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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Journey of a Thousand Miles . . .

Please welcome guest blogger Wendy Lyn Watson

Narrative arc is a funny thing. An arc is a smooth curve, a sinuous glide from beginning to end. The narrative arc of a story should appear smooth, too, but the reality is that it’s composed of discreet steps. The task of the writer is to craft each step but allow the reader to see nothing but the seamless motion of the journey. We have to tend trees lovingly so our readers can enjoy the forest.

The other day, I caught about 10 minutes of a movie called 16 Blocks. It stars Bruce Willis as a past-his-prime alcoholic cop who receives a seemingly simply assignment: escort a witness from the police station to a courthouse, a journey of only sixteen blocks. Needless to say, the task takes an ugly turn pretty early on.

I happened to tune in fairly early in the film. I missed the very beginning, but I’m guessing there was gunplay. When I clicked in, Bruce, the witness, and a bunch of cops are in a bar, catching their breath and talking about the witness’s close call. The new cops tell Bruce they’re going to take over the transport, and the witness seems pretty down with that idea (his confidence in Bruce is low).

Then another cop walks in, and the witness’s demeanor changes. Without a word, we (the audience) realize this cop is one of the bad guys. Bruce realizes it, too (again, without a word). And then the bad cops know that Bruce knows … and they offer him a bottle of booze and a chance to walk away. Heck, they even offer him a chance to look like a hero, the man who took down the rogue witness.

You can see the subtle change in Bruce’s face, the exact instant when he decides not to take that offer. He sets down the bottle, picks up a gun, shoots a bad guy, and—with the witness in tow—plunges through the door.

That’s when I changed the channel.

I’m sorry if I spoiled this movie for any of you. But that single scene elegantly portrayed a critical step in the hero’s journey—crossing the threshold from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world. I didn’t need any context to understand what had happened. In fact, from what I recall, Bruce Willis never said a word, and yet that step across the threshold was thundering.

If I had to guess, if I’d watched the movie from beginning to end, that scene would not have stood out with such clarity. I would have been swept up in the journey and not appreciated that one glorious step. But, as a writer, I’m glad I saw what I saw. Because my job is to create those glorious steps that keep my reader moving from beginning to end.


Wendy Lyn Watson writes deliciously funny cozy mysteries with a dollop of romance. Her Mysteries a la Mode (I Scream, You Scream (October, 2009) and Scoop to Kill (September, 2010)) feature amateur sleuth Tallulah Jones, who solves murders in between scooping sundaes. While she does not commit--or solve--murders in real life, Wendy can kill a pint of ice cream in nothing flat. She's also passionately devoted to 80s music, Asian horror films, and reality TV. (www.wendylynwatson.com)

Scoop to Kill

Tallulah Jones may be the proprietor of Dalliance, Texas’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor, but she’s no stranger to cold-blooded murder . . .

No one is more shocked than Tally when the local college serves up a double dip of death. During the annual Honor’s Day festivities, Tally’s niece Alice stubles upon the body of a graduate student. Suspicion falls on teh English professor he accused of sexual harassment, but a couple days later, she’s found dead too.

Tally steps out from behind the counter of Remember the A-la-mode to clear the professor’s name. But in an English department sprinkled with failing students, cutthroat academics, and extramarital affairs, the list of suspects rivals A-la-mode’s choice of flavors. When Alice gets chillingly close to a killer, Tally realizes she must act fast before someone else is put on ice.

The Heroine’s Journey: Adapting Four-Act Structure to the Character-Driven Story presented by Wendy Lyn Watson runs from October 25th through November 21st


Linda Leszczuk said...

I know the movie and remember that scene but I didn't really look at it from a writer's perspective. Thanks for the insight.

Anonymous said...

Nicely said. I haven't seen that movie, but have seen instances in others like this. I love it when in one instant, you can see the change. . . .

Thanks for this!