It’s writing Wednesday and yet another chance to inundate the webverse with more unsolicited writing advice. Woo Hoo!
Today’s topic is about keeping it real when it comes to plotting a story. I’m sure we’ve all seen or read at least one story where something happens that’s hopefully exciting or at least vaguely interesting, but has nothing to do with the story. Jack M. Bickham refers to this as “dropping alligators through the transom.”
Unless your story is about mutant alligators taking over an office building, there is probably no good reason for it to happen.
I can hear the argument already.”This scene was kinda dull so I thought adding killer bees would add a bit more interest.”
Ahem… If your scene was dull, and you knew it was dull, why is it even in your story? Just sayin’
The point that I’m trying to make is that all story elements need to make sense. Being super cool isn’t a good enough reason to add something new. It has to feel like it belongs. David Farland also talks about this in different terms. He says that the story needs to be honest to itself. This doesn’t mean it has to be true, a good piece of fiction weaves together a multitude of realistic elements in new and intriguing ways.
Not sure if you are guilty or not? This is where having another critical set of eyes check over your story can be a life saver. As writers we can get blind to our own work. The story is so alive in our head that it’s hard to see when we might have added something that doesn’t make sense.
So, what happens if we have dropped the proverbial alligator? Relax. It’s not the end of the world. One of two things might have happened. The first is when you have added something that totally works in your world, but you’ve neglected to build your world enough to make it feel natural to the reader. The fix is to add a few more passages during the early chapters of the book, or scenes of the story, that make your alligator fit.
The other thing that might have happened is a bit tougher to fix without removing the offending element entirely. This is when something has been added to spice things up, but it feels like it doesn’t belong with the story.
Say you have a space captain that needs to land his failing craft before it explodes. It’s taken a hit from a Xabulon warship and is being pulled into the planet’s gravity. While wresting the controls, the second-in-command has an allergic reaction that swells his throat shut.
We have two big problems. Saving the second-in-command and landing the ship safely. If the allergic reaction has something to do with the enemy that they are facing then by all means use it and slam your readers with a super dramatic scene. However, if it doesn’t, it feel like it’s coming from nowhere and might just serve to confuse or worse take focus away from the real problem.
There is one place where random elements work well, and that’s with humor. This is where introducing the delightfully unexpected can pay off. That said, there are limits. Too much and it comes across as goofy or silly. Ace Rimmer, seen in the picture above, is a character in the BBC space comedy Red Dwarf. His entire character revolves around the absurd and unlikely, like riding an alligator to escape an exploding airplane. It’s silly and not at all logical and that’s what makes it fun.
Whatever you end up doing, Mind your alligators and Happy Writing!