Sunday, June 22, 2008

Using Assumptions To Create Page-Turning Plots

In an early blog, I talked about plotting with premise twists. A premise is really an assumption. When you do many things in your life, they are based on assumptions. You assume when you go into a movie theater, they’ll have a candy and drink counter. You assume when you get into your car and turn the key it will start. You assume while waiting at a red light that eventually it will become green. When these things don’t happen or aren’t as you anticipate, it is a surprise.

Assumptions are something readers make when they learn the premise of a story. The story opens with a child running toward a woman who’s stepped into the room from outside. The assumption is perhaps:
1. This is her child.
2. The child heard her coming.
3. Someone in the house has been caring for the child while she's been gone.
4. The child is happy to see her.

But none of these assumptions might be so:
1. The child might not be hers. She might be raising the child as her own and it was kidnapped.
2. The child might be blind and felt the thud of her footsteps or smelled her perfume.
3. The child might be alone with no one in the house.
4. The child might be frightened being alone or someone else might have been in the house.

Think of the surprise to a reader when the assumptions they make are shattered. This is the kind of premise we are thrilled to find as we plot our ideas preparing to begin a novel. Sometimes these ideas might strike us once the story has already begun.

Strategies have been made to create assumptions for our novels, and I found an interesting blog called John’s Ideas which provides some creative techniques for writing that talks about this concept. It’s the same one I discussed early in other Plotting chapters.

This technique is described in this manner: You want to find some assumptions about an old chair found in a shed. John’s method suggests you make a list of possible assumptions you might want to make with directives: person, time, location, usage. Then you take the first directive “person” and you begin to ask yourself questions about a person in relationship to the chair. Don’t stop with my suggestions. Continue on with creative questions.

Assumption about Person:
Someone has sat in this chair
Someone owned this chair
Someone built this chair
Someone felt a connection to this chair

Assumptions about Time:
This chair was built in the 20th century.
This chair was part of someone’s life.
If it had eyes, this chair would seen history pass it by.
Someone sat in this chair during an emotional period of life.

Assumptions about Location:
This chair sat in a kitchen.
This chair had been in a bedroom.
This chair sat in front of a computer.
This chair was in an office building.
This chair was in someone’s house.

Assumptions about Usage:
This chair was useful for eating meals.
This chair had things piled on it.
This chair was used as a valet to hold clothing draped over the back.
This chair tripped someone.

Then you can begin to ask questions about the chair as you found it:

Why is the chair in the shed?
As one of four, two chairs were broken.
Someone died in this chair.
The chair become out of fashion.
Someone didn’t have the heart to throw this chair away.

As you can see, asking questions about this chair can trigger some very creative ways you can use this chair in your story or even create a new subplot that affects a character’s journey. You can build an entire story around this chair if you use your imagination. Perhaps it's magical and it can take you on a journey. Who knows? Only you. . . so use assumption brainstorm in a creative way.

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