Tag Archives: plotting

three-step drama

I recently watched Barton Fink by the Coen Brothers. I loved the look of it, I loved how lots of it was chopped together, but mostly I didn’t like it. It made me too uncomfortable, and it shared that quality with literary fiction of alienating me from its unsympathetic cast of characters. That just leaves me feeling cold.

Still, it was worth it for this one incredible scene. It’s a bit spoilery, so don’t read on if you have any desire to watch the film.

A mosquito has been plaguing Barton in his hotel room for weeks, stinging his face while he sleeps, but keeping at a distance whenever he tries to squish it. (Don’t we all know this particular form of torture?) The mosquito is his nemesis. This is step one of the drama.

Barton goes to bed with a woman he desires. He wakes up beside her. She is turned away from him, and the mosquito has landed on her shoulder. This is step two – a beautifully constructed dilemma. Does he take the opportunity to kill it, and risk offending her, or does he let his nemesis go?

He slaps it dead. Dilemma solved. But the woman doesn’t wake up – in fact she doesn’t respond at all to the slap. He rolls her over and discovers that the sheets in front of her are soaked with blood, and she is dead.

Absolutely brilliant.

Without the mosquito dilemma, and the cute moment you think is being set up, the actual reveal wouldn’t have a tenth of the same punch. (Not to mention the way the smaller action mirrors what is really going on.)

Cat and I talk quite often about 1-2-3 plotting, as opposed to the more common 1-2 plotting. 1-2 plotting would involve setting up a character as one thing, then having them transform into another (most often the thing that comes as a natural conclusion to their backstory). 1-2-3 plotting would involve then transforming them in a completely new and lasting direction.

This scene for me embodies the rather obscure idea of 1-2-3 plotting, and proves that it is, without doubt, something to aspire to.

plotting for greatest impact; or, The Spiral

The plotting of the Lymond Chronicles is amazing. I wish there were a better word to express my admiration.

After long hours of deliberation, Cat has boiled the amazingness down to this: Dunnett’s many, subtly-planted plotlines don’t just meet/almost meet/collide the way ordinary mortals would write them. They move through the story and then, out of nowhere, they come together and spiral.

A sudden whirlpool to the ship of story. Think that scene near the end of The Little Mermaid.

One clue we have derived from this method is: plot for greatest impact. For example: my heroine saw my hero coldly seduce a married woman, back before they ever met. I was trying to figure out when to reveal what she had seen – and my method was rather wildly instinctive.

Then Cat said, “When would it create the greatest impact?”

Would that be just before he seduces her under false pretences? Just after? Just before she first sees him again in London, knowing who he is? In the presence of the woman she saw him seduce?

It makes so much sense, once you think about it, that this is a good way to go about plotting. But, as you know, I very often haven’t just thought about it.