My new horror film, The Plot:
I love horror movies. I have ever since I was a teenager, when my cousin and I watched every single horror movie we could get our hands on the summer I stayed with my aunt
and uncle. It occurred to me the other day that coming up with a plot to a story is a bit like watching one of those horror films, when the first victim dies. Given it has always driven me crazy that mostly stupid teenage girls die in horror flicks (70s & 80s horror films people, yes I know, I’m dating myself), I’m going to make a guy the victim.
First, you have exposition. This is where you introduce the story and the characters. In particular, you get to know the main character, or in this case, our victim, Johnny. You also get a little of their motivations and perhaps an idea of what’s at stake if they fail to attain their goal.
In The Plot, Johnny is on the phone with his friends. He’s telling them how his parents are gone for the weekend, so he’s planning a party for that night. You know this spells trouble, right? He’s feeling a little cocky when his best friend, Paul, asks about getting caught and answers by laughing, “What could possibly happen?”
Sometimes this is the hardest portion of a story to create. If you don’t start a story right, the reader might become bored and not stick around to reach “the good part.”
Next is rising action. This is the action scenes, and sometimes the suspense, that slowly drives us to the climax of the story. So back to The Plot, Johnny is getting ready for the party. He’s moving through the house, making sure his stuff isn’t laying around for his drunken friends to make off with later. After putting his things in his room and closing the door, suddenly, he feels a presence. He stops in the hallway and listens, turning his head from side to side to look in the open doorways of his sister and parents’ rooms. Deciding he’s being foolish, Johnny moves down the hall and heads for the stairs. As he gets to the bottom of the steps, he feels it again. Freezing in place, he listens closely. Suddenly, he hears a tapping noise in the next room. Fear fills him. Picking up a baseball bat he left by the door when he got home from school, Johnny slowly walks into the living room. Relief fills him when he finds a window partially open, the wind blowing the curtains lightly against the standing lamp next to it, causing the noise. Shaking his head at his idiocy, he sets the bat down, walks over to close the window, and locks it. Going over to the stereo, Johnny turns it on, head bobs to the beat of the tune playing, performs his classic air guitar move and then heads for the kitchen to find snacks for the party.
See how this works? You’re sitting at the edge of your seat, waiting to see what happens next, aren’t you? You need to keep the reader’s attention by giving them just enough action to keep them from wanting to stop reading. The best compliment a writer can ever receive is to be told that someone couldn’t put their book down.
The third part is the climax to the story. This should make people stand up and demand to know how’s it going to end? In a great story, people almost feel like they’ve been on a rollercoaster ride by the end of it, there have been so many ups and downs.
Carrying two bowls of chips back into the living room, Johnny sets one down on the side table next to the recliner and the other across the room on the coffee table. He glances at his watch; everyone should be showing up soon. About to return to the kitchen for more food, he hears a loud creaking noise coming from the entryway. Confused, Johnny walks into the hallway to find the coat closet door open. Slowly approaching it, he glances around to confirm he is alone. Pulling the door back, he looks inside the closet to find the usual assortment of coats hanging and his father’s bag of golf clubs in the back corner.
About to close the door, he stops when hears a door shutting upstairs. Reaching inside the closet, Johnny grabs one of the golf clubs and heads for the stairs. He inches up them, one at a time, looking over his shoulder into the upstairs hallway as he turns the corner. Pausing on the landing, he debates going the rest of the way. Pulling out his cell phone, he contemplates calling one of his friends but just as quickly, puts the phone back in his pocket. Last thing he needs is for Paul to call him a pussy.
Placing his foot on the next step, Johnny continues his journey upstairs. Reaching the top, he finds his parent’s bedroom door shut and his own wide open. He moves past his parent’s room and slowly approaches his own. Standing beside it, he glances inside, afraid to enter. So intent on the appearance of his room, Johnny fails to hear the door to his parent’s room opening or the light steps on the carpeted floor behind him.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”
Jumping, Johnny wheels around with the golf club, ready to bring it down on the head of his assailant. Finding his friend, Paul, behind him with a huge smile on his face, Johnny drops the club while exclaiming, “You asshole!”
You’re heart has finally stopped racing, hasn’t it? You’ve reached the climax of the story and Johnny lives. Relief fills the reader and you’ve overcome the biggest hump of the story. All that’s left is the bit at the end to clean up the loose ends, right? This portion of the story is the falling action.
As Paul continues to laugh, Johnny shoves him against the wall in irritation and heads for the stairs. Still laughing, Paul follows him and says, “Man, you’ve watched too many horror films.”
“Whatever,” Johnny replies, not willing to admit that his friend managed to scare him. “Let’s get downstairs, everyone will be here soon.”
The last bit of the story is the resolution. Everything within the story is resolved (unless the author is setting up a series), and you reach that happily ever after just before typing, The End.
Starting down the steps, Johnny pauses when he hears the front door open. Paul almost plows into him, too busy laughing to notice his friend has stopped. Paul starts to complain, “Hey man…” when suddenly both freeze, fear filling their veins when they hear Johnny’s mother call out, “Johnny! We’re home early!”