by Kay Springsteen
I once had a dog named Hero. His tail was broken in three places before he even left his puppyhood behind because he had been born with tail bones that were on the brittle side. His tail had a natural curl over his back, then it twisted severely to the right, then to the left, and then back toward his rump. He never seemed to feel the breaks when they happened. He kind of just accepted them. One break happened when he was born. The second when he was about 8 weeks old and got it caught in the wires of the puppy pen. The third break we were never sure what happened. We went out for the evening and when we came home, he had another broken place.The twists and turns of his tail became woven into his personality. In the same way, the various twists and turns our stories take become part of the personna of the tale we are telling.
Most people read or write fiction in order to escape into a story that takes us out of our daily lives, and puts us smack in the middle of someone else’s life. Maybe we crave more excitement, maybe we want to forget the fact that our electric bill tripled this month. Either way, without a little creative storytelling, a few unexpected breaks and turns in the tail, there is no story to tell. Enter the writer’s friend: The Plot Twist.
Who cares if we can relate because the heroine’s fiance broke up with her? That’s old news, possibly even happened to us once. So honey, suck it up and get on with life. But when the heroine who lost her fiance gets on a plane to track him down in a foreign country, meets a cute but somewhat shady French native. loses her passport, can’t get it replaced, and finds her cute new friend used her luggage to smuggle something through French Customs…THAT’S more exciting. In case you don’t recognize the scenario, that’s French Kiss with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. In the same vein, how many Cinderella stories can you tolerate? Who really cares about the hooker on the street corner? But put one on a corner being picked up by an uber-rich hunk of a guy with a brooding nature, who wants to pay for the pleasure of her company for the rest of the week and then falls in love with her…that’s fodder for Hollywood, baby. That’s Pretty Woman. Writers take the mundane, everyday things of life, such as a group of men and women with a passion for fast cars, and spin it into an adventure of street racing, rivalry, murder, and high-stakes highway robbery (The Fast and the Furious).
So what can we, as writers, learn from Hollywood fiction? Everything. Movies are generally 1-1/2 to 2 hours of story with tight dialogue, visual stimulation and interesting plot twists. Watching how the story unfolds via the movie will give you an idea how to tighten your writing, how to develop plot twists.to make them hook readers (watchers) and keep them on that hook .
What drives your story, the characters or the plot? How do you decide where your story will take the reader and how? Do you plan the overall plot, the subplots, and the various twists ahead of time? How do you make sure the story flows without becoming too cumbersome?