The Unfolding Path of Plots

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….

2 responses to “The Unfolding Path of Plots

  1. Sandra Degrow (Sandrella)

    I had fun with this Ann. Here it is:

    Where to now?
    Ariel drives off toward the desert with a small trailer hitched to her vehicle. A bicycle is mounted to the trailer. On the way to the desert, Ariel locates a small town where she can replenish her water and emergency supplies. Her plan is to fast and meditate for three months, following her divorce. She has energy bars, water and some canned tuna to subsist on. Ariel has pencils pens and journals to capture her quest. She also has a solar panel for charging her cell phone, in case an emergency arises.
    Sixteen year old Josh is an Eagle scout and has a Grade Point Average of 98%; brilliant. He recently was accepted to M.I.T., after scoring 2300 on the S.A.T., having previously completed all his High School requirements. Josh is not your stereo-typical nerd that wears glasses, for his eyesight is razor sharp. Josh is also a glider pilot.
    Ariel’s foolish ex-husband, Dirk, moved to L.A. on the heels of an aspiring actress named Ginny. He was assured by Ginny, that her Agent would find work for him too. Dirk and Ginny spent a weekend at a desert resort on the way to L.A. He needed to “find” himself after the divorce from Ariel; who caught Dirk and Ginny in bed.

    Two months into Ariel’s journey of discovery, she packed a backpack and set off on her bicycle toward the town, with her cell phone used as a GPS unit. She needed some more LED lights and wanted some company. When she reached her destination, Ariel went into the General Store, which was also a gas station. She allowed herself a coffee and a sandwich. Behind the store was a small airport that housed a couple of gliders and tow planes.
    A young man, resembling a younger version of Clint Eastwood strode into the diner where Ariel was having her coffee and sandwich. He looked around and joined an older man that could easily pass as his father. On both their jackets, was the lettering, “Crestwood Glider Academy.” Ariel had often wondered what it would be like to fly a glider. She did not want to intrude on the pair of men, so she ordered a second cup of coffee and waited until they were finished eating.
    Ariel approached the two men and enquired about the gliding School, and possible lessons. The younger man was Josh, and the older man was his father, Quinn. Josh’s Dad said he would be happy to take her up but had to wait for a good wind. He asked Ariel if 7:00 a.m. the next day was good for her, because the currents would be better. Quinn would fly the tow plane and Josh would pilot the glider. Ariel agreed and remembered that her car still had enough fuel to get to the station, where she would fill up after the glide.
    Ariel purchased supplies and rode her bicycle back to camp. When she got there, her car was gone. She immediately called 911 and was responded to in two tries. The operator said that they would find Ariel, as long as her cell was charged and remained on GPS. They found her an hour later. Ariel had to duck and stay back because a rescue helicopter landed near her trailer. Much to her delight, Quinn descended the helicopter’s ladder. Quinn was also the Sheriff. He radioed a description of Ariel’s vehicle back to the emergency base. In the meantime, Ariel was told that she would have to come back to the airport with Quinn, because a nasty sandstorm was expected. Ariel hesitated, but agreed and packed up her necessary belongings and got in the helicopter with Quinn.
    At the rear of the Gliding school was a three-bedroom apartment where Josh and Quinn lived. Quinn was a widower. Quinn set Ariel up in a spare bedroom and followed up on the Grand Theft Auto report. A silver Range Rover was spotted in a ditch, on the highway that night. Our friend Dirk had stolen the Range Rover and abandoned the vehicle, after crashing it; but left his wallet in the car. Ginny was in L.A., working as a waitress. Dirk was not L.A. material, and wanted to come back to Nevada and start over. He managed to steal Ginny’s car and left it at, unbeknownst to him, the airport/Sheriff’s station, walked through the desert, and hotwired Ariel’s car to make his getaway. Dirk thumbed a ride back to the airport; remember I said he was foolish.
    The next morning, Sheriff Quinn received a message from the diner that a man matching the description on the police report was right outside the hangar. It had a small dent and some scratches on it. The Sheriff told Ariel to stay put in the spare bedroom. Sheriff Quinn walked toward Ginny’s vehicle with his hands ready to grab his revolver; backup was on standby. There was no-one inside, but Quinn spotted someone fleeing on foot matching the thief’s description. He chased Dirk and ordered him to halt. Dirk evaded Quinn, and Quinn called for backup. Quinn was able to take Dirk down with the assistance of his backup and arrested for suspicion of two counts of Grand Theft Auto.
    Ariel just happened to enter the station and made positive identification of Dirk. He was led away to a State Trooper Vehicle outside; right after Ariel stared him down and said, “Gotcha.”

  2. Ariel sat behind her 18th century mahogany desk twirling a pen absent mindedly looking out her window as the crimson sun sunk closer to the horizon unaware it had captured her attention yet again. Clouds twinkled as the wind carried them slowly away from the setting sun as if to say thank you for the warmth of yet another 88 degree day in the city of Sunshine USA.

    At that moment Josh strolled into the room taking in the scene before him and said “I knew you could not put down our latest model of the stylin groove pen” with a smirk he brushed the errant blonde curly locks out of his eyes. At first there was no answer from Ariel as she stared out the window as if she had not heard Josh come in. Secretively Josh also glanced out the window towards the parking lot below hopping she had not seen him drop a box of pens onto her car’s burgundy hood leaving a faint scratch behind.

    Turning towards Josh, Ariel said Hello son how is the most eligible bachelor in Arizona? “Mom” Josh started a little firmer than he meant to “you know I moved to Texas last year to live with Brett” With her green eyes twinkling in the fading sunlight Ariel apologised for teasing him. Changing the subject she said you know how proud I am of you for being the youngest nominee of the Outhustle Outworkem Sales award in its 100 year history. I am very proud of you and your accomplishments.

    Thanks, I am thrilled to be nominated and am looking forward to the dinner tonight Josh said. If it were not for the great support of people like Brett and yourself I doubt I would have had the confidence to return to the world of sales after last year’s debacle. I just knew in my heart that Divorik Richardson Zeno did not have the time to invent those stories of my past that nearly derailed my career. Josh could feel his voice warble as he finished his words and saw his mom’s look of worry as he felt tears welling up in his eyes.

    I owe a lot to that man of mine Brett. Oh no! Josh exclaimed I forgot Brett is waiting downstairs for us, come on Mom we will be late for the dinner.

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