Sunday, April 15, 2012

Setting and Plot Device...




     Today I want to discuss a setting and also a plot device I'm using.  Above you see the remains of a concrete ship.  Yes, you read correctly a ship partly made from concrete.  This vessel is the S. S. Palo Alto, built to serve in WWI when steel and metal supplies were becoming scarce.  She was part of a fleet of 12 experimental vessels.  Unfortunately, she was completed in 1919 after the war was over and made her only self-powered voyage to the San Francisco Bay Area.  There she sat for 10 years and was eventually purchased by an entertainment company and towed to Seacliff near Santa Cruz.  Once she came here, she was refitted and turned into an entertainment showcase.  An arcade, fine dining, a bar, even a pool was built inside of her to the pleasures of her many visitors.  The middle photo above is a model replica of her in those glory days when she was known as "The Amusement Ship".  Unfortunately, two years later the company fell apart in the stock market crash and the Palo Alto was left exactly where she sat at the mercy of the elements.    She was stripped of her metal for scrap during WWII.  
     Eventually she was purchased by the California State Park Commission for $1 and was left exactly where she was as a tourist attraction.  In 1963 a large crack appeared in the hull.  In 1978 another serious storm increased the crack and literally broke her in two.  The rear third of the ship was officially closed off to visitors.  But the closer section was left open for visitors and fishermen who cast their lines over her sides up until 2000 when she was deemed too dangerous for people to be allowed on anymore.
     Now, some of you may be thinking, well gee thanks for the history lesson what's this got to do with setting and plot devices?  My answer is EVERYTHING!
     In my 2nd novel "THE SHIP", which is more than halfway finished, I use this vessel in it's current state of deterioration and give it the chance to see combat that it was denied.  It becomes the launching pad for an attack against a ghostly vessel that is now hunting off the shores of Seacliff.  
     History can be a treasure trove of ideas for a writer.  I could've used this ship for a story back when it was an entertainment ship.  For a mystery, what murder or thefts could've occurred among the visitors?  For a thriller, what intrigues and pursuits could have taken place on board during it's construction or when the wealthy came to enjoy themselves on it?  Or I could go the Clive Cussler route and suggest something special (a mineral, or some secret document that needed to be reclaimed) was hidden away and sealed in a compartment inside the cement and needed to be retrieved.  
     You can find a good setting for a story almost anywhere and come up with story ideas.  In the woods, in the city, in the suburbs, the jungle you name it.  Just look around and start seeing what ideas come to you.  In that old movie theater across the street that has never been updated to hold more than 2 screens, why has it remained that way?  A whim by the proprietor?  Or is there something more going on there?  Describe the the outside and the interior.  You have a setting.  But it can also be a powerful and intriguing plot device to move your story along to it's climactic finale.
     One final note.  The other 12 concrete ships either sunk or were grounded and became man-made reefs for marine life.  The only one still in use is the S. S. San Pascqual that ran aground off Cuba.  Today she still stands there, completely refurbished and is now a 10 room hotel for tourists.  
     Keep writing everyone.  More next week.