Are you having trouble thinking up a good plot for your next story? There are many ways of doing that, of course, but here’s one way writers have used for years that can result in a story (any type of story: novel, short story, flash fiction, whatever) that will keep readers turning the page. Take any sort of everyday story line—going downtown, flying in an airplane, running a routine mission in special ops—and change one or a small number of details to a point where the story becomes extremely unlikely in today’s world. That’s the operative word, here: unlikely. I’m not suggesting you write science fiction, don’t go that far. Just make one or a few small changes that puts the story in the realm of the improbable, or incredible, or even strange and unbelievable, something that makes the story unique, something that puts it in a one-of-a-kind category. It won’t take much, changing a few details may work.
For example, let’s take the classic novel Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The story is about a whaling captain, Ahab, who lost a leg to a white whale and vows to revenge the loss. Melville, who spent time at sea in a whaling ship, knew what he was writing about. It’s not too unlikely that there might have been whaling captains at New Bedford in the 1800’s who lost limbs to whales, and wanted revenge. That’s understandable. And there might really be white whales (probably albinos) out there, but what Melville does is juxtapose those two unlikely possibilities. He puts two improbable situations together to form the basis for a classic novel. Either one alone would be unlikely to result in the tension necessary to carry the novel, but together they work. They’re small changes in the otherwise staid life of a New England whaling town to be sure, but that’s all it takes to make a great story.
Perhaps another example will illustrate what I’m talking about. Take the movie, “Rocky.” The first one, the one that started the franchise. Rocky Balboa is a small-time boxer, nowhere near heavyweight contender level. Yet Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the script, added one small, highly unlikely change to the story of Rocky. Stallone has the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, pick Rocky out of nowhere to fight the champ. Why Rocky? I don’t know, and I doubt that any self-respecting state boxing commission would ever approve such a fight. The match-up is too one-sided. Rocky himself even admits he could get hurt. And Apollo Creed would never have any way of knowing that Rocky would turn out to be such a worthy opponent. But that one little change, however inconceivable it might be, makes for a very intriguing story, and spawned a well-known series.
In short, a small change in the direction of a story toward the highly unlikely, can transform an otherwise regular, drab event into a tale that holds the reader’s or viewer’s attention, and produce a fascinating story. I’m sure you can think of other examples. Like William Shatner on that airplane in the Twilight Zone episode. A funny-looking apparition on the wing of an airplane? Hardly. Yet, it works.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s this funny green light shining through my window.