This is an idea I think about a lot when I’m thinking of how a scene is going to unfold. It’s a lesson I learned while watching countless classic Scooby Doo cartoons when I was younger. (Yes, much of what I know I have learned from cartoons*).
Near the end of every Scooby cartoon the gang gets to the point where they realize, or at least suspect, that the bad guy is not really a ghost or monster or whatever and they decide to set a trap, which leads to the revelation, “Why it’s Old Mr. Skuttlebutt, the caretaker,” and he says, “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddlesome kids.” Before they get to this point, though, there is the springing of the trap.
There is a set rule about traps. The trap always catches the bad guy, but if Fred or Velma explain how the trap will work ahead of time, it will never go as planned. Scooby or Shaggy will some how mess it up, but their bungling will lead to the bad guy’s capture in a different way (as in, the net misses, but as Scooby is running, he gets tangled in some rope, slips in a puddle, spins in circles and ends up tying up the baddie). If Fred says, “Guys, we’re going to set a trap” and then the scene fades away and we come back with the trap set up but not explained it will work perfectly, and some sort of rube goldberg device drops a cage on that villain.
This is a lesson in plotting that I take fairly seriously (as seriously as one can take an idea learned from Scooby Doo). If my characters come up with a plan, and they tell the reader all about it, it cannot go as expected because that would be boring and redundant. We don’t need to hear about a plan and then see it work. What’s most interesting is when things go wrong. Sometimes it’s fun to give out the plan in advance just to have things go wrong for the characters. That complicates things, which makes it all much more interesting. I think, as a reader, I am more invested when things get more complicated, because then I’m more interested in how the characters will get out of it now that it’s all gone so wrong.
So if you want some plan of yours to work out, find a way to keep it from readers so they can see it unfold for the first time in real time, but if you want to make things a little more interesting, give it away and then ruin it and see how your characters make it out.
*Wow, after so many cartoon-related posts (2 so far, so I might be exaggerating a little) I should do a class or something on “Story Writing Advice from Cartoons.” Or maybe a blog series. We’ll have to see if I can think up any more…