Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Underpants Gnomes

South Park once did a wonderful story about Underpants Gnomes. Tweak, the boys' new friend, was constantly wired on caffeine from the coffee his coffee shop-owning parents kept pumping into him. (Yes, they would do that. This is South Park we're talking about. Besides, if you read past the Underpants Gnomes premise, what's the problem with a ten-year-old caffeine addict?) Since Tweak never slept, he was awake to see the Underpants Gnomes march into his bedroom every morning at 3:30 and steal his underpants. Everyone thought he was making it up, until he got Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and fat ass Cartman wired with him one night, and they saw the gnomes themselves.

South Park being South Park, the boys followed the gnomes back to their underground factory, where the master business plan was unveiled.

Step 1. Acquire underpants
Step 2. ???
Step 3. Profits.

When one of the boys asked what Step Two was, the head gnome said they hadn't figured that part out yet. This struck me as hysterically funny, as I was currently working for a business with exactly that plan.

Unfortunately, that's how I plot stories. I get a good idea. Not just an idea I think is good; everyone I mention it to likes it. They immediately ask how it comes out, and I tell them. They like that, too. Then someone always asks how I get from the idea to the conclusion.


That's where I am now with the soon-to-be work in progress. I have the premise, and it's good. The ending needs to be tidied up, but it lays fine, too. The catch is in how I can get the cop to solve the crime without making the story too linear, or going to the opposite extreme and having to depend on divine intervention like a meteor or an earthquake or having the solution come to him in a dream. Letting the threads play out without letting them become so tangled I can't tie them together is the most vexing part of writing for me.

A couple of writers whom I respect recently told me to let it happen. Get to know the characters, find some event to kick off the story, and go wherever they take me. Sounds like a lot of fun. I swear on my stack of Raymond Chandler novels to try it sometime. It's just that nothing is more intimidating to me than sitting in front of a blank computer screen, not knowing what comes next. My first drafts aren't much fun. I enjoy the crafting, the refining, getting the tone and humor just right, adding little things that don't really move the story along as much as they make the story—I hope—worth reading.

So, once again, I'm plotting everything out in relatively detailed fashion. My problem is that my endings usually come to me, unbidden, as part of the premise. The writing of the book is how to get from A to Z. I never know how I'll describe getting from Point C to Point D until the time comes, but at least I'll know where Point D is. Maybe next time I'll try the Patricia Highsmith method, and plot only a few chapters ahead. Then, after that, I'll wing it and let the story comes as it may.

Really. I mean it. I'll try. I'm already getting short of breath just thinking about it.

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