And yours, too!
Want to know what you can learn about writing from the top story du jour? Then read on because you’re a writer and you need to find the story in everything.
Let’s look at Donald Trump’s COVID-19 case through a non-political lens for one moment by saying you’re an author with an idea for a story.
The leader of a powerful country dismisses the science behind a deadly plague, telling his doctors he knows more than they do. He discourages people from wearing masks, encourages crazy treatments straight out of a comic book, and wants people to gather in large groups, particularly at work or in school. Hundreds of thousands of his citizens die and millions more get sick. While doing all these things, he gets the disease himself. (And then you throw in an ending – he dies, he doesn’t die, he learns his lesson but it’s too late or he saves the world or whatever. Doesn’t matter.)
You finish that story and think, “Yes! I’ve got my ending! Fantastic!”
And why not think that? I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen that end like that. There’s a touch of irony. Justice is served. Revenge enacted. It’s terrific.
Well, maybe. But it’s also boring. You can see it coming from a mile away. It really isn’t a surprise when your hero, after doing little to stop the disease, gets the disease himself. It’s the plotline of a thousand sci-fi books. Such frontier justice is the basis for every B Western ever made, not to mention crime dramas and thrillers. The guy in the white hat gets the guy in the black hat and something terrible happens to the villain, and blah, blah, blah. He gets his just deserts, in this case served with bleach, sunlight, and a topping of hydroxychloroquine.
It’s emotionally satisfying, right? The bad guy gets what’s coming to him.
Only it’s…what’s that word again? BORING!
If you’re writing the news or non-fiction or anything that requires “just the facts, ma’am” then you’re stuck with your ending because, hey, that’s how it ended. But if you’re a fiction writer, you need to invent something exciting. With depth. Intrigue. Something that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
That’s where Editing Brain comes in.
Editing Brain concludes that your story needs more because, well, people love a good story filled with odd turns, strange motives, and blatant corruption. So, what twists can you give your story readers won’t expect?
Let’s see…your main character is the leader of an entire country. Maybe his political opponents gave it to him, perhaps during a debate, or some rally where people gather by the thousands at an indoor event. This insurgent goes in undercover and spreads the virus directly to der leader. Or maybe he uses the ventilation system to spread it to half the audience, turning it into a super-spreader event.
That’s not bad, but a political enemy is kind of trite. It’s been done too many times. When Editing Brain hears the word trite, it must reject that storyline right away.
So, maybe it’s a foreign enemy, say the Chinese, who sneak an agent into the country and infect the leader at one of his country clubs or on the golf course…and wait a minute. This is good political intrigue, but a spy who gains easy access to our hero? Good for James Bond, but still trite. Editing Brain should reject this, too.
Perhaps our hero is really an anti-hero (what else could he be if he won’t condemn white supremacists as soon as he hears “white supremacists”?) who’s secretly indebted to a foreign country, say the Russians, and is deliberately being anti-science to let the plague kill as many people as possible, thereby weakening the very country he leads? “But wait,” says Editing Brain, “what if he drank the Kool-Aid like some famous reporter and actually works hard to catch the disease so that he can decimate his senior staff and leave the country in total chaos?”
Bingo! We have a winner! Corruption, intrigue, foreign influence, and the self-destructive motivation of an elderly kamikaze pilot. And it’s all thanks to Editing Brain.
And it’s also how conspiracy theories are born. The above are all theories making their way around the internet about how Donald Trump got COVID. So, let’s face it — 99% of conspiracy theories are just good fiction. Editing Brain knows this, and it will help you create one so crazy that it must be true, turning your simple morality tale into a deeper story with subtext and themes and plot twists you hope Stephen King couldn’t see coming.
That’s Editing Brain’s job, so let it loose. Loose enough to make your bad story so good that like one of those insane conspiracy theories, it goes viral. That’s when you’ll have written yourself a best-seller.
John Briggs is a former nationally syndicated reporter who knows about “just the facts.” He’s also a former stand-up comic who created the political show Left-Wing Laughs. Today, he is the author of the satire A Vote for Jesus, which lets Editing Brain loose to come up with all sorts of crazy ideas. Like this article it’s full of surprising ideas and attacks all sides, but mostly it attacks Donald Trump.
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