need to be shown. But another little voice whispers that I should remember Kernen’s statement that not every idea, not even every good one, needs to be included. I need to keep the spotlight on what’s *important*.

Geez, this is slow. It’s late June and I’m not done with my plot. Well-crafted stories don’t write themselves! A look at any first draft will confirm that.

Next time — write yourself a beanstalk!

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