Setting Up Whats to Come

Now, after the beginning that set up the major narrative and structural patterns, and after the opening section where your plot really got rolling, you should start imagining where, in the short run, your story is going. What major event, several pages or chapters ahead, is going to happen? Start imagining it. Who will be there? What's going to lead to it? And what's going to happen? What will you need to establish beforehand, so that set-piece can have its full weight and impact? How can you go about laying that necessary groundwork now, where you are in the story?

As I've said before, stories—especially live, convincing stories—will change under your hands. That's the reason I've never been persuaded of the usefulness of outlines. By other writers' experience and my own, I judge that you generally won't know how a story's going to go until you get close to the place where something isjust about to happen. It will take its own shape and tell you how it wants to go, if you listen and watch attentively for the ways it's telling you.

My advice is that you should always know what your next set-piece is going to be. You should be laying the groundwork for it right up to the time it happens. You should start that groundwork either from the story's beginning, or lay down the first seeds back before the previous set-piece, to mature and bloom later. And you should be thinking of how that set-piece relates to your main story and making sure it won't seem grafted on, invented on the spot, but is a natural outcome of everything that's gone before.

It can't be just any scene, either. You'll have only about a dozen set-pieces in a whole long novel; in a more compact book, there will probably be more like six. In short fiction, perhaps three: beginning, middle, and end. Or, in the tightest and most focused of short stories, maybe only one. These set-pieces are going to be your story's high points; the scenes a reader will remember when the build-up, transition, and explanation have all been forgotten; the scenes where your plot rises to crisis.

So choose them well. As much as possible, let your story generate them. Let them arise out of who your people are, what problems they're facing, what they're trying to do—the story's central conflict. After they're in place, they'll seem inevitable, as if nothing else could possibly have happened. But you have to make them up: not quite out of nothing, but out of the body and bone of your story as it takes shape under your hands.

0 0

Post a comment