Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Story Lines In Plain English

So there I was (and as my daughter says, I start all stories with this phrase), wondering how to explain why it was so important to connect the end of the story to the beginning. Which pretty much means I've dropped into the middle of "this" story without even pausing to explain where I came from. If you've talked to me over the last few years, you know I've been on a "the end and beginning need to sync" kick. Kicking it around, kicking it around, thinking about it.

It's not that the info isn't usable. I think it's more like it's not relate-able. I mean, everyone knows their story works. They write and it ends up where they wanted to go, more or less, and listening to me say a storyline is a force, and should be straight sort of blurs.

A storyline, or at least how I use it, is the story's narrative or all the stuff in it, the plot or sequence of events, the characters, the motivations, the setting, the...everything. I think of it as "stuff" or the story as an integrated unit. Storyline = all the stuff, moving toward the end where something happens. In a romance (because it's the easiest example), it's the happily ever after.

So, storyline = all the stuff moving toward the end of the story where the hero and heroine get together now and forever, or just for now.

Now, strip that down to the word "line", and change line into "plain". We are now on a plain, sort of like the Midwest or something. Chicago is on the plain. NY, Seattle, LA, Alaska. They're all on the plain. Along with people and cars, and houses and supermarkets. It's all a world, contained by a plain, where everyone walks around and does stuff (like in a book :) ).

Imagine we're going to Happily-Ever-After, which is in NY. However, we're still in Seattle, so we're going on a road-trip.  The heroine packs her car, and hits the road. It is 2,854 miles to NY, and somewhere on the road between Seattle and NY the hero is standing on the side of the road, leaning against his sexy black motorcycle, stripped down to a pair of jeans, muscles and tattoos. However, we're going to detour to Hawaii for a tan because we can't go to NY without looking bronzed and gorgeous for the hero.

However, one thing leads to another, the trip takes a long time, the hotel has fleas, and there are all these hot young lifeguards. Before you know it, Sea-tac Park and Fly is calling about your car because it's about to get towed. So, you get back on the plane, fly back to your car and start for NY.

Or, maybe you feel the call of the wild, and head to Alaska. Up the coast, bumping along the Alaska Highway, stopping here and there to look at elk or take in a glacier. You've got friends and your sister in the back seat, a couple of playlists, and long snug nights in cute cabins in the great outdoors. What hero? There's plenty of time to squeeze him in somewhere.

Now imagine Hawaii is the home of backstory. The heroine grew up there, loves the food, has relatives there, and can't let go. It might very well be that her memory hotel turns out to have fleas, but that's the point of a visit, to remember the fleas and have something to eat. A reader can't understand the story without seeing what shaped the heroine before it starts, right? And Alaska is full of friends, family, fun times, and sets up perfectly for a series.

However, Hawaii and Alaska are not on the way to NY, and unless the heroine is on the way to NY, she isn't going to meet the hero and start their journey together. This doesn't mean she can't stop in at a Hawaiian deli and get some takeout, or cruise through a park with the hero, another couple, and a cute puppy. While a storyline is a line, it doesn't mean stuff can't happen. It just means stuff needs to be on a straight line. It needs to be integrated. It needs to be takeout, or a fun day with the hero (and others) at a park. Why does it need to be Denali? Denali is in Alaska. Why not Cuyahoga Valley? Cuyahoga Valley is on the way to NY.

Lines are not just a line. They are a plain. A plain contains all kinds of things, including a road, and sometimes that road includes (minor) detours which quickly get you back on track again. Which leads back to the "end and beginning need to sync."

If you are road-tripping from Seattle to New York, and find yourself starting in Hawaii or Alaska, maybe the story needs to start earlier, or it's not really about the heroine, but someone else.


Kaige said...

I'd actually worry if you got caught in a full-fledged traffic jam, Jodi! But it might result in another useful book too ;)

Plains, lines, roads, "reasonable" detours. Lots of good STUFF chunked into this post. Food for thought as always. The geographical metaphors make a lot of sense and I like how you brought in ways to "take us back" to the land of backstory without actually taking the time and effort to TRAVEL there on our way to NY/HEA.

This dovetails nicely with the plotting class I'm taking with Melissa Cutler right now and how every scene, action, and page of your story needs to *drive* the character’s growth forward. Stay on that line. Stay on your route to reach the HEA.

I probably owe you an email and I know I need to reread some of your posts to see if I can answer some of my current questions before asking you to repeat yourself. =)

Melissa said...

Thanks for this Jodi. This helped me identify the problem in the rewrite of several Chapters, especially Chapter One as it syncs to the last chapter. I had a wobbly line that wandered all over the plain. Hooray,I have my character back on track.

Jodi Henley said...

Thanks, Kaige! I'm glad you liked it. I'd worry if I got stuck in a full-fledged traffic jam too. :)

Jodi Henley said...

Hi Melissa! All right!! I'm glad you're back on the road :)