09 August 2009

The Zen of Plot Twists

Even knowing what I do about the Universal Story form and plot, or perhaps because of what I know about the Universal Story form and plot, I marvel all the more at the creative ways authors push at the edges, play with the unexpected, build excitement, and provide plot twists.

Creative writing is an art. Writings' artists -- writers -- balk at structure and rail against limitations, discipline and order. (I've written extensively in earlier posts about the biology and rebellious nature of writers.) All the better, because stories at the best are about struggle. We as writers, too, are at our best when, well-informed of the expectations, we use the confines themselves to provide more struggle, deeper and more profound even than the story on the page.

Within the boundaries and rhythm of the Universal Story form, the writer is free to do anything. That's where the magic happens. Intuitive wisdom steeped in our shared past serves as a guide.

Writers seem to fall into three categories:
#1 Writers who find the rhythm within 
themselves and are able to consistently tap 
into that rhythm. 

#2 Writers who learn the rhythm over 
time and study, their writing 
at first awkward
in their self-consciousness. 
After several books, 
they settle into the rhythm naturally.

#3 The pity are those writers 
who stumble into the rhythm by chance and, 
when faced with the impermanence 
of their ability in subsequent stories, 
these writers' egos prevent them from studying the craft, 
preferring instead to settle for the one-book wonder.

For those of you who fall into category #2, a couple of tips:

This, too, shall pass.

1) Lull the reader in the moment of the scene, all the time knowing that this, too, shall pass. Invite the character and the reader or viewer to sink into the moment-by-moment action through the use of authentic sensory details. Do everything in your power to help them attach viscerally to the momentary happiness, despondency, safety, fear, success, disappointment, and despair.

2) You, on the other hand, by honoring the fleetingness of every situation, are able to stay in balance and create the unexpected. As the character reels through one event, you as the writer create an effect that cuts even deeper and raises the stakes ever higher. It's best if / when you can pull a detail planted earlier in the story into the effect to bite the character in the butt (plot twist)(one way to keep track of all the authentic, thematically significant details is by tracking your scenes as you write them on a Scene Tracker.)

The character and reader react to the cause. You, on the other hand, use the transience of all forms and the inevitability of change to your advantage.

3) The character identifies with the cause and the effect. You, on the other hand, cannot afford to identify with your writing, with the scene, with the outcome or you begin to fear the loss of your writing, the scene, the outcome. If you do, you build up anxiety about the next scene and stay too long in the comfort zone. An appreciation that this, too, shall pass brings detachment and allows you access to an inner dimension of the Universal Story form. You become freed from any imprisonment.

This, too, will pass. Suddenly there is space around the writing of the next scene. Within that space, you enjoy writing without attachment and are able to explore thematic universals and the eternal. 

Space consciousness allow you to detach from the clutter of your words and research and fear and frustration to work in harmony, rather than resistance, with the rhythm. Within an alert inner stillness in the background as the writer, you can create dramatic action in the story in the foreground.

An understanding that this, too, will pass applies to the writer and to the writing, and the character and the scenes within the story. The Zen-like practice of detachment allows writers access to plenty of plot twists.