For those of you who weren’t preteens in the dark era called the early 21st century, that title is a quote from an Avril Lavigne song. It’s about a rather conflicted relationship between her and some bloke.
That said, today we’re going to talk about how to complicate our plot!
On the Freytag Diagram (picture below), we see that lovely rising action before getting to the climax. This is what we will be focusing on. How do we get the readers up that steep hill? How do we keep them motivated to pedal their way upwards and onward.
We call this complications. Let’s use “Little Red Riding Hood” as an example of how the Freytag works. First, we have the introduction of Red Riding Hood and her mother. We find out that her grandmother is in the woods somewhere dying of old age and sickness or something of equal unfortune. The inciting incident is that the mother wants Red to take her convulsing grandmother some food.
Now at this point, we know what we expect if this story was hum drum and we hadn’t heard it before. Red would take Granny the food, and then get back to her house. However, if Red hit the woods and nothing happened, then why would we keep reading?
Ah ha! A conflict arises! There’s a wolf! The wolf is what we call … a conflict. What keeps us interested. What surprises us.
There are two different kinds of conflict that we can indulge in:
Rev – The rev means that the problem we have has just gotten more dire. For example, Red’s major problem is that Granny’s dying (probably from starvation if the only food available is at her granddaughter’s house), and Red’s got the basket of goodies. If this story used a Rev, then it would mean that this situation needs to be solved right now or else. If the Wolf popped out and said, “Your grandmother only has five minutes to live!” then Red would need to find a way to get Granny the food pronto. If the Wolf popped out and said, “Your grandmother is being held up by robbers and the only thing that will qwell their cold hearts is if she’s fed!” then it would still be a rev. A rev does not change the final goal of the plot. The goal stays the same. So let’s say that we have a story about a boy and a father. The boy is playing baseball when he falls down and scrapes himself up. The father takes him to the doctor. A rev would be that the boy is losing a lot of blood and needs to be taken care of immediately.
Examples of revs:
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang must defeat the Fire Lord, because he’s the Avatar. However, this problem is revved halfway through Season One when Aang realizes there’s a huge comet coming at the end of the summer, and this will increase the Fire Lord’s strength. Thus, it becomes more dire that Aang gets on that saving-the-world thing and completes it before the end of this summer.
- In Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf gives Frodo the ring and tells him not to tell anyone. Frodo’s job is to keep the ring from Sauron. However! The Nasgal are on their way and it becomes dire that Frodo flees the Shire and throw it in Mount Doom. Rev.
- In Ella Enchanted, Ella’s major goal is breaking the spell of obedience. Thanks to a tricky and stupid fairy godmother at birth, Ella was given the “gift” (more of a curse) of having to do what someone tells her to do. However, this problem needs to be worked out a tad faster than expected when Charm tells her to marry him, and she can’t due to plotty circumstances. She must break the spell immediately.
- In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll’s BFF’s goal is to stop Hyde. Or if we want to put Jekyll as the protagonist, Jekyll’s goal is to get rid of Hyde. However, this becomes more dire when Hyde starts to become stronger and try to take over Jekyll.
The other way to complicate plot is …
Switch – A switch means that the plot changes altogether. Let’s go back to the boy and his father at the doctor. Instead of bleeding fast and needing to be taken care of immediately, the doctor finds in a blood test that the boy has a terrible disease. Well now we really don’t care about that scrape on his leg anymore; he’s got a disease. The plot goes off on a whole different direction, kind of like Red when she follows the Wolf’s advice. To reiterate: A rev enhances the goal, a switch changes the goal.
Examples of Switches:
- The Green Mile. The original plot is to execute John Coffey. Turns out Coffey is a messiah who can heal people. Now the plot is whether or not to kill Coffey.
- The Odyssey. The original plot is to get home. Then Poseidon gets angry and gets Odysseus’s crew lost. Now it’s to survive and FIND home.
- The Count of Monte Cristo. The original plot is to have his vengenace on those who threw him in jail. Then he finds out Mondego married Mercedes. And it’s on.
- Julius Caesar. The original plot is to kill Julius. Then Julius dies and Mark Antony stands up for him and makes Rome turn against everyone who killed him. Now the plot is to survive their great mistake.
- Oliver Twist. The original plot is to survive on the streets as a little urchin. Then Oliver is adopted by a wealthy man. Now the plot is to stay away from the street urchins and get back home.
- Beauty and the Beast. The original plot is to save Belle’s father from the Beast. Then she falls in love with him. Now the plot is to save the Beast from Gaston.
So how have you complicated your plot? What wrenches have you thrown in? Remember, plots need to have a little spice to them so we don’t know where we’re going. Think of a roller coaster. Do you want to know where all the dives and bumps and turns are? That wouldn’t be any fun at all.
And finally … what do YOU want to hear about on this blog? We are open to suggestion as to what to write about next!
(Source for Picture: http://media.photobucket.com/image/freytag%20diagram/Alixtii/plot.jpg)