Monday, May 14, 2012

Fiction Writing Dos and Don'ts Pt. 1

Inspired Writing
Threads and Plot devices

You’ve done your homework. You’ve worked out the kinks in a life-changing event that will be explained by a pivotal character. 

You’ve spent countless hours developing minor characters with their own problems. You’ve introduced doomsday scenarios to the reader that your hero must stop in order to save the day. 

Good job.

All right, you’ve laid the groundwork. Those threads that weave throughout your novel are finally ready. Now, it’s time to tie it all together.

I have noticed something disturbing in countless and movies. Plot device are introduced to an expectant audience, then nothing whatsoever is done with that thread.
We, however, are going to avoid that, and much more importantly, we are going to explore how threads can be used to good effect.

How is that done? Good question.

Tying together threads is where you get to prove yourself a clever writer. I am not particularly clever, but I do know it is a bad idea to throw a plot device at my readers and expect them to simply catch on without clarification. Your reader isn’t clairvoyant….you can’t really ask them to understand everything that is in your head, even if does seem glaringly obvious to you.

Does your main character have a wand that makes fish crazy? And does it just so happen that crazy fish will save your lovable characters from the evil villain? Wonderful. But you need to show that wand in action well before hand. Not tell…show.

“Tess! My magic wand can make fish go crazy!”
“What a coincidence, George! That’s exactly what we need!”

No…sorry. That really doesn’t cut it - does it?
Also, it’s lazy.
I happen to like threads that make me think - or laugh…when they are well written, of course. A good thread that will get your readers attention is a character weakness, introduced early, that comes into play during the grand finale.

I took this a step further in my latest book. My warrior angels thought that their custom-made armor made them indestructible. After all, they hadn’t even been dinged in the last thousand years by puny demons and their pitiful swords. 
What could possibly hurt them? 

At the battle in the end of the book, though, those angels received a rude awakening when the bad guys got their hands on modern American weapons that could melt through a tank. Surprise, surprise.

It’s always fun to take know-it-alls down a notch or two. That is just a minor example of a thread, however. Plot devices can be anything, big or small. The one thing they must do is move your story forward.

If your device goes nowhere, or remains unused…it was a waste of time for the reader. And that’s frustrating.

First, though, an example:

This is a thread from the opening pages of my book Tip of the Spear - told first person by Sabine Mellde. The plot device in question is simply an object that performs a service called an Actuator. I want to introduce the reader to the fact that they are unsafe and unpredictable.

The Actuator itself is just a thing…but it’s a thing that does something the reader needs to know about.
When the same device comes into play as a turning point much later on, I would like the reader to be aware of the danger, not scratching their head, wondering if they’d taken the wrong bus.

Here we go:

I gave a circling signal with my forefinger. “Open the gate.”
Romeo-Super pulled an Actuator out of his tunic, a small ceramic gyrocompass repeater coupled with an ARC 32 mechanical filter. Our Black Ops had come up with this little beauty back in 1824. Actuators were antiquated and unreliable, but it was all we had. Romeo-Super twisted a large bar knob on the side of the device and set it on the ground.
“Everyone stand back, be ready to defend,” I said.
An Actuator opened a gateway to Hell, to put it bluntly. The device had several rotary dials etched with degrees and a spin crank that, when adjusted correctly, opened a portal to the dark side for a few moments. They were used sparingly because traffic could move both ways, if you caught my drift.
The temperature in the enclosed atrium rose dramatically; and there was a deep red glow as the gate opened with a supernatural hiss. I watched in fascination as an armored truck started to slide sideways with a screech of tires. More tires protested loudly as vehicles slid toward the gateway. Girders bent and metal howled, anything metallic that wasn’t tied down clattered across the floor toward the glowing portal. Guns, spent casings and chunks of twisted steel became lethal as they were sucked into the fiery vortex.

The excerpt below is from the ending of the same book. We’ve already seen that an Actuator is very dangerous. But now (spoiler alert) that device is going to kill a main character.

Time halted and I gazed over at the window, hearing a twist of sound that froze my blood - a shard of steel separated itself from one of the seaside window frames, the twelve-inch sliver broke away and flipped through the air toward the Actuator’s vortex….spinning ever so slowly in the air – but that was just my perception as Sabine Vision recorded everything in excruciating slow-motion.
I knew from past experience that the splinter of sharp steel would reach hyper-velocity just before entering the gateway, causing a mini-sonic boom as the metal was sucked in toward the portal.
Normally, this would have been just a small event in a much bigger scheme – what was one more piece of shrapnel gobbled by the Actuator?
This time, though, Vanessa was in the way.

What’s important to remember here is that a plot device was introduced in the beginning of the novel, and is used as a major turning point at the end of the book.
The Actuator itself doesn’t cause the emotions felt when Vanessa dies, but the reader was familiar with the device, and knew there was danger from the very moment it was turned on - causing tension.

This can work on many levels for any writer.

A character’s emotional state, an in-joke, a much-needed weapon at just the right time, high levels of tension. Anything, really. Threads can certainly enhance your work, but they can detract from it as well when they aren’t tied together. 

Tomorrow: Emotional threads that enhance your story.....

What emotional situation 
in a novel affects 
you the most?

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