Saturday, August 4, 2012

Watching Paint Dry

Last month, I shared some thoughts about how each fictional conversation needs to advance our narrative. The overall plot should do the same, or the story will be about as interesting as watching paint dry.

John Gardner calls the plot's forward movement profluence, and in The Art of Fiction he describes several kinds of profluence. Basically, a profluent narrative is one in which people and circumstances change. Without change, the story doesn't move forward; in fact, without change we have no story, just a series of word pictures. Carole Bugge ("C.E. Lawrence") puts it this way:
If paintings are lakes, stories are rivers--they are going somewhere. They pull the reader along, and take us on a journey. Stories must move forward...
A great premise is only part of the game--and not that big a part...What we need as writers is to be able to play the long game--to keep the ball in the air as long as possible, which means to keep readers turning the page.--Carole Bugge, "Keep It Moving," The Writer (August 2012), 34.
All right, then, let's play a little volleyball. I invite you to plot a novella with me about...watching paint dry! I'll give you the premise and a one-sentence summary of a chapter. Let's see how many GREAT chapters we can add to the plot, in no particular order, based on the story premise.

The only rule is profluence: Each chapter must show a significant, stakes-raising change in the protagonist and/or his situation. Here we go:

Premise / Watching Paint Dry

Alfonso is a hard-scrabble house painter living in Rome, 1938. On his way to work one morning, he's strong-armed off the street by a couple of burly soldiers who take him to the mansion of dictator Benito Mussolini. Il Duce plans to paint a mural on the east wall of his dining room (he fancies himself another Michelangelo), so they've "commissioned" Alfonso to prepare the wall with a fresh coat of white paint.

Mussolini will arrive late afternoon to inspect his work. The paint must be perfectly dry and flawless, or the hapless house painter will be shot at sundown. (Mussolini's thugs point to 4 mounds of dirt in the back yard--graves of his unsuccessful predecessors--to emphasize this point.) Then they lock the door and leave Alfonso with a bucket of paint, a brush, and a chamber pot. He finishes painting the wall by mid-morning. {End of Chapter One.}

Chapter Summaries

  • An enormous horsefly lights on the wall and crawls toward the ceiling, leaving an obvious track behind him.
  • {Your turn...}

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN where Joe serves as Coordinator of Publishing for Church of God Ministries, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at

1 comment:

  1. I didn't get to these for over a week, so I'm later than I should be, and I'm disappointed no one tried. Though it isn't an easy task -- I'm glad Mussolini isn't checking on my progress. (If he did, it would have to be as a zombie, which would change this to a horror story!)

    Chapter 2: After Alfonso manages to lure the offending insect into the roll of the daily paper he had in his pocket before going to work, he prepares to touch up the wall when he hears the shutting door of a car outside. Did Mussolini get there early?