I ran into a nasty plot problem in my novel the other day. It took me a day and a half to get through the various drafting iterations to a strong solution.
Someday you may find yourself having a hard time coming up with solutions to problems in the plot.
Deviations. Ever experienced an energy deviation? I’m sure you have.
When you have a hard time following a natural progression of the plot (which means you’re experiencing problems with the characters’ development), you are experiencing an energy deviation.
Solutions to energy deviations lie inside your child self, which is a creative, endless problem-solving machine.
Inside of you somewhere, maybe buried deep and maybe right up there on the surface, is a childish, selfish entity that wants things NOW, wants everything to be about YOU, and needs adoration and constant praise from everyone and everything in the universe. Your child self is insatiable, demanding, and never quits being passionate about wanting whatever stuff it is that drives your particular child self.
I’m like that.
Instead of looking inside of myself and saying, “My gosh, what a depressing lack of adulthood,” I can say, “What excellent amounts of pure adrenaline,” and channel my childish interior into a kind of bottomless gas tank for work.
Yes, work, but productive, building-up-to-something-in-the-long-run work, which to a child is the same thing as fun.
Now, plotting through problems.
First, you take what you have, the current state of the plot or scenario, and then second, you dig down into your really, really childish self.
From the perspective of your inner toddler, you look at the plot and say to yourself, “Ruin this!”
Let me explain for a second the dynamic of the right kind of ruining, and then I’ll talk for a moment about why this works to create easy problem solving to your plot without any agonizing artistic pain.
So, first, the right kind of “Ruin this!”
If you have ever been around other human beings, you have presumably experienced the sort of cranky behavior from people that snarls everything up around them. Their crankiness just make everything worse, no matter what the situation. You have, doubtless, from time to time been one of those irritable people yourself, because negative snarling is a common and transient energy dynamic and not an essential state of being.
If you are in the state of mind to make everything worse in the process of tinkering at your plot, when you say to yourself, “Ruin this!”, you will actually damage your plot badly and/or kill the story idea.
That’s more than possible if your approach is taunted with cold, remorseless cynicism; in fact, plot damage and energy denigration is likely, given the wrong starting mental conditions, so let’s talk instead about the right flavor.
The right kind of flavor within your “Ruin this!” action is a childish one.
Healthy children are productively dynamic; they create chaos that is full of potential and surging with positive motion.
Spiritually unhealthy human beings, whatever their physical age, destabilize and corrupt their circumstances.
This isn’t a good people/bad people dynamic, but a strong state of mind/weak state of mind thing. Most people, myself and probably you, fluctuate constantly from productive to negative, sometimes dipping from one state to the other in almost inexplicable waves.
You can tell which state you’re in by sticking a basic energy thermometer into your heart. Ask yourself how you feel, thrust an energy stick into your internal being, and if the energy expands with heat and interest, you’re healthy. If your energy contracts and hardens, or cools, you’re in an unhealthy state of mind. (The mere act of imagining an energy stick going into your heart creates the thermometer, so don’t worry about how to do that. Just imagine it happening, and you’ll get an expanding warm sensation or a cold, contracting feel inside your chest/abdominal area.)
The correct “Ruin this!” attitude is necessarily full of warmth and expanding energy.
(And if you get the cold, wrong answer with your energy thermometer, well, then you need a five-minute play date with your inner child. Set a timer, play like a toddler, and take your temperature again. Repeat as necessary.)
Okay, we talked about the effective kind of energy for a “Ruin this!” attitude; now let’s talk about why this works, why ruining your plot makes endless good ideas happen and gives you access to a reliable and bottomless pit of creatively fueled brilliance.
Ruining your plot or current scenario works because dysfunction (see, poor plot) relies on a static, inelastic frozen dynamic. When you’re stuck, it’s because you’re really afraid of anything changing. When you try to keep everything the same (and familiar), you close your mind to all the things that could jostle and disrupt your current scenario.
A static scenario with unchanging characters is not a plot so much as a still-life, and that’s great for painting but not for writing more than one scene, and even the scene will be sorta dry if no changes can sneak in at all.
Basically, if you’re having a plot problem, you are in a frightened, rigid grown-up mindset and you need to sink backwards and evaluate whatever energy thing happened to get you stuck in the first place.
Luckily for all of us, our inner children excel at evaluating energy deviations and exploiting them for maximum explosive effect.
Have you ever watched children? You know, babysat them or anything like that? Maybe you have some, or you’ve encountered young humans in your own past iteration as a juvenile of the species.
In any case, my point is that children target and exploit weak areas in order to create maximum satisfying drama. Noise, mess, chaos, and pleasurable destruction.
You can and should do that to your plot problems, using your inner child and containing yourself into healthy and creative “Ruin this!” modes of thoughts.
Ruining your plot from the perspective of a child works because you automatically evaluate all known elements and come up with really great ways to destroy everything, which gives you abundant drama to work with, and plot is drama. I mean, that’s what a plot is; drama, hopefully as cathartic and emotionally all-encompassing as possible.
A Childish Example
I have a very old novel sitting around in my hard drive that has caused nothing but trouble for me in my efforts to revise or salvage it.
As a live-action experiment, I will give you the general picture of the plot problem and then take my internal temperature and productively ruin the scenario, thereby creating a chunk of useable plot.
The main character is a girl in her twenties who has recently lost everyone in her immediate family to a car crash, and she takes a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant and fantasizes about escaping to a fairy land with a magician. The different characters in the restaurant form fodder for her imaginings, and at the end of the novel, she dies and is reunited with the owner of the restaurant in a very cheesy, though emotionally satisfying, happy ending in heaven.
The problems with the plot are many and varied; part of the family who is supposed to be dead from the car crash aren’t actually dead; the owner of the restaurant and the main character engage in a long, muddy might-be-a-dream sequence that goes nowhere, and the main chef in the restaurant turns out to be an implausible billionaire who makes toy ships in his spare time. There are a lot of plot holes, and while much of the dialogue is charming, the actual book itself is, as it stands, unsalvageable.
I wrote it a long time ago. It is, in fact, the first actual beginning-to-end novel I ever wrote, and it was my first National Novel Writing Month effort.
It was lots of fun.
My editor loves the characters and wants me to rewrite it so we can publish it. (My editor is awesome, by the way. Hi, Mr. Editor!)
So, here’s my internal temperature-taking . . . mm . . . lukewarm. Give me a minute to go be childish.
Okay, I’m back. Now I am super in the mindset to be creative . . . internal temperature of hot and expansive. Hooray!
So, I have this plot that is a big, messy problem. The biggest issue with the whole thing is that it doesn’t go anywhere; the character doesn’t actually have a genuine adventure because I was too scared to allow anything significant in the story to happen or grow.
I’m gonna ruin things.
The main character does not lose her family in a car crash; she moves away from her family and gets an apartment she can barely afford with some savings, and then loses her job the day after she signs the lease. In a fit of despair, she is walking the streets and browsing job listings on her phone when she passes a quaint little pretzel shop that smells amazing. She goes into the shop, meets the eccentric and enigmatic old man who makes the pretzels, and asks for a job. The old man laughs, tells her to come back the next day, and she goes home and feels that things will be better in the morning.
Then! She goes back to the shop only to find a closed sign and a notice that the store is out of business and up for sale. Spiraling into uncontrollable depression, our main character sticks around the shop on her off time; she gets a job and barely scrapes by for a little while until she meets someone poking around the old pretzel shop, looking to buy it and start a restaurant. She gets a job there as a dishwasher, quits her janitor job, and . . . discovers a staircase into a magical kingdom in the bottom of the sink. Duh duh daaah!
More exciting adventures happen and she eventually goes permanently to live as a disguised princess in the fantasy realm and lives happily ever after with the soup-shop owner, whom she has drawn into her adventures.
Now I just have to write the book. But now I have a functional starting chunk of plot! Bwa ha.
Here’s a bit more of Diana.
“So, ally,” Stuart said, running to catch up. Diana walked faster, kicking up bits of snow. “Look, I’ll carry the backpack. Give it to me,” Stuart said, reaching out to take the alien pack. The moment he laid his hand on Diana’s arm, he vanished.
Diana heard the silence and the lack of pressure from Stuart’s hand and she turned and saw nothing left but his footprints in the snow.
She stared at the hollows his sneakers had made in the white and then looked around at the empty, frozen houses all around her. She was in a side yard next to a tall gray duplex with frosted windows.
Well, I’m alone again, Diana thought, and she turned and started to walk towards the sun.
She’d made it all the way to the shopping mall when a blip of sound opened up in the air just in front of her. Diana froze, her foot mid-step, and studied the vibrating air.
“Do you want him back?”
The voice was not quite human, but not nearly so grating and awful as the aliens’ speech had been.
“Do I have options?” Diana asked.
“Yes. Touch the one you want,” the voice said, and three strange yellow bubbles popped into being on the road to Diana’s left. She guessed that there were people inside the bubbles, as they were roughly human sized, though completely opaque.
“Can I see them?” Diana asked with a laugh.
A surge of sound moved in the air and she recognized the alien sort of chuckle. A tearing noise ripped through the entire street and the yellow bubbles turned clear.
Diana stared at the three companions the aliens had offered.
You’re reading Victor Poole, and in my current novel, Vince is training his hunting party.