Thursday, September 01, 2005
Plotting--Twists: Day 2
Happy birthday, Perfect Sister! (Although fifty-five always was a lousy speed limit.)
Okay, BGs. My, y’all are an assumptive group. Here’s a quick list of the assumptions our collective minds came up with regarding yesterday’s premise. That:
It is John’s sperm and Lisa’s egg
Lisa is the one carrying (pregnant with) the said child
It is joyful weeping
The child will be born without handicaps
The call is genuine, that the voice of her doctor is not being faked by a demented liar
John and Lisa are human
John and Lisa are both physically able to produce this child
Both truly desire this child
The person running the test didn't mislabel
The ob/gyn called the right number
Lisa and John have been intimate recently
They are a young couple
Neither of them have any physical disabilities
The baby is human
There is just one baby
John is just as happy as Lisa
It is John's biological baby too
They don't have a child already
John has not had a vasectomy
They are both healthy (no STDs, cancer or other major problems)
John doesn't have a mistress or Lisa a boyfriend
John's real name isn't Scott Peterson (ok, tacky - but I had to throw it in)
They haven't been told they're about to receive a baby to adopt.
Their friends and family will be happy for them
The baby isn't coming at the expense of something, like cancer treatments
John is actually Lisa's husband and not some other relative that's just happy for her.
John tears aren’t ’cuz now he has to kill the baby to keep his throne in some country
Lisa is a woman and was born that way
John is a man and was born that way
When I give this workshop, one of the more “deeply embedded in the subconscious” assumptions I’m looking for is that the baby will be human. Believe me, hardly anyone thinks of this. It’s inevitably a science fiction or fantasy writer who does. Those folks’ brains are just wired differently. Grady and Stuart, ya didn’t let me down.
Do you see how hard it is to ferret out all the assumptions embedded in an opening scene even as simple as this “Lisa is pregnant” scene? And you know what—there’s still more out there. How about these:
That the doctor is telling the truth about the positive test
That the test is not a false positive
That the gestation period will be nine months
That Lisa and John want the baby for normal parenting purposes
That they will still be married when the baby is born
That John will be alive when the baby is born
That Lisa will be alive when the baby is born
That the baby will be either a boy or a girl (ah—another one for those sci-fi, fantasy minds)
Now, of course, some of these assumptions are rather bizarre. That’s okay. When you’re looking for assumptions in your own premise, list every one you can think of. This is not the time to edit yourself. More assumptions equal more possibilities.
But notice how much harder (for the normal minds among us, that is) it is to think of the more bizarre assumptions. That’s because these assumptions lie deeper in our subconscious mind than the others. Here’s a guideline to remember: the deeper in the subconscious mind that an assumption lies, the greater the possibility of the twist it can lead to. Makes sense, right? The more deeply imbedded your belief in something, the more surprised you’ll be when you find it ain’t so. This is one of the reasons why creating those real “gotcha” twists is so difficult. Many authors have to work really hard just to find their founding assumptions, much less carry the twist throughout the story.
Step #2. Once you have as many assumptions as possible listed, you can move on to step two of the Twist Process: turn the assumption on its head. Look at your list and see which assumptions you might like to play with. A couple notes for this step.
A. Obviously, twists are relative. Your genre will have a lot to do with determining how surprising of a twist you want. If Lisa and John’s story is a women’s fiction, the baby ain’t gonna end up an alien. However . . .
B. Don’t be too quick to throw out an assumption from your list. Assumptions don’t always have to be turned on their heads. They can be tilted a little. For example: of course Lisa and John’s baby will be human. But what if he or she is born with an uncanny ability to do something? Maybe a child genius in some field of art. Or tip the assumption the other way. Maybe the child is born with some unusual and not quite definable personality defect that keeps him/her from forming relationships well. Either one of those scenarios could be used in a women’s fiction.
C. With the B guideline above, you can see that quite a few of your assumptions can be used in your story. What you don’t turn on its head for an out-and-out surprising twist, you might tilt to use as one of the series of Distancing conflicts that lead to your protagonist’s Denial. Remember that the Four Ds that you’ve determined will guide you as to which assumptions to tilt or turn upside down.
You see now why I often start with the Devastation of my story, once I have the character’s Desire? The Devastation is usually the point of a major twist. So once I have the character’s Desire, then all the assumptions of the premise are listed, I ask myself, “What would be the most gut-punching twist to this story?” The most gut-punching twist is going to use one of the most deeply embedded assumptions. After I figure out the major twist, I'll usually come up with a few more smaller ones to keep things interesting along the way to that Devastation.
But figuring out the twist(s) is really only the beginning. Once I’ve decided what the twists of my story will be, how do I make them work? We’ll talk about writing the story “to the twist” tomorrow.
Read Part 3