When writing fiction, the writer is required to carve out the path forward. You have to deal with the fact that if Character X stops and looks back, it may mean that Character Y may have to shoot her or perhaps that Character Z will have to check his wallet to see if he has enough money. We sit at the forks of our plots over and over, deciding who to move where and what to have them do.
It’s even more fun when you’re not sure what the ending is going to be. Then you have to loose your arrow even though you’re in the fog and hope that somewhere out front there is a target with a well-defined bullseye on it. Given the restraints of making stories mean something and the responsibility to be credible, it happens that often the bullseye has a homing device on it, pulling your arrow in the right direction. Or not. Yes, we often have to backtrack, dig our way out of a dead end, or climb the brick wall that blocks our plot.
One of the biggest obstacles to plotting well seems to be the temptation to indulge in a cliché. For example, it’s easy to have Ariel’s husband divorce her so she can move to a small town in Arizona where handsome and artistically inclined Theo turns up to make her life full and rewarding. Or perhaps Dr. Zeno, the evil inventor, is thwarted by Josh, the crafty kid with no friends at school, but who does have special powers. Or take techno spy, retired CIA operative, Brett, who discovers the underground plot of a long hidden KGB cell that now has connections to terrorists. So easy. So predictable. Add a few plot twists and bake for two months. Voila! Predictable genre fiction.
Instead, I have found that the moment the easy cliché path pops into my head is also the time when I have the opportunity to turn the plot on its head. Ariel’s move to Arizona after her divorce includes neither a lovely new romance nor a new career. She’s going to spend all her time in the desert, fasting, and trying to find the meaning of life. Maybe Dr. Zeno is actually trying to invent a time machine to travel back to the past to visit his beloved mother who died when he was the same age as Josh. Maybe Josh’s special powers are that he has an extra strong sense of smell, which just makes him feel weirder than the other kids. Or maybe Brett, our techno spy, ends up in Arizona deciding to let the terrorists take care of themselves while he joins Ariel in the desert, fasting and searching for some other interpretation of life that doesn’t involve shooting people and keeping vital national secrets.
Or, maybe you have a better plot for our heroes Ariel, Josh, or Brett….