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Rewriting 101: Week Three – Subplots

© 2011 Robert Ray.  Course Description: Rewriting 101.  All Rights Reserved. 

Subplot is the secondary story running under the plot. The smart rewrite starts with Subplot One, the path of your antagonist. If you were F. Scott Fitzgerald rewriting The Great Gatsby, you would rewrite Daisy’s subplot first. When you work with subplots, you need tools and techniques: a character arc to chart the subplot from entry to exit; a core story to separate the subplot from the plot and the other subplots; tools like scene profile and scene template to keep you moving. For example, Daisy’s core story is King Replacement. Her arc stretches from the Crimson Room in Act One to Escape at the end of Act Three. (There are three meaty chapters on subplots in The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.)

  • Scene Performance.
  • Homework that links to Week Four.

 Day Three – Office Hour at Café Argento

Our Teen Sleuth mystery writer reports on her meeting with a literary agent, who advised the writer to age her protagonist, from 13 to 15.

My advice: Mystery is a Revenge Quest; therefore, make sure the teen sleuth kills one of the bad guys at the climax.

Dialogue line: “You stole my little sister.”

Advice to Shapeshifter: chart the crossings of your protagonist into Otherworld – time, place, password, gates, etc.

The Workshop

After warming up, we write for 45 minutes on the climax. Here are the reasons:

  • The climax locks down Act Three.
  • Act Three is a template for rewriting Act One.
  • The climax tells you who’s still alive.
  • The climax determines who gets the resource base.
  • The climax forces you to leap across the structure of your work.
  • The climax demands action. Action means strong verbs. When writers reach the climax, they can’t write weak prose: “He paused, hesitated, reflecting about the possibility of annihilating the abetting evil-doer. After all, he thought, who am I to reflexively relieve another of his or her existence, as it were. and furthermore, while you ponder that thought, dear reader, allow me to…”

To warm up, writers use the scene profile – Scene Name, Position, Ritual, Structure, Setting, Characters, Objects onstage, Dialogue-Monologue, Action & Climax, Closed Circle + Intruder, Secret, Symbol/Archetype – and then write using the scene template:

  • “This is a scene about….”
  • Setting: The time was/the place smelled of
  • Character A describes Character B: His/her hairdo looked like
  • Dialogue: What are you looking at?
  • Action: She slammed the side of his head with…. (use strong verbs)
  • Intruder (breaks closed circle): What are you guys up to?
  • Climax and Resolution (use one long sentence, no periods, no commas, no dashes) and extend the action to a rousing climax that propels the characters into the next scene    

Style and Timed Writing

For the climax, the writers use a syntactical device called Long Sentence Release. One long sentence to extend the breath line, no periods, no commas, no colons or semi-colons, one dash if you must, replacing periods with AND, AND THEN, SO, AND SO, WHEN, AND WHEN – and if you must have a pivot, insert a BUT – but keep moving because the idea is speed, momentum, loss of control, going deeper, writer having fun and then… 

The Long Sentence Release is a form of polysyndeton, a figure from Greek rhetoric. In the sequence below, it climaxes a 4-part sequence of stylistic exercises starting with short See-Spot-Run sentences, shifting into fragments, then into chaining – in Greek rhetoric, anadiplosis – then the long sentence release.

Here are the four steps with examples:

“In the late evening of that final summer in Isle Sur-la-Sorgue – it was actually July, I recall – we watched with ominous trepidation from the balcony as a white limousine with Paris markings seemed to lurch, snorting and bucking, as it made its tortured, twisty ascent up the crushed stone driveway, coming to a shivery stop before my rhododendrons, giving out a bright burst of melodious song from a triple throated horn.” 

Short sentence: It was 8:30 at night. The month was July. The moon just up. The car lurched up the drive. The motor snorted and belched. Character A drove. The horn tooted. A burst of melody. The horn sang its trilling song. The door opened. Character A climbed out. Stood there smiling.

Fragment: Evening at our house. Moon just rising. Stomach all a-rumble. Eyes peering ahead. Noise coming up my drive. Character A in his rented limo. Resplendent Character A. Gorgeous white limo. Gorgeous horn, a burst of melody. Character A the Handsome Prince. Singing along with the horn. Song of love. So gorgeous. Be still, my heart. 

Chaining: The time was nine in the evening. Evening of a summer in Provence. Provence that bakes in the heat. Heat on the stones under your feet. Feet that keep time to the rhythm of the tootling horn on the great white limo. Limo that has come to whisk you away, a barefoot lady, to the royal ball at the royal castle. Castle in the sky and Character A in his white summer suit standing down below with the door of the limo open. Open and beckoning you down the steps, running like a schoolgirl, song in your heart. Heart your poor heart, blood pounding in…. 

Long Sentence Release: July of a long hot expectant summer evening and the white limo lurching up the drive bumping the rocks of Provence and swerving to miss the rhododendron bush the clock reading 20:32 and my stomach churning with hunger and trepidation and the horn toots throwing a bright burst of melody onto the soft night air and the white door swings open and Character A climbs out all in white like a knight in shining armor and….

Advice: if you want to write big-time, steal from the Greeks. 

Home Work: Type up your scene profiles and writing from the scene templates.

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© 2011 Robert Ray.  Course Description: Rewriting 101.  All Rights Reserved. 

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