Pocket Prompt Expansion: Something Explodes #8 – Endings and Beginnings

So far, while looking at the ‘Something explodes’ card, we’ve looked at types of explosions and Cause & Effect. For the final post in this series, before we move onto other cards and other ways of utilising them, we’re going to look the explosion’s position in the narrative.

We’ll start with one key question: Is this the start or beginning of something?

Explosions cause change, one way or another, and can either alter a story before it begins or punctuate a character’s arc. Two stories about the events of 9/11 – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Remember Me – look at the explosions of the World Trade Centre at different points in the narrative. One uses the plane crash to launch a character’s story after the death of his father, while the other uses the death of the protagonist to roll out emotional conflict with other characters in the story.

For this post, I want you to answer a few questions that will help you figure out how an explosion can change the narrative.

  • Does the explosion occur before or after the story begins?
  • Is the explosion something that happens as a result of actions in the story, or does it sneak up on the reader as a twist?
  • How early into the story will there be a story?
  • How much do we know about what happened?
  • How much more information comes is revealed as the plot unfolds?
  • Do we ever really understand?
  • Are you ending on an explosion? Why?

Whether an explosion – be it literal or emotional – takes place before, at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a story affects the sort of consequences that can be felt by it, and the type of story you’re telling. If the explosion is the climax of the tale, you’ll want it to appear later. If it is the premise on which your story is based, it’ll need to happen early enough into the book that the fallout can be felt.

This is true for both literal and emotional explosions. For those of us who focus on the narrative of relationships, a focus on emotional explosions is essential. Some questions you might ask:

  • Do the people involved rely on each other?
  • Are they separated as a result of an argument?
  • Are they stuck together, even if they don’t like it?
  • Have they been fighting since before the narrative begins?
  • Does the reader know this?
  • How does their meeting affect the story? Will they meet at all? Is that the point?
  • If a story is entirely about the relationship, what causes it to grow or break down? What can you do to leave suggestions over what might happen? Can you introduce a twist?

Whether you choose to start or end with a bang is up to you. Explosions within a story can cause a dramatic shift in the dynamics of your characters, and bring out the best or worst behaviour in people. Use tension to your advantage, and answer as many questions as you can about how you’ll use an explosion in your story.

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Pocket Prompt Expansion: Something Explodes #4 – Cause & Effect

So far, we’ve looked at types of explosions and how to use them in a story, and a disastrous (or hyperbolic) consequence of the explosion. Now it’s time to look a little further back: cause.

Every story has a beginning, middle and end, and even if we begin with the explosion, the root explanation for it can – and should – inspire a lot more to come later.

We’ll be spending more time on this in the coming posts, but for now we’re going to look at Cause & Effect.

Both the name of an okay movie and an element of quantum theory, the Butterfly Effect suggests that one tiny action can have huge consequences given enough time. Writers shouldn’t consider themselves trapped by genre when it comes to science.

A small action can roll forward in any story. In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell’s life is changed because he resets his watch to just a few seconds behind his schedule. In How I Met Your Mother, Ted only meets the Mother because, one day long before, he found her umbrella and was using it as his own. In Game of Thrones, the Stark children are only separated because Ned decided to pursue the idea that the king might have an illegitimate heir.

You don’t need to look so close at the finer details, of course. You could seek to explain your explosion as either an action or a response.

As an action, your explosion is a result of a decision or something out of the control of those in the story. A bomb could explode – or a person, depending on your genre – or a pipe could burst. Someone could be looking for a fight, and so begin shouting.

As a response, your explosion is a consequence of an action. A gas leak combined with a lit match, a man grieving for his late mother, or any number of things that can cause a literal or emotional explosion in the aftermath. (Including, of course, a literal explosion resulting in an emotional one.)

Some questions for your consideration:

  • Is the explosion natural or man-made?
  • If it is natural, is it a result of weather, or was it like a volcano, waiting to blow?
  • If it is man-made, who is responsible?
  • If it is emotional, who is reacting to what?
  • How much of a build up to the explosion was there, either within your story or before it begins?

We’ll continue our exploration of explosions in your writing in the next post, as we get down and dirty with that most difficult of topics: politics.

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