So last week we talked about Hornblower’s awesomeness with character development.
And now we’re back.
Yes, more Hornblower plot rambles. Let’s do this.
Another thing that the Hornblower show absolutely nails is plot complexity. (Yeah, I know we talked character last week and most everyone is “plot or characters”. But this show nailed both. Get over it.) So we’ll be talking on a few points of plot this week. Though this’ll be pretty short and sweet since it’s fairly straightforward what they did right.
So. Diving in.
- Have multiple goals
Having an overarching plot goal in the first place is a great start. Your character needs to be working towards something.
But too straightforward of a goal can get a little bland.
The book chapters in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower especially are very episodic. Chapter 1: A single goal/problem. Horatio has some troubles, then achieves the goal/solves the problem. Chapter 2: Another goal/problem. Horatio has some troubles, then again achieves the goal/solves the problem.
And so the cycle continues. Single goal after single goal.
One story there’s a problem with plague. One there’s a bratty midshipman who won’t stop bothering him. One there’s a ship that springs a leak and spoils the cargo. They board a French ship.
But they’re all just . . . one after another. Just the steady beat of that gets boring after a while.
Now let’s see how the show ends up doing it.
Episode one. Instead of the single goal of “duel with that idiot Simpson”, we have multiple goals stacked on top of each other.
Not only is Simpson being his classic jerk-self, but we have the added plot devices of Horatio and Archie getting transferred to the Indefatigable, the boarding of the French ship Papillion, and Horatio getting command of his first crew of men while trying to earn Pellew’s approval.
Simpson is the overarching antagonist of the story and causes many problems, weaving himself through all the story disasters and connecting them, but Horatio doesn’t have tunnel vision on “just get Simpson.” He has other things going on in his life.
Navy life isn’t as simple as one problem at a time. And plus, it gives viewers a bit more credit for their mental capacity to keep up with more than one storyline. Things are much more engaging when it takes some paying attention to keep up with things.
Multiple, intertwining goals also provides more tension. If Horatio is addressing one problem, in the back of your mind, you’re still worried about the others. The tension has less opportunity to lag, since it’s not just depending on that one line. (“Sure he’s taking care of watching his men and they’re obeying him, great. The boarding of the ship is going great. BUT SIMPSON IS RIGHT OVER THERE AUGH PAY ATTENTION TO SIMPSON.”)
Another huge bonus here is the opportunity for more of one of my favorite plot elements: Chekov’s Gun. The introduction of seemingly small things early in the story, then it turns out they’re important and they come back later? More plots, more opportunity. Don’t waste it.
- Vindication with villains
While in the last post we talked about all the benefits of human villains and the lack thereof in the books, there’s another lesson to be learned from the few books villains that show up.
Okay, make us hate them. Wonderful.
But pay it off. Make them get what they deserve.
I understand that it doesn’t always happen in real life, but it’s simply maddening to everyone when dastardly people end up getting away scot free. If you’re making a story . . . if beating the villain is part of the goal . . . for the love of swiss cheese, please give that bad guy a nice kick in the pants for all of us fuming readers.
We’ve got to have some sense of justice in the story or our anger from that disappearing/unpunished villain will all shift over to the author.
And you don’t want that. Trust me.
Jack Simpson, as a prime example here. He showed up briefly in the books, and was an incredible jerk. But his potential as such was wasted. He never got justice. Horatio challenged him to a dud duel, got scolded by an officer and . . . we never see Simpson again.
In the show . . . well, I won’t go into too many spoilers, but he gets everything he deserves. Quite in full.
And while it can be a bit of a tricky balancing act, keeping the heroes fully heroic when the antagonist seriously deserves to have some very awful things done to them, it’s really worth the effort to work it out.
Every villain should have a chance at redemption. And every Hornblower villain is fully given a chance at redemption. Whether they all take it or not, I won’t say. But don’t throw away your antagonists. They need to come full circle just like your heroes.
Hope you all learned something today! That’s all I’ve got as far as Hornblower lessons right now.
What other writing articles would you like to see? Have you seen Hornblower?
See ya next time, mateys, -salute-