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Exploring Plot Options

Originally published November, 2017 by Jill Zeller

My husband and I, with the assistance of an Australian red blend, discussed a story idea. He writes, too, and in many ways is better than me (yes, it’s true) in his skill with prose, dialog and word choice, being also a poet. However when it comes to story arc, plotting, character, and all the bones of good fiction, in my opinion, he needs a little work.

Writers go to workshops. We learn from experts, from the beginning. Originality is one thing, and talent, and good to have, but without story structure and narrative the most beautiful prose can collapse

So, an impromptu discussion about a thought experiment began.

My husband proposed a story idea. A warden or guard is in charge of deploying robots when there is a request or need.

Me: Is the warden a robot, or a human?

Him: He could be either.

Me: She could be either, but in my story she would be human, and it is told from her point of view.

Him: First or third person?

Me: Close third person. In the situation I am thinking of, I wouldn’t want to be that close, because the warden has issues of her own, and might be an unreliable narrator.

The conversation turned to the story problem.

Two of the phalanx of robots are becoming aware of one another, and the warden finds out.

Me: Do the robots look like humans, or are they just machine like?

Him: One of the pair cleans the building, clears drains, vacuums, sanitizes the ducts.

Me: And the other one is a high level robot, who is deployed to assist upper management, attends meetings to analyze predictions, produces pie charts, like that. She –

Him. Wait. The robot is a she?

Me: Well, that was the first thing to come to my mind, if this were my story.

The thought experiment began to follow multiple possibilities. If the reader thought the cleaning bot was male, and the accountant bot was female, this would bring into mind the trope of the boy from the wrong side of town yearning for the rich girl. Or, in the reverse—cleaning bot female and accountant bot male—the trope changes. Girl from poverty, or girl a minority, pursued by the affluent, powerful man. Or boy.

Or, if there is no sexual reference, the story would still be about class.

Him: How does the warden find out that the two are aware of one another, or “in love” with each other?

Me: She senses something in the data, or on digital tapes, unusual behavior? Maybe the bots can unlock their cabinets at night? Or are they linking up telepathically?

Him: What if you told the story from one of the robot’s point of view?”

Me: Oh, that would be interesting. And then I would use first person.

Him: Maybe they contact each other via a plane of thought that we can’t comprehend, a mathematical construct?

Me: That would be your story. [He possesses a deeply philosophical mind] I think you should write that one. It would be fabulous.

I am the writer who needs character. I like to read character-driven stories and novels, and really good writing helps. And a unique setting well-expressed by the writing. And about something I’ve never thought about before.

Our assignment: each write our own story about two robots who become aware of each other and the warden who deploys them. Or about a warden who discovers that two of his/her robot charges have become aware of one another. Depending on how the prompt is worded, the writer can take it in any direction.

It will be interesting to compare our two styles.

By the time of our third glass of wine each, we both wished we had recorded the conversation. So I’ve recorded what I remembered here, for my Sunday blog.


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