Writing Tip #12 — “that can’t be good”

One way I jokingly acknowledge certain kinds of plot points while watching movies on TV with my writer sister is by using the catch phrases “that can’t be good” and “that ought to do it.” They signify the heightening of tension and the resolution. As in Jaws — the boat’s motor breaks down while they are floating above a 25 foot man-eating shark (that can’t be good) and Sheriff Brody blows that same shark to smithereens (that ought to do it.)

I have a third phrase I use less often, but it’s still helpful: “wait a minute now” for that moment when the protagonist (or reader/movie watcher) first realizes something is afoot. In a mystery it might be the police detective discovering that the supposed suicide victim had, on the morning of her death, bought a play ticket for the next night.

In a ghost story the “wait a minute now” might be when an object moves by itself or a disembodied voice is heard for the first time. The “that can’t be good” might be a climactic attack by the ghost. The “that ought to do it” might be the freeing of the spirit to leave the haunted house/the earthly plane.

In a love story the “wait a minute now” might be when the main characters, who start out hating each other, first see something unexpected in the other’s character. The “that can’t be good” might be some dire misunderstanding of heartbreaking proportion. And “that ought to do it” is often a wedding.

Whatever kind of story you are writing, there are probably at least one of each of these kinds of moments that create the rise and fall of emotion. Just for fun, look for them and see if the moments are satisfying.

And if you have your own catch phrases for turning points of the plot . . . I’d love to hear them.

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3 Responses to “Writing Tip #12 — “that can’t be good””

  1. Virginia Says:

    Oh my gosh, hilarious! This is a perfect description of ‘the arc’ in a plot. Tooooo funny! Now I want to go watch a movie so I can use them…

  2. Wendela Says:

    Me, too! What a great and easy-to-remember tip! And that ought to do it. =)

  3. Lynsey Newton Says:

    LOL I want to watch a movie with you!

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