My birthday was this past week (32. Yikes!) Here is a picture of me celebrating
Remember how two weeks ago I said I had half a post written? Yeah... this isn't it. That post died a tragic death. Instead of trying to give it CPR, I've decided to talk about the strong plot structure of The 101 Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith.
The book starts fairly slowly, introducing Pongo and Missis and their family. Cruella deVille appears like a storm rumbling in the background; there, but not really involved -yet. The heroes are more worried about their domestic problems. Missus has too many puppies and their humans have to find another nursing dog to help her. They find the half-starved Perdita, a dog who tells our (canine) heroes that her pups were stolen. Our heroes are sorry for her and do their best to help, but the crisis hasn't really hit home yet. The inciting incident is when Pongo and Missis own pups are taken.
Now, at this point in a story, it would be easy to let the heroes wallow in despair. The worst has happened, right? Dodie Smith has her heroes take an active role, though. They send out a message and pick up a possible lead, only to face their first set-back. This isn't a world of talking animals. They can't tell their humans where the pups are; they have to undertake the rescue themselves. I like how Dodie uses the whole `animals in a people world' as an obstruction for her heroes. She even uses the well-meaning owners of Pongo and Missis to set up the next obstacle. The humans advertise for their missing dogs. Pongo and Missis have to leave the main roads or risk getting taken home before they can accomplish their mission.
See, the obstacles don't have to come from the villains. Sometimes they come from good people who have different ideas about how to accomplish a goal, or through communication breakdowns. Or both.
Another thing Dodie Smith does that really helps the story is give the heroes what they're after, while still causing problems for them. She doesn't drag the search out for the whole book; halfway through, Pongo and Missis find their missing children, BUT the kids are not alone. Ninety-eight other puppies are with them, and all are going to be killed if Pongo and Missis don't save them. Talk about raising the stakes! At first Pongo thinks they have about a month to plan the rescue, but -well, remember what I said before about allies who can accidentally add to the problem? The fact that Pongo and Missus' owners are advertising for their lost dogs leads Cruella to decide her dog napping operation is too hot. The parents have to rescue their and every other puppy that night, without any time to prepare.
I'm not going to go through the rest of the book. For one thing, this post is getting a little long. I do think as far as stakes go, this book does an excellent job. Nothing is settled until the end, but the heroes don't get stuck in a Gilligan plot either. (The sort where the audience begins to ask `how are the heroes going to fail this time' instead of wondering whether they'll succeed.) It's important to let your heroes have some success at least by the half-way point, even if reaching one goal just shows how much they still have to accomplish.
So what do you all think? Ever bog out on a story because the heroes set out to do something and still haven't gotten anywhere three books later? Know any good examples where the heroes accomplish enough going along to keep you reading?