Okay, so maybe it’s been a while since you watched Scooby-doo. (Maybe you watched it this morning–but I won’t tell anyone). But you probably recall the basic structure of the program: The Mystery Kids show up someplace. They find a reasonable person who tells them that a terrible monster/alien/ghost/zombie/witch is ruining their party/museum/family/house/resort/space shuttle launch. Scooby runs into the beast and a thrilling chase ensues. Velma and the others find some clues–they discover scientific or technological signs that it’s not a real monster, and unmask the surprising culprit who stands to gain from the failure of whatever it was. It’s mainly the setting that differentiates one plot from another.
But let’s focus for a minute on that integral thrilling chase scene (often set to goofy, setting-appropriate music). Shaggy and Scooby, interrupted while eating, lead the monster on a merry chase. They ride ore carts and elevators, they ford streams, cross bridges–whatever it takes for them to apparently escape, then find the creature ahead of them, or right behind (usually handing over something to Shaggy which he *thinks* is from Scooby).
The whole thing is a set-up. From the moment the creature shows up in the middle of the snack, to the moment he puts a hand on Shaggy’s shoulder just when they think they’re safe. There are two main issues with this that are relevant to our work as writers, and which should probably be dealt with in separate blogs. The first one is convenience. The monster shows up when it is convenient for the plot to do so. It then follows the protagonists around, often using whatever means they have chosen (not necessarily creature-appropriate means or those most likely to lead to success). This is part of what makes the series funny.
Now, I understand that these are not real creatures–they are people in rubber costumes. (which brings us to issue #2) But this fact should be patently obvious to the protagonists as a result of this behavior, and indeed, sometimes the “monster’s” reaction to the transportation is a clue, for instance when her make-up washes off in the stream.
But it’s the convenience factor I want to look at here. Many works of fiction have the same problem: the villains are operating on a schedule dictated by the needs of the protagonist or of the author rather than the needs of the villain or the plot. The first few Harry Potter books are like this. Rowling wanted to write a British school boy book, so the books take place on a school schedule. Because the greatest evil wizard ever needs to wait until Harry is at school (and then wait a little longer to space out the various events so that they don’t wrap up much before the end of term.). Rowling makes a few excuses as to why this would be the case, but she finally breaks loose of this forced convenience in the later books.
One reason many of us fall into the convenience trap is actually that we want to create the most exciting plots we can. So we want the villain to show up at the wedding because the conflict will be stronger. We need the catastrophe to happen when it will have the most impact. This is true. It’s one of the basic goals of commercial fiction. But we need the audience not to notice we’re manipulating events this way. And that means the villain’s schedule and efforts must serve his or her own needs. Let the big showdown happen at the most devastating moment for the hero–but make sure there is a believable reason, FROM THE VILLAIN’S POINT OF VIEW, why this should happen.
So as you revise your plot or plan your outline, you might ask yourself that critical question, What would Scooby (‘s monster)-Doo? And if it’s anything like what you’re writing–unless you’re writing humor–get back to the brainstorming.