The Writer’s Craft #37 – Story Killers
This week’s feature is from Eli Effinger-Weintraub who blogs at The Back Booth (http://backbooth.thesane.net/) Eli is self-described as: “Your average queer, atheistic, bicycle-obssessed, steampunk-lovin’ Pagan writer. Beloved of one wife, owned by two cats. Copyeditor by trade.” Her work appears in Steampunk Tales: Issue 5, edited by G.D. Falksen.
“Why don’t we just shoot the bastard?” –Harrison Ford to Stephen Spielberg during filming of the market scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, originally scripted as an elaborate sword-fight.
The flip side to the “I see story ideas” coin (Writer’s Craft #31, August 1, 2011), is seeing story-killers everywhere–those moments where a story is flowing freely from your brain to the page or screen and suddenly just…stops.
I experience this most often in the “why don’t they just” scenario. I give my characters what I think are layered and labyrinthine plots, crammed with complications–only to realize two pages from the end that the whole mess could’ve been avoided if my protagonist had tied her damned shoes on page three.
I don’t mean the “If only…” lament of tragedy. If only I hadn’t disowned my devoted youngest daughter, I wouldn’t be wandering the heath naked in a storm. I mean the kinds of allegedly complicated plots that the average elementary-school kid can cut through in ten words or less. If my cousin Mara had stayed seven forever, I would never have this problem. I would give her high-level synopses of whatever I was working on, and she would respond, “Well, why don’t they just…” and whack away the Gordian knot of my plot in one sentence.
More recently, in an early scene of my greenpunk novel-in-process, Paper Lily, the protagonists encounter the gun-toting guard of an isolated settlement. In a complex and often hilarious scene, the guard brings them to his boss, which sets into motion the complex and occasionally hilarious machinations of the plot. One of my beta readers took one look at the scene and said, “Yeah, I’m going to need a much better reason for him not to shoot them on the spot.”
My answer was a spluttering, “Because if he does that, there’s no story!”
This is a fairly common authorial response, I think. Things have to happen this way, or there’s no story. But it’s not true. There is a story; it’s just a different one. It may even be a better one, one we perhaps owe it to ourselves and our readers to find.
What story-killers are you prone to as a writer? How do you diagnose or avoid them? As readers, what are your story-killing pet peeves?