The Substance Hoped For – Framing the Story

If you want to be a sculptor, you study the works of Bernini, Michelangelo, and other sculptors. If you want to be a story-teller, read or watch the stories of those good enough to get produced or published.

I read a LOT! Fiction, histories, biographies, and whatever else I can get my hands on. All genres depend upon good story-telling to be successful, whether telling a true story or a fiction. DO NOT be a slave to one genre! You become a one-note samba: no variety, no contrast. Think of your head as an orchestra. If there’s only one instrument, you’re not going to have much of a concert. If, however, you have a full complement of instruments, you’ll have a much richer offering.

It is not about just style, either. It’s about information. The more information you possess, the more you have to work with when you start writing your own tome.

I don’t just read a lot. I watch movies. Over the course of our marriage, my wife and I have collected hundreds of movies in VHS and DVD. We often punctuate our conversations with our many favorite lines from movies.

I’m a huge Tom Clancy fan going all the way back. He’s known for his intricate weaving of multiple plot lines. He’s considered the master at explaining weapons tech in a way that’s entertaining and very understandable. In one book, he spends several pages describing a nuclear bomb going off by slowing time down and explaining each step as it happens. No, really. It works!

When you read The Substance Hoped For, you may notice some similarities between my writing and Clancy’s. I chose to structure my novel something like a Clancy techno-thriller. I have multiple plot lines that gradually weave together into a climax. I also used my experience as a fight choreographer to describe a few fights, from hand-to-hand to a sword fight. I slow the action down like Clancy to show what goes into a combat scene. And the book is a respectable length, like a Clancy novel; over 400 pages.

Depending on which theory of literary criticism you read, there are anywhere from a handful to a bit over 100 possible basic plots. Every good story will have more than one to increase the complexity and hence the engagement of the reader.

I needed to figure out how many real plot lines are in the Christmas story and how many fictional plots I would add to advance the story and create the world I wanted to convey. Here’s what I came up with:

  • The Three Wise Men
  • Joseph, Mary, and Jesus
  • Tom and his guardian angel
  • Simeon at the temple
  • A church Christmas party
  • King Herod and the Star
  • The fight for influence in Jerusalem between a particular priest and an evil sorcerer
  • A troupe of soldiers from Herod’s army

All of these start in very different places, but they come crashing together at the end. I call it the “Lazy Susan” approach. Instead of putting together a novel in a linear fashion, it’s as if different pieces of each plot are on a Lazy Susan that keeps turning. You keep taking pieces off as they come around, working your way to the center.

The pleasure for the reader is a matter of trying to foresee how all of the pieces will fit together in the end. Readers always want to try and figure it out, and the more they have to work for it, the more fun it is, as long as your story is tight, and everything ends up making sense with no loose ends.

Oops! Almost forgot! Never hesitate to kill one or more people for the sake of the story. It can have a significant effect on the reader. Recall the movie “Scream.” Drew Barrymore was prominent in the previews and promotions. Her character got killed right out of the gate. The audience was blown away, because the movie just obliterated a major expectation in movies: the star doesn’t die! The gloves were off and for the rest of the movie, no one could be sure of what would happen next. Surprise is a key to entertainment and engagement

Clancy offs people pretty easily. In one novel, he kills off both houses of congress and the president of the United State by bringing down the capitol building on the whole lot of them. OK. Stop cheering and give me some comments. And don’t get any ideas.

NEXT: The Point of Attack

The Substance Hoped For by Jeffrey H. King

Available on line at Authorhouse in hard and soft cover: . Look for the orange cover.   http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/

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