I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the plot of one of my WIP short stories lately. It’s one of those stories where I think the style it’s written in is pretty good, but the plot is pretty…blah. It’s a classic example of all style, no substance.
Kind of like the early days of Ring of Honor pro-wrestling, if you catch my drift.
It’s not that there isn’t a plot; it’s just that there’s no emotional punch to the piece. No stand up and cheer moment. No Hit Girl takes out an entire chapter of the local mafia to save her dad moments.
So here I am, trying to figure out what to do to give this story a little more feeling; a little more action. Right now, it’s about as eventful as Sunday mass. You’d think this is something that wold come second nature to me, as I’ve written about plotting a story time and time again.
But you know how it is. Every story you write is different than the last. Unless you’re Dan Brown, but then you’re making millions of dollar, so you shouldn’t really care if some random guy on the web says your books all sound the same to him.
So back to the topic at hand, how do you take a (mostly) well-written piece and add some pizazz to it? It’s really simple if you think about it. You take your character–who is currently vegging out in comfortworld, no doubt pondering the latest crazy antics of the Kardashians–and tear him out of it. This works particularly well if you take him kicking and screaming.
In other words, take his comfort zone (and possibly your own) and shred it to pieces. Hurt him. Kill his dog. Kill his family. Cut off his limbs. Throw the biggest, ugliest thing you can at him (and no, I’m not talking about the Kardashians anymore) and then have him overcome it.
If your story is dull, let me tell you why: It’s because the obstacles you send to your protagonist are either too small, or too easy to overcome.
Think about Patrick Stuart. Just because he is awesome.
Now think about Jean-Luc Picard, who looks an awful lot like Patrick Stuart. When was Star Trek: The Next Generation the most exciting? When did it trigger your biggest emotional “jump up out of your beanbag and cheer moment”?
For me, it was every time they faced off against an unbeatable foe and survived. Remember the time The Borg kidnapped Picard and turned him into a Borg? And then they entered Earth’s solar system and destroyed nearly forty Star Fleet ships in the process? If not, you should really go watch that two-parter.
It was a great example of how to build suspense. It’s all about getting the reader (or viewer) to say, “How the hell are they going to get out of this?” Stack the odds, and stack them some more. Take that big, ugly thing you’re throwing at your protagonist and make it invincible.
When I was a kid, there was no way Hulk Hogan would be able to overcome Andre the Giant, who was undefeated for fifteen years (he really wasn’t, but what did I know, I was a kid?) at Wrestlemania III. So when Hogan not only managed to bodyslam the seven-hundred pound monster, but also pin him cleanly in the center of the ring, over 93,000 fans live at the Pontiac Silverdome and everybody else watching on Closed Circuit TV jumped out of the bleachers and beanbags and screamed their lungs out.
And on a side note, pro-wrestling totally uses versions of the Three Act Structure when scripting their main-event level feuds, but that’s a story for another day.
Okay, enough about Star Trek and wrestling. Let’s bring this back to writing. If you’re story seems to lack the punch it needs, just think about the worst possible thing that could happen to your character, and then make it happen.
And what about you? How you do work your way out of the “blah” moments in your stories?