Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The shotgun over the mantel

There's an old scriptwriters' adage that goes something like this:

If you show a shotgun over the mantel in the first act, you better use it in the third.

In other words, don't set up expectations for the reader that you don't plan to meet.

Don't deliver promises you aren't going to keep.

In my current, painful, teeth-pulling work-in-progress, I have the line in the first chapter:

At the end of Waxhaw Road is a little brick house with a sofa on the front porch and an empty doghouse in the yard.

That empty doghouse served no other purpose than description.

I've seen lots of little brick houses with sofas on the front porch and empty doghouses in the yard in the little Southern towns of my youth.

But a few chapters later, I wrote:

Stella went home to sit in the empty doghouse in her yard.

At the time, that was just something she did because she was feeling sad.

But then, I began to have the nagging thought that I had put a shotgun over the mantel.

The empty doghouse.

Wouldn't the reader begin to think that there was some significance in the empty doghouse?

Whether or not that is true, that question served as a springboard for a story element that I hadn't thought of before and I decided to noodle around with it.

I love this part of the writing process.


Beth S. said...

And I love being privvy to this part of the writing process. :o) I might even use this post in my classroom during the school year sometime. I love showing kids how real writers think and operate. :o)

Grier Jewell said...

Me too! Thanks for letting us take a peek into your process. It's such a gooey relationship, this back and forthing between writer and story.