I spent a good part of last night wondering why mice can’t use bazookas. Well, I say that I was wondering about this, but that may be a little misleading. My wife would probably say that was whining rather than wondering. Mouse-bazooka capability doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. If not bazookas, then something else that’s destructive on a similar scale. Napalm would be nice, or maybe they could topple a big church over onto something they don’t like.
For 20 chapters of the story I’m writing, my mice have lived in obliterating terror of their antagonist, and now it’s time to kill the bastard. Sixteen chapters ago I set up the ideal plot device to perform the coup de grâce. My problem is that when the coup comes, my readers will have seen it coming from 16 chapters away. That’s a lousy way to reward them for sticking with the story for 20 chapters. I need a Left Turn.
My understanding of the Left Turn springs from improvisational acting. In improv, when your partner says or does something, then you should say or do something in response. Hopefully you say something that makes sense. If you say something entertaining, that’s a bonus. Sometimes it’s neat to respond with something called a Left Turn, which is a response that no one expected, but that makes sense to everyone the moment you say it. It can’t just be some wild, random, turnips-doing-algebra-and-barking-like-dogs thing. That just confuses everyone and makes the audience hate you and all your seed unto the last generation. It has to make sense—unlike mice firing bazookas.
I’ve found that you can’t force a Left Turn to appear. That’s like forcing an ice cream truck to come down your block. But you can do things to encourage a Left Turn, just like you can hire pretty girls to stand at the curb waving dollars and crying out for Eskimo Pies. To cultivate a Left Turn in improv, when it’s your turn you can follow a chain of ideas until you get to an interesting response. Each idea builds on the one before it, so it gets further from the obvious response but still has a logical connection back to the beginning.
Here’s an improvised Left Turn in a scene:
Me: “That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen! You killed 20 communist infiltrators all by yourself.”
My Partner: “Yes, but I’m terribly wounded.”
Me: “True, you’re about to die, but before you go I have one thing to say to you.”
My Partner: “What?”
[I start with the idea that this dude is about to die, and then I follow the chain of ideas.]
First idea in my head: “What do you want carved on your head stone?”
Second idea in my head: “Who should take care of your wife and children?”
Third idea in my head: “Do you think your wife likes me?”
Me: “Do you think your wife likes me?”
A Left Turn is born—logical, but not obvious.
So how the heck do my mice Left Turn their enemy into oblivion, alongside Carthage and The Captain and Tennille? I’ll start off with the basic assumption, which is something the mice might say. How about:
“This appalling creature is impaling and disemboweling us all over the place. We should do something.”
And here’s a chain of ideas about what they could do:
—Fall down and play dead.
—Run away to a safer town and forget this blemish of a place.
—Convince the creature it would be more fun to go impale and disembowel someone else, preferably someone far away who was once mean to us.
—Find someone who hates this creature worse than butt fungus and let him eradicate the creature.
—Find someone the creature loves and hold him/her/it hostage until the creature goes away.
—Eat poison and then let the creature eat us. Noble but stupid.
—Lead the creature to the town’s best hunter and taxidermist who conveniently happened to be passing by.
—Lure a giant predator bird down to kill the creature.
—Wait for a god to be lowered on wires and smite the creature with a thunderbolt.
I realize that my chain is pretty long now and that none of these ideas quite sparkle. Maybe I need to work a bit more on how the Left Turn can transition from improvisation to writing. Or maybe I started from the wrong basic assumption. I could instead begin with:
—Kill the creature with a bazooka.
—Kill the creature with a hyper-velocity acorn.
—Tie acorns to our foreheads so the creature chokes to death when it tries to eat a mouse.
I’ll keep working on it.