Getting Even More Blood From A Turnip

Originally posted October 7, 2009

Right. Time for some more thoughts on boosting the ol' word count.

A friend noted to me the other day something I am already familiar with, but hadn't thought of lately: throwing monkey wrenches at your characters. A story is about people coping with crisis, and when your characters go sailing along just fine and dandy with no unexpected bumps in the road, there is no story. So the thing to do to advance your word count, build story depth, and bring out the traits in your characters, is to trip them up now and then.

A case in point from 'Overland'. My hero, Nate, was planning for him and the heroine to slip off the train at Reno to evade the evil future cop. However, three of the passengers - three low life cowpokes - went into town, got roaring drunk, and tore up the saloon. The Sheriff and an angry posse dragged them back to the train, where one of my supporting characters made them pay the damages. Nate's plan was scuppered by this, since with the townies riled up, he doesn't dare risk it.

Here was a chance to throw a new plot twist into the story, as well as a bit of humor. It also did a lot to develop the minor character, who plays a significant role later on, and to push Nate forward in Greek tragedy fashion.

Monkey wrenches can also be used to build plot tension and to get different characters to interact. In 'Nature's Way', the crew of a helicopter providing air support were called off their search by a priority request for an air strike. As they turned away, they spotted a house in the distance - where the family of civilians were trying desperately to reach safety. In this case, three separate character groups interacted unwittingly, and the result was an ironic twist of fate for the civilians.

Monkey wrenches don't have to be all serious, either. In in my first book, 'In The Course Of Diplomacy', the villainous human super spy sends an agent to break into the communication center of the alien embassy to steal their advanced software. He made a mistake and tried to break into the medical center instead - where the female character's newly laid egg is kept. Convinced the humans know of the egg, they decide to smuggle it off world on the supply ship. At the airport, they run into the human super spy, who is there for something else entirely. The result is a hilarious (IMn/sHO) scene where the female alien baffles him with bullshit while they smuggle the egg onto the plane.

To sum up - a story is about characters coping with problems, so the more problems they face (within reason) the better. Monkey wrenches can advance the plot, open up new story avenues, build characters, promote interaction, and ratchet up the tension - all of which are key to a good story.

Speaking of which, I really need to get back to my writing...

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