Writing Report May 4, 2019
To build off my last two writing reports:
While I strive to write by instinct rather than by careful calculation, this isn’t the same as being unaware or unmindful of the various elements and components a good story needs.
Two elements that turn up frequently in my writing are the Reveal and the Snapper.
(This is not to say that a good story can’t be written omitting either of those elements, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to write a good one omitting both.)
At first glance they seem to be the same thing, but while they are similar, they serve different functions.
The Reveal is something that changes the meaning of the story without changing the actual plot.
In O. Henry’s ”The Cop And The Anthem” the reveal is that Soapy is not the utter scoundrel he seems to be, that beneath his scheming exterior there beats a human heart, one capable of shame and yet with enough pride to decide to mend his habits and become a better person.
It turns the comedy that precedes The Reveal into a more poignant story, and instead of laughing at Soapy’s predicament, we’re now rooting for him.
The Snapper is my term for what others call the plot twist or the reversal, and it actually is a change in the action of the story, albeit one that should occur not for merely logical reasons but, in fact, should be inevitable.
Such as the way the law of averages catches up with Soapy in ”The Cop And The Anthem” (Go read it! What do you think I provided the link for?)
In my latest (at the time of this writing) short story, I had a Snapper:
My protagonist delays a bad thing now so it will happen later, and when it does happen it’s in an unexpected place.
Not bad but…well…just “okay”. Have some fun with the characters and the environment, describe what the protagonist…
…hmm? What’s that? Why does the protagonist merely want to delay the bad thing, not stop it?
Well, by delaying it, the protagonist makes it happen someplace else, someplace that won’t bother them.
Why should it bother them?
Ahh, good; additional motive. By making the bad thing happen somewhere else, the protagonist gets to do a good thing they need to do.
So, as I started typing this story, I planned to have my Reveal come about 2/3rds of the way in with my Snapper -- when / where / how the bad thing happens -- coming at the 3/4thmark and…
Wait a minute…
That doesn’t work…
Reveal first undercuts The Snapper:
Well, of course the protagonist would do that.
Put The Snapper ahead of The Reveal. That justifies the protagonist’s decision…
Say…I can tie The Reveal in with the opening paragraph, make it come full circle.
Well, if I’m going to do that…I might as well do this…and if I’m doing this then I need to drop all that funny / clever stuff I planned for The Snapper because the real payoff is going to be The Reveal at the end.
Doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.
Just means there’s more to the story that a few quick laughs.
When I write, I try to have a goal in focus, a place where I want to story to windup so at the very least I’ll know to stop writing!
But the story often has its own ideas of where it needs to go, and by listening to it grow and evolve as I type, I can tap into what it needs.
And what each individual story needs is more important than what I want as a writer.
If I write what I want and not what the story needs, it’s D.O.A.
Now, this story works because I tie my Reveal back into my opening, but truth be told, my opening was a gimmick; I could have picked a dozen different gimmicks as my hook.
Why that gimmick?
Did I figure a good link back to my opening to make my Reveal -- and subsequently, the entire story -- work?
Or did my story know what it needed long before I did and told me to use that gimmick?
I dunno -- but I tend to lean towards the latter.
I learned in my animation days that if the back of my brain told me to establish a flower pot on a table in the beginning of my script, said flower pot would prove absolute crucial to my resolution in the end.
So who’s writing these stories?
Or the stories themselves?
Don’t know, don’t care.
It’s jazz, my friend.
Just let it flow.
© Buzz Dixon