I have a confession to make, specifically to Nicole, who commented on Monday's post, saying:
"I'm really really tired of estranged families at the center of the plot."Bless me readers, for I have sinned. Both of my novels are about estranged families, and so is the one I'm writing now. I'm just relieved I haven't yet written any of the worn-out stories Ariel listed - though I do wonder what would happen if we took a young ex-Amish FBI agent, returned her to her home town in Pennsylvania to track down a nuclear detonator from her past...
What do you think?
This brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the magic juice of story-writing: The unexpected.
Recently my husband, George read Blood Work by Michael Connelly. He loved the book so much, he insisted we watch the movie together. Here's the premise:
Still recovering from a heart transplant, a retired FBI profiler returns to service when his own blood analysis offers clues to the identity of a serial killer.About twenty minutes into the film, I said aloud, "I wonder if this is what happened..." But George only smiled, and said, "You'd think so, but Michael Connelly's way ahead of you."
So I kept watching, and twenty minutes later, I said, "I'm sure I was right. It's obvious. I'm surprised Clint Eastwood hasn't figured it out yet. He's been a cop for how long?"
"You wait and see," said George. "This writer is sooooooo good..."
Long before the movie was over, I even thought I knew the killer's name. The only thing that threw me off was that smirk on George's face that said I didn't know anything at all about whodunit.
But you know what? I knew everything. I was a hundred percent right from the very beginning.
What happened? Michael Connelly may have written the book, but Brian Helgeland wrote the screenplay, and for some reason, Helgeland took out all the tricky stuff and substituted in the obvious stuff.
A good writer does it the other way around. The unexpected is perhaps the least complicated, the most deceptively simple device in his toolbox.
Did Ariel nail your premise with "A young woman leaves the big city and returns to her home town to face the ghosts of her past?" What expectations will your reader have from such a story? Where will he start saying, "Oh, I know what happens next?" At that point, just give him something else, something unexpected, and find a way to make it work.
With a bit of imagination, you really can put a Philadelphia cop in an Amish community and let the bad guys meet him there. Call it The Witness and ask Harrison Ford to star in the movie. He might just say yes.
A nuclear device on an Amish farm might push things a little far. But then again...
Here's a book recommendation from Becky Miller to me to you: While I'd been aware of the trick of the unexpected before, John Truby does a great job of expanding on it in The Anatomy of Story, in the second chapter, titled Premise.
Play the game with me. What books or movies have you enjoyed that put a new twist on an old concept? I love to read what you have to say.