So you are writing your fiction book and you have a great idea that will make it better, maybe a plot twist or a character that does something to advance the plot. You add whatever it is and continue on your merry writing way. But here is the question: Did you lay the groundwork for that character or plot twist to come into the story?
Very often, the answer to that question is no. We are constantly telling clients that they have to go back in the story and establish that character or circumstance so that when it pops up the reader isn’t completely bamboozled and/or feeling had by the author.
Here is an example:
Margo and I ran through the downtown streets until we saw to a battered red VW Rabbit idling at the Oak Street stoplight. We recognized it immediately as Chubby Theodore’s . Throwing ourselves into the back seat, I pulled the door shut and locked it. Theodore looked over his shoulder at us in complete surprise. “Drive,” I begged him. “Just drive.”
Lucky for the narrator of this paragraph that Chubby Theodore just happened to be waiting at the stop light . But it is not good for the reader unless the reader is told Chubby Theodore is. The writer of this story could do it here, but we are in the middle of some kind of chase and taking time out now to explain who Theodore is is sure to slow the action down. But if Chubby Theodore and his VW Rabbit have already been made interesting to the reader, it will make reading this passage more enjoyable. Let’s say Chubby T works at the Oak Street bookstore and is kind of a slow moving guy, who spends all his free time reading about astrophysics. His Rabbit is not very dependable and has recently lost its muffler. These details open the door to a lot of possibilities in the reader’s mind. How good is a getaway car that roars through downtown and may break down at any second? A slow moving getaway driver is probably not a plus either. But then, maybe Theodore’s knowledge of astrophysics is going to play a role in the story to come.
A reader who is entertaining all those possibilities is into the story. Theodore’s providential appearance at the Oak Street light is not just something mechanical the author did to move the plot along, it is part of the plot, the story.
If this seems obvious on the face of it, as editors, we often encounter characters like this that appear out of the blue. And they are not the only loose ends we come across. Here are some other examples:
Margery arrived home just in time. Was it established that Margery left home?
George heard footsteps on the floor above. Does the reader know who else lives or doesn’t live in the house?
I looked at all the people in the room and saw lots of support there. This only works if the reader knows who is in the room.
Writers have to continually ask themselves whether they have laid the appropriate groundwork for anything that happens in their stories. It is part of the job of a writer to sow the seeds for what is to follow so the book presents as a constructed story and not a series of ideas that came to the author while plowing through the book.