Have you ever heard anyone say, ‘I know I could be a great Heart Transplanter if I could just find the time for it.’? Probably not. Here’s why. ‘transplanter’ is not really a word. Also, suppose you won the lottery. You no longer have to work, you can hire a fat British woman to keep your kids the hell away and why would your spouse nag you when he or she could be out shopping or gambling or drifting into a coma in some Chinese Opium Den or whatever the hell they’d do if they had a lot of money all of a sudden? SO. Now you’re free and clear to do the Great American Heart Transplant you always knew you had in you. Seven hours later you’ve got a hell of a mess on your hands and an opened up dead guy on your kitchen table. Now don’t get all panicky and call your lawyer, none of this is going to happen, because everybody knows you can’t transplant a heart without years and years of study. So why the hell does every stupid-ass Joe-sixpack crank think the only thing stopping them from writing well is a LACK OF TIME?!
So before you go and unleash the literary equivalent of a kitchen table full of dead guy with a cracked open chest cavity upon an unsuspecting public, just hold your damn horses for a second and let me learn you up a little on writing good.
Okay, lets say you’ve dreamed up some great characters. You’ve got a debonair young spy with a bionic arm and a gorgeous red headed nuclear scientist who wears glasses but later takes them off, revealing a ferocious and inventive appetite for ‘unusual’ intercourse. Sounds great, right? Off to Best Seller Town on the Rich Celebrity Writer Express!
No matter how awesome those characters are, (And they are MY intellectual property so don’t even think about it, I have been in prison and I know a lot of ways to seriously ‘upset’ your ‘apple cart’ which you will definitely not care for). Characters alone do not a story make. They have to have something to do. And that ‘do’ is called ‘plot’.
A plot is a causal sequence of events, the ‘why’ for the things that happen in the story. The plot draws the reader into the character’s lives and helps the reader understand the choices that the characters make. Sure, we know the debonair young spy with a bionic arm and the gorgeous red headed nuclear scientist who once her glasses are off turns out to enjoy some heretofore unheard of but very specific activities are going to go ‘sheet spelunking’, but if we don’t know what leads up to it, if indeed we cut straight to that sheet spelunking and that’s all there is, that’s just porn. And that’s a different lesson.
THE FOUR PLOT CHUNKS
Western narrative tradition demands that every plot contain four essential building blocks or ‘chunks’, if you will. Exposition, Complication, Climax and Resolution. Why call them ‘chunks’ and not simply ‘building blocks’? Simple. I am paid by the word. Wait, ‘building blocks’ is two words. Damn. Lets take our ‘building blocks’ one at a time, shall we?
Exposition is the information needed to understand the story. How will our reader know that our gorgeous red headed nuclear scientist has a ferocious and inventive appetite for ‘unusual’ intercourse? Simply because she is ‘stacked’? No! Firstly, I never even mentioned that, you just assumed it! Secondly, stackedness is descriptive not expository and also so what? That’s your thing, not mine. Now if we write:
“I see you’ve noticed my large bust,” said the gorgeous red headed nuclear scientist, running a finger suggestively around the rim of her Appletini. “I had them medically enlarged to enhance my sexcapades. Inventive, no? And by the way, I like my sexcapades… unusual.”
Suddenly, a simple description of physical attributes becomes… EXPOSITION!
“Say,” the debonair spy said, picking the cherry out of his Manhattan with the metallic fingers at the end of his bionic arm. “Wanna blow this upholstered Men’s room and go have intercourse somewhere?” Which is exactly what they-
Wait a second there, buddy boy! Sure, your readers wants to get straight to the ‘Motel hijinks’! But if you give people what they want right away, they’ll never value it! That’s why on the rare occasions you go home from a night of successful though shameful date prospecting, when you wake up the next morning, you’re revolted. Now I know I’ve used a sex metaphor to explain a sexual plot device in a sex story, but come on, would you even be listening otherwise?
Something has to get in the way of our hero getting his way! That’s the complication! See how easy it is to remember? The complication complicates the story! Now, what’s going to get in the way of our debonair spy ‘Gittin’ his Black Ops on’? Okay, I brainstormed and what I came up with was an evil robot eagle with a lisp.
“Not tho fatht, Mithter Thpy!” the evil robot eagle lithped, hoithting the gorgeouth red headed nuclear thientitht towardth the thieling in one glithening talon.
Actually, you don’t really need to have the narrator lisp. In fact, it’s probably inadvisable. Plus it drives your spell-check whacky. My monitor is so red and green right now I’m LOOKING FOR PRESENTS!… Under the tree. ‘Cause red and green are Christmas colors. In addition to being the colors of the wavy lines underneath words and phrases thought to be errors of grammar or spelling by the particular… word processing program… I’m using.
I know what you’re thinking and it’s not just wrong, it’s naughty. The climax isn’t a climax, which is to say it should be, but not that kind. If there’s a lot of screaming and yelling and your parents burst into the room and later you have to go to a special summer camp, it’s the wrong kind of climax. Or maybe that’s just me. In literature, on the other hand, the climax is the turning point in the story that occurs when characters resolve the complication.
“What that evil robot eagle didn’t know,” said the debonair spy, tossing the no longer power producing battery pack into the air and catching it in the cyborg hand at the end of his bionic arm, “Is that I knew where his battery pack was.”
Now that we have seen the Debonair Spy and the Gorgeous Red Headed Nuclear Scientist meet up in a bar, (you did get it was a bar, right, and not actually a men’s bathroom with upholstered toilets? ‘Cause there’s no such thing as one of those.), Now that we have learned of our Scientist’s feisty ways regarding ‘Wigwam Shenanigans’, now that we have encountered our complicated complication (and everybody knows how complicated robots are) and bested it, we can have our resolution! YES! Now, finally, at last, we have reached the long awaited moment when our characters can attend the ‘Genital Rodeo’!
“Why don’t you take a picture of my bust?” The Gorgeous Red Headed Nuclear Scientist husked languidly, “They’ll last longer.”
“Gladly,” the debonair spy said, the fingers on the hand of his bionic arm turning off the motel room light.
Oh, don’t be sore! Imagine it yourself, I don’t get paid enough to do it for you. (This is a factually accurate statement. Most prostitutes, even really bad ones, make more money than aspiring writers) And besides, I already got you to read the whole thing and left you wanting more. So when the sequel comes out you’ll pay Amazon extra for overnight delivery to see if I eventually describe what ‘intercourse’ is actually ‘like’.
That’s what a good plot does. Keeps the reader turnin’ them pages like one of Pavlov’s dog’s hearing a bell ring and automatically turning the pages of the dog book it’s reading. And now you know everything you need to know to write good plots of your own. So flake off. I have things I need to imagine.