Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Write like a pool player

Writing a good story is like playing billiards. What’s the difference between an amateur and a professional pool player? The purpose of some pool games is to hit the balls into the pockets – the more you can get in the better, and you can keep hitting until you miss. An amateur will look for a good shot, hit it, and hope the white ball ends up in a place when he can get another shot. A professional knocks one ball in the pocket with a plan for a second, third or fourth shot.

Writers must do the same thing when devising a plot for a scene, and act, or an entire story. Too often we write scenes with a setup and a single payoff. That’s not a bad strategy, but you must go beyond this. Can you make the payoff be a false payoff, with another better payoff later in the story? How a series of escalating payoffs – some that end up being good, some bad, some making the crisis worse, and some making it better – but all leading to an ultimate payoff later.

Now, I’m not talking about the major plot of the story here, I’m talking about issues like the revelation of a character flaw (or strength) in one of your characters. I’m talking about a hidden agenda where a person’s intentions are seemingly revealed only to find out later that that revelation was a ploy.
We’re talking about something here I like to call a story’s texture. Stories shouldn’t be smooth like a silk tie – they should be a rough like a gunny sack. Texture. You want your story to interest your reader, to lead them down paths that seem to make sense, only to make them realize that they’ve been duped by one of the characters or some other circumstance. Readers read to have fun, to be frightened, terrorized, inspired, and surprised. Give it to them.

Telling a story is like playing a game – a game of pool, for example. For each scene, don’t take one shot and make it be all you have – take a shot that ricochets into multiple new territories and that reveals through a series of resulting events a final revelation that moves your story forward or provides an ultimate explanation.