Friday, January 25, 2019

Cinderella, Mount Doom and The Plot Dragons--by T.K. Thorne

If, like me, you break out in hives at the word “outline,” plot dragons can lie in wait before you get to the end of your book.  
Courtesy of Photo by Tarik Haiga on Unsplash

But knowing the ending, even the first draft of an ending, is critical to driving your story. Two things can help you shape an ending —location and character.

Terrain can be a constriction that limits your plot choices or it can suggest opportunities. Your story may require a specific place or type of location. JRRTolkien (Lord of the Rings) had a super-powerful ring that needed to be destroyed. That meant either a very hot forge or nature’s forge—lava. Lava was definitely the more dramatic choice, so he needed a volcano environment for his climax scene. The trip to Mount Doom pushed the entire plot of the trilogy.

Using a location that is already familiar territory requires less description at a point when you need to focus on what is happening. For her climax scene, Cinderella is home. No need to rehash the general layout or the characters. We can focus on what decisions characters make and what happens physically and emotionally. In Lord of the Rings, the reader has never seen Mount Doom, but by the time Frodo and Sam get there, it feels familiar from the previous references. We don’t need many clues to imagine the bubbling lava, the smell of burning sulfur, and the stark rocky terrain.

Another way to approach the ending is to look at your character arc.  How does she change and how can you show that? Cinderella is a retiring, quiet, obedient girl, but she casts caution to the wind to go to the ball. When the prince appears, she defies her sisters to put her foot in the glass slipper. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo faithfully bears the burden of the ring to the edge of the cliff, but at the last moment, he can’t overcome the ring’s power. At the same time, that power is the ring’s doom.  Tolkien made his ending work in a complex way that satisfies.

Make sure the central character plays an integral part in the solution, either by wits or bravery—or, like Frodo, by failing—but not by coincidence or employing a contrived solution. Cinderella’s decision to attend the ball and be her true self caused the prince to fall in love and search for her. Sure, the fairy godmother could have poofed them together, out of reach of the clutches of her conniving family, but the reader would have felt cheated. Your ending needs to be surprising or, at least, not completely foreseen by the reader and, at the same time, inevitable in the sense that it needs to arise out of what has come before. The reader should say, Oh yeah, I should have seen that coming when Cindy lost her shoe. When Gollum appears at the end of Tolkien’s trilogy and grabs the ring, we are surprised, but it is not contrived. Gollum’s actions are entirely in keeping with his character and previous behavior.

Use location and character to help shape your ending as soon as possible to outwit the plot dragons, keep out of a writing lava pit, and have a happily-ever-after writing your book.

T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch. 

Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. 

T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap. 

 More info at Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

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