Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Escaping the Ho-hum

By Pamela

Last night I lounged comfortably in my lawn chair and trained my eyes heavenward for the explosions of fireworks that were launched from a sports complex about a mile away. While I sat among friends and family, I couldn't help feeling a little jaded as the first boom rumbled through the night. Really, each one pretty much looked like the ones I'd watched last year. And the year before that. And, if I could remember that far back, the ones I saw 20, 30, 40 years ago.

But then a plane flew by. And another one, and I said to my neighbor, "That's the way to watch fireworks! I'm putting that on my bucket list." She agreed and then told me that she and her husband huddled under an umbrella in Singapore to watch a fireworks competition! a couple of years ago, and I thought, Yes! That would be cool too.

Similar challenges present themselves in writing. Sure you can view the explosion of the latest trend in fiction and decide to climb into the fracas, but unless you up the ante somehow--really create a kaboom!--your story will go unnoticed by the gatekeepers who dictate your fate.

Recently I submitted the first ten pages of my WIP to a competition to get some feedback regarding my story. I was pleased by most of the reviewer's comments but found my 'hook' portion in need of some work. And I knew that, really, so I've put some thought into how my story unfolds and am playing with a character making a decision I didn't have planned out in addition to getting out of my comfort zone.

It reminded me of an interview I saw months ago when the movie "The Dilemma" came out. Vince Vaughn explained the process of plotting the movie's path and, after I watched the movie on DVD with my son the other day, I talked him through the hook, remembering Vince doing basically the same to promote the film. (Spoiler alert!)

I told my son that the premise of the movie probably started with: What if a guy sees his best friend's wife with another man? Should he tell him? Then they upped the stakes. What if they weren't just friends but also business partners? AND they were in the middle of a business deal that would make or break them so the timing wasn't great. AND what if the guy who saw the affair had slept with the friend's wife a long time ago, before she met her husband? AND what if the guy's wife told the friend that she'd deny the affair and blame the friend for coming on to her? AND what if the guy who saw the whole thing wasn't all that trustworthy himself, like maybe he had a history of gambling addiction? 

So, at first glance you have a dilemma: A guy sees his friend's wife with another man. Which becomes THE Dilemma--something much more than: Will my friend be upset if he learns the truth about his wife?--when the stakes are upped. 

When the fireworks become a competition and we view them from the sky instead of the safety of our comfortable lawn chair, THEN we have a story.

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