Tip #13: How to thrust your story forward
By Peter Gilboy
Often we think our story is in its words. It’s not.
Yes, the words must be clear, precise and provide us with a visual of its characters and what is happening. That’s hard enough.
But it’s not the real thrust of our story.
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The real thrust story is what the protagonist expects and hopes will happen when he or she does something, and what actually happens. Often it's the reverse of what he or she expects and hopes.
For example, in one scene in the fine film The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford, of course) goes back to the hospital to find out who ordered a prosthetic limp like the one-armed man had.
Good, we think. And so does he. He’s going to get to the bottom of this. We’re getting there, close the end.
We’re with Richard Kimble. We are Richard Kimble. We’re living his predicament vicariously. We want for him the same thing he wants for him—to find the one-armed man. We want Richard to succeed, and finding out who owns the particular prosthetic limb will finally do it. The answer is at the hospital.
Not so fast.
At this point there’s, a gap between what Richard Kimble (and us) expects and hopes will happen and what really happens at the hospital. That’s the thrust of the scene. That’s the story thrusting forward. If he finds everything he wants and resolves everything easily, where’s the story?
So, the story is not in the words on the page or the picture on the screen, it’s in the gap between what he anticipates and hopes for, and what really happens to him.
- At the hospital, he’s found out.
- He’s chased.
- He’s shot at.
- He escapes. Whew!
The whole The Fugitive story is itself a good example a thrusting story because in almost every instance what the character wants and expects doesn’t happen. Something else happens. And that something thrusts the story forward.
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- He comes home one night. Does he find what he expects?
- He goes on trial. Surely they’ll see the truth? Do they?
- After the bus crashes, he has a chance to escape. But what about the train bearing down on him?
- When he’s chased, he can escape through the tunnels. Really?
- He finds the crumby apartment where he’ll be safe? Is he?
- He goes to the hospital to get the solution to his dilemma and make everything okay. Is it?
We’re with him every moment. We anticipate for him. We hope for him. (Remember he is us.)
In the thrusting scenes, what he wants and what we want . . . doesn’t happen. That’s how the story thrusts forward. That’s how every story thrusts forward. For Richard Kimble, It goes on and on like that, holding our attention, making us want along with the character.
Of course The Fugitive is a film. I use it only as an example of what a story is; how it works. Most of us have seen the same movie more than read the same book. The principal of a story is the same whether it’s on the screen or on the page.
To repeat, that principles is this: Our character has needs. Our character tries to fulfill those needs expecting something to happen. It doesn’t. Something else happens. Something unexpected to the character and to us.
That’s how a story thrusts ahead. And it makes a real good story.
|What Happens with the CIA gets inside your mind.|
Take your favorite TV drama. Watch it closely to see what is expected versus what happens. See how it pulls you in.
Then, go back to your own story. See where this principle of thrusting—expectation versus what really happens, is successful. Where can it be used in other scenes? Where can it improve an already good scene?
And happy writing!