By Dawn Field
Editor: “That’s a plunk.”
Author: “A what?”
Editor: “It’s a cool idea, but you just ‘plunked’ it into your manuscript I’m reading for you. I can see that a mile away.”
Author: “Yes, I put it in right before I submitted. I didn’t have time to weave it in.”
Editor: “Weave? Not a thread! It’s like a camel at a kid’s birthday party.”
Author: “I can’t take it out, I love the 8-headed, neon, flame sneezing, snake-monster idea more than my Mitzi cat.”
Editor: “Then you need better bridges. It just falls out of the sky in chapter 3 and you don’t refer to it again for the whole book.”
Author: “True. I just thought it was a great surprise when the protagonist enters the cave of Zabdat. I got a bit carried away.”
Editor: “Yes, super idea, all 30 pages. At that work cost, I’d expect the book to revolve around Sir Gronkbite and his fiery cold and habit of setting dry leaves on fire. Maybe he is mentioned in passing and you write a book just on him?”
Author: “Yes! King Gronkbite!”
Editor: “Solved! I look forward to it, especially how he eats ice from the frozen waterfall. Nice creative touch.”Editor: “It’s a cool idea, but you just ‘plunked’ it into your manuscript I’m reading for you. I can see that a mile away.” Click To Tweet
This is just what happens.
You are writing, and you get inspired by something ‘quite a bit different’ – like an ice-crunching, flame sneezing reptilian – and you plunk it into your main project. You saw it on TV, in an article, a friend mentioned it, you spotted a billboard, it came to you in a dream, etc. It could be anything that grabs your attention, but now it’s plunked in your story world.
Problem is, it’s quite a different beast from what you already have. The unity of your story is shot. Just like you would never include an extended historical torture scene in a kid’s book, plunks are often a disaster in the making.
You ‘plunk it into your story’ anyway, willing it to ‘fit’, but even with time and verbal salves it just doesn’t. While some zany plunks are a step beyond creative genius, in all likelihood, you will just need to pull it later like an infected molar.
The saddest part is that many authors don’t have the pliers. You need help to uproot it when it’s settled so deep in your psyche, like a door and string – or a dentist, which in this case would be a friendly and convincing editor.You ‘plunk it into your story’ anyway, willing it to ‘fit’, but even with time and verbal salves it just doesn't. Click To Tweet
Working those plunks
When plunks are exactly what the story needed, they serve as plot points. Congratulations, the intuitive plunk you genius’d up, no matter where it came from, is a great addition. Creative jumps are the mainstay of storytelling.
To seamlessly work a fortuitous plunk into your storyline, you need to build a place for it, and it needs to fit, like bricks in a wall, stones in a pyramid or, well…plot points in a book.
The character Forrest Gump could have done any number of things in his life, but his ‘plunks’ include running away from bullies, getting recruited to the high school football team, getting a college scholarship to play football, going to Vietnam, running across the country. These plunks work beautifully as they form the plot.
Bridges are critical pieces of infrastructure
You can’t just go from plot point to plot point. You also need bridges. The bridges of your story are just as important as the plunks.
Each time you plunk, you need stable bridges. Forrest Gump’s life events listed above are connected by his extraordinarily strong legs – he’s made for running. This is a powerful theme bridging the myriad events of his life.
Bridges help us skip the mundane, warp time to get to the next big plot point and explain why one thing evolves to the next. They can be transition scenes or as simple as a ‘time-leap-phrase’, such as “two years later”, “twenty years ago”, “five days later”, etc.You can’t just go from plot point to plot point. You also need bridges. The bridges of your story are just as important as the plunks. Click To Tweet
The bridge to nowhere
Just as a feisty plunk can be like a boil on a back, bridges too can get out of hand – if they meander, extend too long without coming down on a secure shore, or lead you to nowhere…
Superbly crafted bridges are dead ends if they don’t lead to the place you want to be. The place you need to be is on the path to the end of the story.
Gronkbite was a plunk, but what should have been a bridge to secure his path into the heart of the existing story, ultimately, wrote him a path to his own feature book.
Working your plunks and bridges: it’s all about balance
It’s all about balance. Great writing is a series of superb plunks linked by beautifully architectured bridges so that a unified edifice fit for a queen emerges.
Often, the start of stories consists of creating a bunch of ‘plunks’ with little bridging.
Two big plunks next to each other without sufficient bridging can jar.
If you can identify a plunk or a bridge in writing, it’s probably still an early draft, or one hopes so.
When a story seems to have two distantly related stories in it, this is usually the outcome of two disparate ‘plunking events’. Perhaps separated in time, perhaps just in mood.
In a polished story, there are just a series of perfectly sculpted plot points that flow ingeniously from one to the next.Great writing is a series of superb plunks linked by beautifully architectured bridges so that a unified edifice fit for a queen emerges. Click To Tweet
Which is your forte?
Bridges are arguably the harder of the two to do well. But plunks are an art form too – they must be gripping and big. These are the elements of the story.
Which do you enjoy best? Have you had trouble with either? Have you experienced a ‘plunking event’ that you later regretted? Do you experience this often? Is this perhaps how you root out the true composition of your stories – by trial and error? If so, the rule is ‘whatever works!’
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
Dawn Field is a scientist now writing her second book for Oxford University Press. She has published over 50 articles on writing because she is fascinated by what makes great writing, the writing process, learning how writers create, and how fiction impacts society. She loves reading book drafts at any stage of completion, brainstorming writing projects, and hearing about the diversity of writing experiences. Connect with her to collaborate, or converse, at UnityinWriting.com.
Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
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