Saturday, March 7, 2009

Creating Tension in Your Plot

One of the best bits of writing advice I've ever gotten (not personally, mind you!) was from a scriptwriter for the 70's television show M*A*S*H. Remember M*A*S*H? Based very loosely on Robert Altman's movie of the same title, and even more loosely on Joseph Heller's novel, Catch 22, M*A*S*H portrayed the life of doctors in a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War.

The show's writer, and I really wish I could remember his name, said that the best way to create tension in a plot was to take a character and put him in the place he least wants to be. Then you, the writer, sit back and watch what happens.

In the television show M*A*S*H, that meant placing the irascible, anti-establishment, pacifist surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the highly regimented US army, far away from his beloved Crabapple Cove, Maine. Many of the show's episodes revolved around Hawkeye's rebellion against authority, his frustration over army regulations, and his struggle to remain sane in an insane environment.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is to not make your characters too comfortable. The unfortunate truth is that fiction without conflict is not very interesting. I doubt that a television show about a man sitting in an easy chair drinking lemonade and reading the newspaper would have won fourteen Emmys and ran for eleven years.


The Tenacious Writer said...

That is great advice! I love advice that is short and simple and works.

Elle Scott said...

Thanks : ) Glad to help. I love advice myself.

Kiley said...

My fiance is a MASH aficianado and after I read him this article -which we both enjoyed! - he said the quote was from Larry Gilbert.

Elle Scott said...

Thanks! I got the quote from one of those MASH anniversary TV shows. I'm so glad to know where it came from.

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