Thursday, July 29

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, July 29, 2010 21 comments
Nearly two weeks ago, my hubby got into a low-speed collision that sent our car to the body shop. (Yes, it's still there if you're wondering.) We are a one-car family, so this altered our routine significantly the few days we waited for rental car coverage to be approved. Even though we live a half mile from a transportation hub served by a dozen bus lines, we felt like our wings were clipped. Our usual five-minute drive to the pool suddenly turned into a 40-minute, two-bus trip, with a mile of walking thrown in. A quick cool-off became a major journey.

This got me thinking about plot complications. Some of my favorite books have gripping plots that start with a small inconvenience or missed connection. That one small change ripples out. It might delay or halt movement. It might place the characters at an out-of-routine place at an out-of-routine time. It might weaken them. Place them in greater danger.

Think about your daily routine, and what it might mean to change one thing. A middle-of-the-night, two-minute power outage might make your alarm clock reset itself. When morning comes and you oversleep, suddenly your very livelihood is at stake.

Here are some other contemporary setting ideas:
~No running water because of a system shut-down
~Street is blocked by fallen trees
~Car won't start
~Cell phone battery won't recharge anymore
~Transit union strike
~Computer virus

For you historic fic and fantasy writers:
~Horse is lamed or has colic
~Can't find dry firewood
~Canteen leaks
~Guard dog ate half the rations
~Tiny battle wound gets infected
~Fleas or bedbugs infest your clothes
~Servant has the flu

The possibilities are endless to jack up the tension in your story, starting from the very smallest inconvenience.

Have you ever tried the "change one thing" approach? What worked? What didn't?


And it's award time!

Some time ago, I received the One Lovely Blog award from Christine at Christine's Journey and Lola at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword . Thanks, friends!
I pass this one along to the following lovely blogs:

Connie at A Merry Heart
Victoria at Ron Empress
Go forth and visit these very worthwhile blogs. You'll thank me later. :-)
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  1. Oh, I love to inconvenience my characters. Isn't that terrible? But I should remember to look at wider implications for them, too... great post! Thanks!

  2. That's what's been good about my critique group - they've forced me to make changes that have made ripple effects for the good.

    Thank you for the award. I'll check out the other blog recipients.

  3. My current ms is based on small choices and incidents that ripple. It's been a lot of fun to write.

  4. Good ideas! Sometimes it's as simple as getting off a bus one stop too soon. Great post!

  5. Love this idea as a novel starting point. I may have to try it out once I get my plot lined up. Thanks for the award! I'll go check out your other blogs. :)

  6. Sarah: when the car thing happened, I was reminded of Twain's The Mysterious Stranger, which explores how the world is changed by a person getting up and closing a window in the middle of the night.

    Theresa: You're welcome--and I'm loving your new design. Keeping track of all the ripples can be tricky in revision--but so worth it if it makes the MS stronger.

    Jemi: kewl. Because that's how real-life works, isn't it?

  7. JEM: Hope it inspires you to create great plot. :-)

    Victoria: Thanks. I have to say Twain's _The Mysterious Stranger_ has somewhat shaped my thinking on this.

    Victoria: You're welcome. It is a fun idea generator, isn't it?

  8. I love the idea of wreaking havoc with my characters. Throw more disturbances at them and let them flounder for a bit...or become resourceful and grow stronger for it. It's amazing how the conflict ups the story! Great post!

  9. I love that list, and I'll have to remember these kinds of things for the future. You're right -- one little thing can change everything.

  10. I'm reminded of that "Missed Connections" web-thing. Did you ever hear of it? I think it was something along the lines of "I sat in front of you at the movies. You kicked my seat, I turned around and you apologized. I said it was fine, and that I liked your pink Sketchers. I wanted to ask for your number but I didn't..."

    Also, this post reminds me of the movie Sliding Doors -- with Gwenyth Paltrow. The movie shows us what would have happened if she caught the train on time, and what happened when she didn't.

    I love the idea that one little seemingly insignificant action can have such a huge impact on our lives! I love this as a plotting tool, too.

  11. That is such an intriguing idea, how one little complication can ripple out and have dramatic effects. I was thinking the same thing as Amber's comment above - this reminds me of Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow. Very interesting to think about.

  12. What a pain for you guys! It is so hard to work around road blocks in real life, but I agree, they add great tension to our work. Thanks for the ideas.

  13. What a great idea. Thinking about it, I do inconvenience some of my characters.

  14. Sherrinda: Interestingly, it can be very tiny things that lead to major floundering and plot complications.

    Shelly: have fun--I bet you can think of a few more unique inconveniences of your own.

    Amber: Ooh, Sliding Doors is an awesome example of this (and a great movie too boot). I know some writers don't do contemporary realistic stories because they think it's too hard to write engaging plots. Plot building from everyday events can be just as fun and rewarding as inventing monsters.

  15. Susan: hope the idea gets your creative juices flowing! I find it a helpful exercise when looking at story-midpoint to keep sagging middle from happeneing.

    Natalie: Times like these make me thankful for so many things--car insurance, ample public transit and friends willing to carpool. Hmm...perhaps that will be a good follow-up post idea.

    Medeia: knowing how randomly some inconveniences strike in real life opens loads of possibilities in adding organic-feeling plot complications to our stories, right?

  16. Thanks for the blog award! I noticed on my stats that I got a few visitors via your link. I'll make sure to mention it on my blog here shortly! And this was a very useful post, by the way. Food for thought - need to put it in action now.

  17. Lots of food for thought in this post -- thanks! I love the idea of one missed step, or one change in routine, rippling out and becoming life altering. (I'm thinking of that Richard Gere movie where every evening on his commute home he catches sight of Jennifer Lopez's character in a window, and the story explores the idea "what would happen if one day he got off the train...")

    Hope your car is out of the shop quickly!

  18. Congrats on the award!

    No, I haven't tried the change one thing but it sounds interesting! Hope you get your car back soon..

  19. It's true. The smallest thing can throw us for a loop. Will work on making things a little stickier for my characters.

  20. Margo: you're most welcome. Have fun pepping up your plots.

    Nicole: It is a pretty fun idea-generating concept, isn't it? Hope it proves useful.

    Talli: Thanks. I think it could be useful in any genre, especially when one hits a dragging section.

    Mary: things that disrupt or strike at comfort and routine always spur us to action, right?