Writing Week Math
I know you’re going to assume I’m about to give you a rundown of the number of words you’ll need each day to finish your novel/novella/short story during Novel Writing Week, but I’m not. What I’m going to talk to you about today is something you used in 5th grade math… the Lowest Common Denominator. Of course I’m not talking fractions, I’m talking plots. In another tidbit gleaned from 20 Master Plots by Ronald Tobias, we’re going to go over eight of the lowest common denominators of plot.
LCD 1 - Make Tension Fuel Your Plot. If you’re writing a story, it has to have tension. Nobody wants to read a story about somebody who wants something and gets it… there’s no story there. The story has to have some tension, some reason to keep reading.
LCD 2- Create Tension through Opposition. Make sure you’re planned story is going to have some tension, some roadblocks to attaining a goal, something to make it interesting for your reader. Sometimes the tension will be internal, sometimes external, but either way you want to make sure that you’ve got not only a local tension (fine for a short story), but also a universal tension theme that runs through the story (for a longer piece).
LCD 3 - Make Tension Grow as Opposition Increases. Don’t make things easier on your character as things progress. The tension needs to build to a climax over time so that the final resolution relieves the tension rather than just tie up a few loose ends. This goes into your standard three act storyline. Act 1 is the setup, you create some tension, and you set your stage and players. Act 2 is where complications arise, and arise, and arise. The second act is the critical place to grow your tension by feeding it more and more opposition. Act 3 is your resolution and should have that final climax of the most tension possible before you let the story be resolved.
LCD 4 - Make Change the Point of the Story. The hero, and tangential characters, should end up changed at the end of the story. If your characters have remained the same, not having grown as a result of the situation and the lessons learned, then you’ve wasted their and your reader’s time. Without platitudes and preaching your characters need to learn from the mistakes or at the very least change in SOME way due to the situations they’ve just been through.
LCD 5 - When something happens, be sure it’s important. This is more important when you go to edit your work, but if you can keep an eye on it while writing you’ll save yourself many beautiful words, and many wasted hours. Avoid the tangents to your story; make sure that what’s happening is moving the story along.
LCD 6 - Make the Causal look Casual. No matter how well thought out and plotted your story IS, you don’t want it to read like it was plotted. Your goal should be that things happen in such a way that they are believable. This ties in to LCD 7, which is…
LCD 7 - Leave lady luck and chance to the lottery. Even if somebody in the real world DOES win the lotto and the million dollar slot machine, you can’t have that in your story as any sort of resolution. Certainly if your story starts with somebody winning the lottery and is based around that you’re ok. But you can’t have the family farmed saved from foreclosure after 200 pages by the farmer winning the lottery the night before the sale.
LCD 8 - The central character must perform the central climactic action. If you have a protagonist, they need to be the one doing whatever gets done in the climax. They need to be in center stage, involved in the action. They’re the main character for a reason, they’re most important to the story, and your readers now care about them… don’t leave them hanging out at the bar while somebody else does all the dirty work.
Now that we’ve got the LCDs, we know we can get away with breaking one or two (we just have to know the rules so we know HOW to break them). But, if you’re not writing your umpteenth published novel, you’d be well served to keep the LCDs handy when you’re writing, so you can follow the rules, not break them.
Keep Writing and Happy Wordtripping!