Burning the house down

Recently, I was thrown in Facebook Jail for posting a sentence which read “I would burn the house down.”  The conversation I was having was about spiders.  A friend had found one in her house and I, being an arachnophobe, said “I would burn the house down.”  Facebook saw that as a threat against humanity and I was thrown in Facebook Jail.

I got to thinking about that sentence.  It’s a good thing writers are not thrown in jail for using particular words as I am constantly telling my writing students to “burn the house down.”  What does that mean to a writer?  Let me explain.

In plotting out a story, you need to be sure there’s plenty of conflict.  One of the ways to add conflict is to force your characters to be together.  Take for example, the conflict presented in the old television show, The Odd Couple.  One is a sensitive neat freak, the other an insensitive slob living in the same apartment together.  The potential for conflict in that situation is high.

Say, for instance, if you are writing a story about a hero and heroine who are living on top of a mountain in separate cabins, heroine can look at hero across the way and hero can look at heroine, etc.  But there is no potential for conflict in that situation.  And every good story needs conflict on every page.  I call it “burn the house down.”

In our plot situation, we could actually burn down one of the cabins, adding a snowstorm and thus forcing them to be together in one cabin.  If their personalities are polar opposites, that situation is ripe with conflict potential.

So, I tell my students who get stuck in their plotting to try to come up with a “burn the house down” situation.  I don’t mean create a scene of a house burning to the ground but come up with something equally devastating to your character.

So remember, all you writers out there, fix that plot writer style, boil those characters in oil and burn their houses down.

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