Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Week 21: Building Bridges

Donald Maass, in his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, says, “The number one reason my agency rejects manuscripts is insufficient tension or conflict, especially in the opening scenes.” That comment should make us pause and reconsider the way we begin our stories.

This week, we’re looking at what Mass calls, “Bridging Conflict,” which refers to secondary problems that “bridge” the gap between the beginning of the manuscript when we’re forced to work in information to set the plot in place and the actual onset of the story. A bridge might also span larger plot points to hold the reader’s interest later in the manuscript.

Ever wonder whether to open with a prologue? Maass weighs in with a definite NO! In fact, he writes, “I hate most prologues.” More often than not, according to Maass, prologues are written about a character the readers don’t know and don’t care about.

I’ve heard Jennie Cruise say basically the same thing, although she adds that readers identify with the first character they see. If that character is not the protagonist, then the reader must develop a new relationship once the hero or heroine is introduced.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? So no prologues in our stories, unless they establish an immediate connection between reader and protagonist and help the story to dramatically and systematically unfold.

Now back to bridging conflict. Michael Hauge, in WRITING SCREENPLAYS THAT SELL (another great reference book I highly recommend), discusses the “outside action opening.” That’s when a film or TV program focuses initially on an action sequence that will not be developed further within the show, but provides a hook to grab viewers and pull them into the hero’s world.

Sound confusing? Think of the opening of a cop show. A chase scene, hostage standoff or drug raid initially grabs the viewers and throws them into the middle of the action. They’re hooked, and also relieved when the life-threatening situation is resolved usually because of the hero’s quick response to the crisis. The hero cop saunters back to the precinct, basking in the praise of his fellow officers, unaware that his world is about to cave in around him.

The hero’s competency has been established. The viewer knows he’s a friendly guy who’s well liked by his peers and doesn’t deserve the larger problem that will soon befall him when the screenwriter reveals the cop’s teenage daughter has been kidnapped by terrorists, a bomb has exploded in city hall and/or the chief of police has been arrested for drug possession.

Tess Gerritsen, one of my favorite authors, sometimes uses the same technique to establish her physician heroes. The story opens in the operating room. Tension is high. The surgery is risky. The doc saves the patient while Gerritsen weaves key information about her protagonist into the scene. The reader feels a connection, is hooked on the story and can’t put the book down when Gerritsen quickly introduces the major conflict around which the book is based.

This week, let’s look at any valleys we may have created in our stories and build bridges of conflict to raise the readers’ interest and expectations. In addition, we need to ensure our opening scenes are packed with tension and conflict, delete prologues unless they help establish our protagonist and keep the pace moving throughout the story with secondary problems that bridge the major plot points together.

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!
Debby Giusti
Stop by
Today I'm blogging about the WRITE ATTITUDE.

Bridges . . .Golden Gate Bridge . . . RWA National Convention in San Francisco . . . planning to attend?

Fellow authors Janet Dean and Missy Tippens and I, along with Steeple Hill senior editor Krista Stroever, will present FIRST YEAR ON THE JOB: From “The Call” to Publication, on Friday, August 1, at 3:15 pm. Hope you can join us!


Ellen said...

Can I say that I have read prologues that actually give information I (as a reader) need about the hero/heroine and there is really no other logical way to introduce that information. Can't think of which book it is that I read recently that had a prologue that was necessary to the understanding of the story. Sometimes it seems a prologue is necessary.

Terri Reed said...

Yea!!! on the workshop at nationals.
I so wanted to attend. I'll be signing in the Harlequin room at that time. I'll have to listen to the CD. I love to hear Krista speak. She is an amazing person, full of great information.

Debby Giusti said...

Maass does say in his workbook that a few authors have done a good job with their prologues, but on the whole, he's against them.

A prologue may seem like an easy way for a writer to create tension and suspense, when often it leaves the reader without a character with whom to identify!

Thanks for stopping by today! Love your photo. You look so relaxed in front of the camera!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Terri,

Thanks for being with us last year for the workshop. It was great seeing your smiling face in the crowd.

Congrats on signing in the HQ room!!! Your books are so, so good!

Ellen said...

Debby -- the picture was taken at Christmas by my brother and he was able to size it so I could use it as my avatar.

Debby Giusti said...

I like it, Ellen!

Jessica said...

Wow, Debby!
Too posts in one day?
I love the bridge idea.
Plus, I think it helps keep the middle from sagging because you can resolve the secondary conflict and then at the end resolve the main conflict.