In talking about plot in part one and two, we mentioned the need to face and overcome obstacles to build reader interest, and need for these obstacles to be logical. Now we are ready to actually get into it, climbing Plot-line Mountain. This is the subject of BookMarc #11
Plot - Part 3 of 4 parts
Objective: climbing Plot-line Mountain.
Starting point: the base of the mountain.
For our example, let’s not start with a preconceived need, someone planning to make the climb to meet a friend, but rather create an event that requires the climb, just to show another way of doing it. This, BTW, is how I like to handle thrillers, take an ordinary person and put them in an extraordinary situation and see how he plays the hand.
Remember, we said hopping into a Humvee and plowing straight uphill to the top is bo-oringgg.
Our hero, Oself, Our Other Self, is out for a Sunday drive in the wilderness. He crosses a bridge on his planed drive around Plot-line mountain, but jams on the brakes as the road is blocked by logs. Then an explosion blows away the bridge behind. And bullets start zinging off the Humvee’s downhill fenders. See folks, a casual afternoon has turned into what’s called, in Cliché City, a situation. Oself has a sudden need to get the heck out of there by the only way open to him, over the mountain, and maybe a restroom as well.
Oself slams the Humvee into gear, yanks the wheel and mashes the pedal, spraying gravel as he bounds over rocks and humps and bumps, hell-bent on a yo-yo for the summit. A few hundred feet up, out of rifle range, he finds an old logging road and eases along it with birds singing in filigree sunlight. All is right with the world. Oh yawn.
Oself barrels around a curve and over a crest hiding a deep wash, and the Humvee soars like a lead eagle. It mashes nose-down into the gulch, and Oself, neglecting to wear a seatbelt, no doubt earning him a traffic citation, crashes against the windshield. The birds now sing inside his head, and the Humvee rolls downhill. Backwards. Toward a sheer drop-off. And the brakes don’t work. And the door won’t open. On either side. Oself hops in the back and by punching and kicking and cursing and--when all else fails--praying, breaks open the tailgate. He dives out pancake-flat into a bed of thorns. The Humvee scrunches over him and plunges off the cliff. Oself waits, waits, and waits. A crunch of metal meeting stone, followed by an explosion, disturbs the idyllic day. A black cloud rides on an updraft to waft away in a gentle breeze. Ssssson-ofagun.
Our hero climbs back up to the logging road on the other side of the gulch. Now the grade is easy again. A lazy zephyr drys the sweat on his brow, a chipmunk complains at his passage, and the scent of pine needles fills his nostrils. The sun is warm on his back. The reader’s eyes start to glaze.
When Oself checks out the view from a rock overlook, tiny puffs blossom at his feet, sprouting sprays of stone shards. Say what? A rifle crack echos in the mountain air. And again. Holy excrement--or whatever--someone is shooting at him. Oself dives for cover and lands in a rocky wash, bashing his knee. Oh darn. And breaking his elbow. Oh pshaw. And loose stones send him sliding down an escalator to hell. Egad gazooks.
Weeeell, you get the picture. All of this up and down is to get our readers to buy deeper and deeper into Oself's future, to grit their teeth in determination to hang with him till journey's end. Compare this to a Humvee driving up to the top in third gear.
Also notice that these setbacks are not equal in intensity. Or shouldn't be. At the outset there's a blast of guns and he quickly and easily gets out of danger. When he plows into the gulch and starts rolling for the drop off into oblivion, things become rather more stimulating. But once he is out of vehicle, the climb up the gulch to the trail is mainly one of exertion rather than danger. And finally when he is on the overlook and someone starts shooting at him, he easily dives out of the way, but the significance is that whoever shot at him at the bottom, is still around ready to take him out. Then landing on the loose stones and slipping down the hill presents another level of anxiety, Oself against the mountain.
If the intensity of our obstacles is always the same, it becomes obvious and therefore intrusive, and anything intrusive yanks us out of the story. So we need to plan our obstacles so they vary in intensity.
One other thing we need to notice. Occasionally things happen in our hero's favor. Riding along on the easy road, and then walking on it after wrecking the Humvee. We could have had one thing happen after another, the ride up toward the trail and falling into the gulch and climbing up to an outcropping and getting shot at. I have read books like that, piling one obstacle relentlessly upon another, but IMHO this will eventually bring about reader fatigue. It gets to be so much that it doesn't jive with what we would expect from real world events. Remember what we just said about a device becoming obvious. So we want to bring some relief into it and have things sometimes go easy for our hero, or at lest appear so.
The mountain line is a metaphor for all plots. It is not the story, but an example of how to build our plot line before or as we write our story. As we mentioned earlier, Oself must continually face downturns and overcome them, growing stronger each time, mentally if not physically, till at last he’s ready for the big finale, the mountain-top climax we have targeted from the beginning.
But before that, in BookMarc #12, we have one more thing to do before the denouement, the final outcome. How's this for leaving you in suspense?
And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on: http://www.elderhostelmysteries.com/ERW002
Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: http://www.sidewalkbooks.com and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at: