When I went away to college many, many years ago, I moved about 5 hours away from home. Not far, probably, compared to some of you, but for the shy kid I was, it was a good distance. It meant that coming home for weekends was not a given, and it meant one miserable trip that involved a city bus to a greyhound bus to another greyhound bus that made 1.32 gazillion stops (I counted!) in Los Angeles and many hours beyond that. And the return trip.
Which is why I was more than grateful that I knew someone at the school from my hometown, someone with whom I could grab an occasional ride up the state.
She was a friend of my older sister’s. She was two years older than I was and, I’d bet, pretty darned close to as shy as me. She drove a car I fell in love with–a 1960-something Mercedes Benz with seats out of a Pullman car and a steering wheel that, if you held onto it 10 & 2, you got a nice yoga stretch. Anyway, this friend would call me up if she was going home & offer the passenger seat, and I would check with her at holidays to see if she was heading home.
Why am I going on about this? Because this was not just someone I knew, a college-mate I’d met and developed my own, one-to-one relationship with. This was my sister’s friend, the daughter of neighbors that (probably) brought one of their pets to my parents’ veterinary clinic. She was the middle sister, like me, with an older brother we all had crushes on, and a younger sister, as well. If you drew lines between all the people we both connected to, it would look like a spider web of interlacing strands. And, frankly, it was these connections that made it possible for the seriously-shy me to accept (and ask for) rides from this woman and for her to offer. We knew we had something, at least, to talk about for those hours driving along the Pacific Ocean. The connections added layers to our interactions.
Just like in a novel.
I just solved a plot problem tonight. I knew what my MC should do next, but I could see it taking her down a path that would be a problem later. Not a problem for her, but a problem for the story–this one action was going to make her step in and out of just one too many opportunities, with the bouncing out making her feel like a quitter. Which she is not. This has been a stumbling block for me every time I looked down the line at upcoming scenes. Tonight, I worked it out. If the opportunity I set up for has a connection to the next opportunity, a connection with the people involved, then she doesn’t have to quit. Instead, she’ll move forward on that path.
To be more specific, I gave one character another role–which gives that character another link to my hero. Instead of two separate people with whom my hero has to interact, on totally different planes, she now has a single person with whom she interacts on two levels. Deeper. Stronger.
When you’re working with your plot and thinking about paths for your hero, look at who’s hanging around on that path. Are they isolated from each other, or connected? Take two characters who do know each other–who else can you bring into the mix? As you connect, as you braid more lines together, what overlap do you see between worlds? What extra ripples does someone’s action start…in how many ponds? Who opens up to whom and who tells takes on who else? How much more interesting does your story become?
Try mixing things up and take a look. I predict you’ll be pleasantly surprised! 🙂