Sunday, April 11, 2010

Words Come Alive

The Ole Bait and Switch

How could the famous bait and switch help you write fiction? That’s the principle behind building suspense for the conflict. Conflict drives everything. We need character development and plot lines, but without the real conflict, the story is a yawn. When writing, bait with hope of overcoming the obstacle, but take away the momentary success by switching the protagonist’s immediate goals.

To fully use the bait and switch, we have to see how it fits into the entire scheme of conflict. Conflict hits throughout the work. It strikes as any obstacle to the desires of the protagonist. That means we can have the hero face a conflict against others, nature or even against his or her self.

But we also have to build mini conflicts thought the story that are linked to the big obstacle. For example, the big obstacle is the barrier of politics that separates two lovers — she’s a liberal, he’s a conservative. We need the protagonist to find a way to keep the love going despite the barrier. So we segment the plot with several scenes based on mini conflicts. Like his conservatism backs the real estate interest that threatens his lover’s legal work. Or, he has to break into her soup kitchen client’s office to get papers to show her he’s right. Or he has to break down his real estate agent’s denial that the soup kitchen’s director is blackmailing the agent.

That’s where the bait and switch comes in. We have just divided the main conflict into mini ones that carry us through the story. At the climax of each mini event, we stage a bait and switch. That means we provide the reader with a hope of the protagonist reaching his goal, but only in part. We also switch the obstacle so the hero has to face another version of the conflict — bait and switch.

Let’s put this in play. In the first segment, the desire of the protagonist is to break into the office, then find papers. That means the focus in this segment has to impede his efforts in both areas. But he gradually succeeds in finding the files in a cabinet. Hope is fulfilled. But the papers reveal he was wrong in his support of the real estate agent. We have a switch. He now has a new hope or bait because those papers reveal he might be right about his agent friend in a different way — the agent was being blackmailed by the kitchen’s director. Then we are carried to the next segment.

The model goes like this: Break the major conflict into segments. Each segment needs the protagonist to achieve some glimmer of hope or success in reaching the final goal. But he is thwarted in a big way. Some new hope is given that propels him into the following scene. Bait and switch. That delay in total gratification is like the famous gun, sitting on the table, that Hitchcock said drove suspense. Suspense comes from worrying who will use the weapon. Conflict comes from the bait and switch that leads to that suspense.

- Tom Pope

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1 comment:

  1. Good piece. You've summed it up nicely.
    I guess I better get back to my book and get some "bait and switch" going. I think I'll use nightcrawlers this time (haha).