Dont Waste Your Plot Ideas

This section is aimed primarily at novelists.

If you've never written a book-length story before, one of the many interesting (and possibly dismaying) things you'll learn during construction of the first draft is simply how many incidents and events you have to dream up in order to "make length. " It's possible to write a one-idea short story. But even the shortest novel contains dozens of plot ideas, subplots, minor incidents, and significant events.

One of your first creative jobs as a novelist, therefore, is to dream up enough stuff-a sufficient number of things to happen.

Very often, however, dreaming up the events proves to be relatively easy when compared with another related task, which is to make maximum use of plot developments once you've introduced them. Failure to make maximum use of plot ideas can make your job twice as hard, and possibly doom your novel, turning it into an illogical farrago of events rather than a continuous, interesting narrative.

Here's what I mean.

The amateur, unpublished novelist may insert a scene early in her book in which the hero meets a doorman at a hotel, gets some information from him, and walks away to act on that information. The doorman may be an interesting minor character, but he will never-as the amateur novelist tends to see it -enter the story again.

"Why did you put the doorman in the story?" I may ask.

Says Amateur Novelist: "To give the hero that info. "

"Okay", I persist. "Now that you have the doorman in the book, what else can you invent that would involve hinHow else canyou use what you've already made up?"

Amateur Novelist (usually!): "Huh?"

Or suppose you've just imagined and written a scene in which your heroine has had a minor collision with another car, driven by the hero-to-be. You put in the accident so the two could meet. Fine. But again a professional coach will ask you, "What else can you make of that accident? Can you think of other ways you can use it later in the story? "

In the case of the doorman, he might be brought back into the story as a source of later information; he might turn out to know more than the hero so far got out of him - in which case all sorts of interesting questions immediately appear: "Why did he withhold information?" "What else does he know?" "How does he know it?" "How is the hero going to come to suspect that he held something back?" And so on.

In the case of the fender bender, plotted to make heroine meet hero, the professional will immediately begin to ponder questions such as the following, all under the general heading of What other use can I make of the

Did either party sustain an injury that might show up only later?

Did someone see this accident and do something as a result?

Can there be a lawsuit?

What if the heroine's insurance fails to pay, and she has to sue the hero?

What if her car later fails on a remote road because of hidden damage?

Could he later joke about the wreck and "silly woman drivers", causing a furious argument?

• Can she later be preoccupied in some way about the wreck, causing her to forget something else?

• Is it possible that, as a result of the wreck, he - You get the idea, I'm sure.

Professional novelists recognize that it's sometimes a problem, coming up with enough events and incidents in the first place. For that reason, they always think as in the example above, looking for ways to make maximum use of everything they invent. The grand byproduct of such thinking is that more and more characters and events take on significance; various scenes and plot lines begin to link more tightly together, making the novel tighter, and more logical; and the reader tends to read with more attention and pleasure because every page is sure to be important not only for itself but in terms of later development.

Another minor but sometimes nagging problem for the novelist can also be solved by constant attention to maximum use of your material. That has to do with the way minor characters tend to proliferate in beginner copy. It's not unusual for the fledgling novelist to introduce that doorman in chapter one, a cabdriver in chapter two, a TV reporter and a yard person in chapter three -and a dozen more bit players by halfway through the book. But the simplest novel is complex enough, and nobody (neither the writer nor the reader!) wants to need a printed program to keep track of all the minor parts.

In such circumstances, you may solve some of your "cast of thousands" problems by being alert to how you may be able to use one character to handle several minor missions. For example, is it possible that that doorman could take over the work you assigned to the cabdriver and the yard man? Could the TV reporter from chapter three also provide the information you gave to the policeman in chapter seven - and maybe also make the needed telephone call you handed to a convenience store clerk in chapter twelve?

Often the manipulation of plot to accomplish such telescoping of roles is far simpler than you might think. It simplifies your storytelling. And the side advantage you sometimes encounter is that the doorman-now slated to be onstage in nine chapters-can be developed into an interesting character in his own right, vastly enriching your novel!

Pleasant surprises abound for the novelist who looks for new and unanticipated ways to make more and better use of existing plot developments or characters. Try it.

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