The Wrong Plot Twist Can Ruin You

Scene from The Grapes of Wrath

Life, when you really look hard at the roads you’ve taken, the crossroads you’ve missed, the people you’ve known, and the experiences you’ve endured, is never really a grand, sweeping epic of biblical proportions.

Life is simply a series of short stories piled one on top of the other.

Full of pathos. Full of humor. Full of drama. A little love. A little sorrow. A little anger. Occasional suspense. Always a mystery, usually fraught with a secret or two,

and frightening at times.

The plots, both good and bad, change regularly.

And only a few characters remain from the first breath to the last.

But the short stories are pieced together like colorful squares in a patchwork quilt, some torn, some frayed, some able to withstand any of the trials that ill winds blow your way.

So it is with a novel. When you write a book, don’t worry about how grand or how sweeping the epic will be. Concentrate instead on crafting the myriad of individual short stories that make a novel either memorable or quickly forgotten and probably unread.

Each chapter is a short story.

Each scene is a short story.

Each passage of dialog is a short story.

And all of them have a beginning and ending. All have a touch of conflict or tension even if it only deals with the inner struggles of the characters.

And, like life, novels depend on the single twist of a plot. Have you ever thought about what would have happened to a great novel if one plot point had been changed?

Would Gone With the Wind be a classic if Rhett Butler had given a damn and not walked out on Scarlet?

Would To Kill a Mockingbird been revered if Atticus Finch had broken down under pressure from his Southern colleagues and refused to defend the poor black man accused of rape and murder?

Would we even remember Moby Dick if Ahab had never found the whale?

And what stories from the Bible would have touched our souls if Goliath had slapped aside the five smooth river rocks thrown from David’s slingshot and whipped the upstart young lad, if Job had lost his patience, if the dancer had asked for a buffet dinner in Cairo instead of the head of John the Baptist?

That’s why the key plot point is so critical. There are many to choose from, but only one works. So when you pile all of those short stories into your epic and you reach the final point of no return, make sure you choose the right plot twist.

You don’t want to be the author who wrote The Naked and the Dead about a stripper working in a South L.A. funeral home or The Grapes of Wrath about the owner of an Oklahoma winery gone bad or mad or both?

It just wouldn’t have been the same.

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