I’ve been thinking about this story quite a bit yesterday. Partly just because I really like it anyway, it’s a fun little adventure, and writing it was possibly my most amazing Nanowrimo experience ever – I chose this project for National Novel Writing Month 2006, and by November the 30th, I had finished it, at a little over 100,000 words – yes, that’s right, it was a double-length Nano. The words just seemed to be flowing out of whatever I was typing on that month, my friends.
It also has a great little fight scene at the end, but mostly what I want to talk about today was the road trip structure. I wanted to do something a little bit more organized than my usual pantsing when I decided to do this story in Nanowrimo, and the idea of the road trip seemed to fit a lot of the other stuff I knew would be going on.
I knew that the gang would be starting in their usual haunts – Roswell, New Mexico – and picked upstate New York as the eventual end, in the Adirondack State Park. Even though my heroes had no real idea where they were going when they left home, I mapped out the route using online maps – can’t remember if it was Google maps or Mapquest, and picked places along the way that I thought would fit nicely into the plot.
I’ve been listening to old episodes of the Storywonk Daily podcast, an in episode 14 Lucy talks about using ‘advanced structures’ to organize your plot like the months of the year, the cards of the Tarot major Arcana, the letters of the alphabet, numbers from one to fifteen, colors of the rainbow, signs of the Zodiac – as long as you make the elements meaningful, move the narrative through them, and escalate the conflict.
In ‘Please Stand Up’, the structure is a bit of a crazy hybrid, which probably fits for a fandom involving hybrid aliens. I’ve got an obvious structure from the places that the characters go on the trip, but underneath, the plot also fits pretty well into Lucy’s four-act novel structure:
- The gang finds out that an evil alien army is coming to Earth, will be landing in Roswell in a few days to look for them. (Opening scene.)
- After talking it over, they ‘borrow’ an old motor home and head out of town, east along the main highway. (Accepting the call to adventure.)
- At a nightclub in Dallas, Max overhears two guys talking about seeing an old lady go into an empty closet in an office building and a beautiful young girl comes out – which he recognizes might mean that she’s an alien shapeshifter. Liz and Isabel question the guys, and find out that this happened in Louisville, Kentucky.
- In Louisville, they find out that a husband and wife are trying to keep anybody from snooping around trying to find that old lady – and Liz gets an impression of alien-ness when she bumps into the couple’s young son. She also gets an impression of a museum that she doesn’t recognize, and a vision of a name in a doctor’s office – Brazel W Institute. (Midpoint, world turns upside down.)
- Stopping for food along the highway in Kentucky, Kyle finds a mysterious letter from Tess, (who’s on another planet now,) urging them all to leave Earth if they can find a ride.
- On the way to Cincinnati, Max touches base with his old boss at the UFO institute, and finds out that the Brazel institute has a reputation for fringe pseudoscience, and it’s in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
- Meanwhile, Max starts showing Liz photographs of museums, and they narrow it down to the Carnegie museum of Art in Pittsburgh.
- At the museum, they find a number of psychic messages left by an alien, including one that shocks Liz so much that she develops a mild case of amnesia, forgetting events from the past few days, and the gang has to help her recover them.
- At the Brazel institute, they find disturbing hints that the staff are developing alien technology and subjecting human children to experiments with alien DNA. They also speak with the shapeshifting alien girl, Christin, over a holographic communicator, and she explains some of who she’s working for, and asks the gang to meet her in New York. (No going back)
- As they get inside the park, the motor home gets a leak in the gas tank, which the aliens can repair, but there isn’t much gas left. A few of them go back to a fueling station in the van, where they get attacked by an alien. Max is hit with a particle blast in the leg that starts to sap his strength. (Dark moment)
- He connects with Liz so that she can reflect his healing powers back to him, and sees a trace of a secret from Christin that overwhelmed her mind.(Climax)
- When they finally reach Christin, she tells them that she’s been sent to evacuate them to a safe planet, and they take off just as the bad aliens are arriving. (Resolution)
What about you – have you ever structured a story around a road trip or something that seems arbitrary? Did it work out well, or fail horribly??