Since I’d had J.D.’s post scheduled already for the Tuesday after the Lone Star Conference, I had to wait until today to give you all the run down. And it ended up for the better because if gave my mushy old noodle time to assimilate all of the information that was thrown at it on Saturday.
James Scott Bell, (The Kill Zone, JSB) was the main speaker/presenter. He gave a class about plot and structure. Let me tell you, Mr. Bell is fantastic. Not only is he a font of useful information, he gave it in a way that totally made sense. He used scenes from movies to drive his points home. Stacey Purcell gives an excellent example over at Musetracks.
What I want to tell you about is the bridge. Yes, a bridge. No, we didn’t drive over one nor was I pushed off one. Bell used a diagram of a suspension bridge to demonstrate how the story structure should go. After he got into the points on the bridge, a light bulb went off. As writers, we worry about sagging middles. And not just the ones we’re in danger of getting from sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time. Bell is talking about the sagging middle of a story when plot is in danger of slowing and bogging down and just plain boring the reader.
All those individual cables could be seen as the subplots. A scene here or there that helps propel the characters forward without having your main character sitting in a dark room lamenting all of the mistakes they’ve made. Think of it like real life. We often have a decision to make or a problem to tackle. Are we ever left alone to deal with it? Heck no!
Your car’s oil needs to be changed. One of the kids is sick at school and you need to pick them up. As you go to eat a bowl of cereal (because you’re just too exhausted to even throw something in the microwave) you discover you’re out of cereal or that the milk has spoiled. I could go on and on, put I think you get the point. All of these things happen between the beginning – when the problem presented itself – and the end when the problem is resolved. They give us detours and side interests but eventually we made it through to the end.
Those little detours are the cables of the suspension bridge. They keep the middle up while our character muddles through their problems, trying to figure out the solution. They keep the reader engaged but don’t totally throw the reader off of the bigger story. All those cables work together to hold the bridge up so that our readers can travel from the beginning to the end without fear of falling. Out of the story, as the case may be.
This can be true in life too. Keep that end goal in mind. Let the detours take you where they will but only if you can still see that end goal.
I can compare it to my first trip across the Golden Gate Bridge. We traveled from the north side through Sausalito. A few miles out, you can see the bridge in the distance, the orange spires gleaming in the sunlight. Then the road would curve around a mountain or the traffic would get heavy. I would lose sight of the bridge for a moment, but then the top edge of the girder would come into view, then the cables until finally we were on the bridge. Our route had a few twists, turns and obstacles, but we reached the final destination.
If you have the chance to see James Scott Bell speak, I would recommend it.
Have a great weekend everyone!
P.S. For those who don’t already know, I got a request for two full submissions for two different stories to two different editors. I’m now in giddy panic mode!