My anthology, Written Across the Genres, has two Dock Stories toward the end of the book. The setting is Paris, the dock is below the Pont Neuf, the oldest of the 37 bridges that cross the Seine River. Both versions are collaborative stories. I wrote the first paragraph and each person in my two writing classes added 150 words to the story when it was their turn. Dock Story One had more people that contributed, which made the details of the mystery difficult to coordinate, but it turned out after several months of editing. Dock Story Two had half the entries, about ten, and with the same beginning paragraph, became a totally different plot.
Those stories weren’t outlined. The writers met the challenge of continuing the story so the actions would be logical and the arcs would be clear. We had major problems with the arc in Dock Story One. The first draft, didn’t have an arc, so we had to eliminate everything after the first four entries and start over. Since I am not a writer who uses outlines, I had faith these stories would succeed. My outstanding assistant, Linda, who is a plotter, had doubts but worked hard on managing the details.
Lisa Cron in Wired for Story, Chapter Five, satisfies both plotters and non-plotters in her suggestions to think of outlining, not from beginning to end, but to put into play the Who, Why, Where, How and What Will Happen. That concept works for me, one who shudders at the word outline. In the Dock Stories, I started the Who and Where. The class members had to think in terms of What Will Happen and provided the How and Why.
Check the two versions of the Pont Neuf Dock Stories in Written Across the Genres, and see the differences in What Happened.
The anthology is available on Amazon or can be ordered at most book stores.
In Wired for Story, on page 31, Lisa Cron corrects the myth that the plot is simply what the story is about. She says that the reality is, “A story is about how the plot affects the protagonist.”
She continues on page 39 that “the plot’s goal isn’t simply to find out whether he snags that brass ring or not; rather, it’s to force him to confront the internal issue that’s keeping him from it in the first place.”
I’ve found her book to help in digging deeper for the real story behind the inciting incident and the continuing plot.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s book, MAKE A SCENE, offers many writing tips. I particularly liked her paragraphs about Foreground and Background. She says that like paintings, scenes can have backgrounds, but she meant more than setting. Plant “subtle messages and emotional layers in the background through actions” while the reader’s attention is on what’s happening in the foreground.
Rosenfeld gives the example of a couple making love in the foreground scene while in a room down the hall or upstairs, another couple has a loud argument. That background can foreshadow the loving couple’s future, or the fight downstairs could add humor to the love scene, or the fight could escalate into a gun shot, involving the couple in a mystery.
Caution: the background must have a purpose to push the plot forward or to show character reaction to the subtext action.
“Each scene is a multidimensional creation.” Enrich subtext to deepen and add complications to the story.
In MAKE YOUR WORDS WORK, Gary Provost suggests writers show that the main character has lived a life before the present time. We have to avoid blocks of information by using backstory sprinkles, but how do we show that our characters go to movies, admire a high school teacher, or have friends in Antarctica? Those details aren’t pertinent to the plot, however, they give us a glimpse of a real person instead of an actor we move through internal and external struggles.
I checked to see if I had included a little of Hada’s life as he advises. In one scene, Hada pays for a gift at a jewelry store, which is important to the plot. When she opens her coin purse, she remembers her son had given her that treasure several years ago when she was ill. That short remembrance gives the reader another clue about Hada’s past. It’s a tender moment that’s not important to the plot, but it offers a little more about her life before the present intense tension.
Outside of the jewelry store, she meets her old friend, Geborah, and they have lunch at Macy’s Cafe. With her internalization, the reader finds out that she’s envious of Geborah for having a facelift. She’d like one too, but knows her husband wouldn’t think it necessary. Not an important detail to the plot, but the reader learns more about two friends in their seventies who wish to stay youthful.
Another detail about Hada’s past is that she loves to go to movies, although she doesn’t go to one in the novel, nor does she talk about specific ones she’s seen. Nevertheless, in a couple of chapters, she flashes on someone looking like Clark Gable or Jimmy Stewart and she likes to pretend she walks as if she’s in a movie. Brief, one to two sentences filtered into a scene, not as backstory, but as quick glimpses into her life before the present journey.
The best way you can find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
~ Ernest Hemingway
This quote from Hemingway made me think about the characters in my novel, HADA’S FOG. Hada trusted the wrong person throughout the plot.
Is trust an issue in your WIP?