How to Kill Two (Or More) Birds With One Stone

Two…birds? Get it? A robin is a bird, and so is a parrot?

…Y’know what, never mind.

Stories only focus on the things that you want them to focus on. Since the focus of the story is unlikely to be the history of how this planet came to be, evolved, and met its ultimate demise, you’re probably going to want to center the story on one aspect, person, thing, or place in the world you’ve created.

In contrast, this makes the frame of the story very small. Small-town problems don’t have much of an impact on the rest of the world, but it means everything to the small-town heroine who is trying to get elected. Since the scope of your story only focuses on this incredibly niche thing, the conflicts that the characters have are huge and important…to them. Probably not to the rest of the world, though.

I was reading C.S. Lewis last night. (Did I mention I really like Lewis?) In appendix B of Miracles, he makes an analogy to explain the nature of Special Providence (it’s a term in Christian Theology):

Suppose I am writing a novel. I have the following problems on my hands: (1) Old Mr. A has to be dead before Chapter 15. (2) And he’d better die suddenly because I have to prevent him from altering his will. (3) His daughter (my heroine) has got to be kept out of London for three chapters at least. (4) My hero has somehow got to recover the heroine’s good opinion which he lost in Chapter 7. (5) That young prig B who has to improve before the end of the book needs a bad moral shock to take the conceit out of him. (6) We haven’t decided on B’s job yet; but the whole development of his character will involve giving him a job and showing him actually at work.

C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Lewis has quite the problem. He could choose to make a whole bunch of little changes that solve his problems, but, more masterfully, he decides to kill 6 birds with one stone: put more simply, what one event could fix all of these problems? What one occurrence could account for all of the dillemmas?

Let’s go back to the point about how your story is a closer, more miniscule snapshot of the whole world you’ve created. Since you’re only focusing on a handful of people, places, things, and actions, killing multiple birds with one stone doesn’t take a massive, worldwide calamity or a huge, globe-spanning apocalypse. It only takes something that would be of significance to the characters and times of the story.

Lewis proposes one thing that would tie the whole story together: a train wreck. How so? you may ask. Here’s the explanation: problem 1 is solved because the old man dies in the train wreck. And he dies suddenly, (indeed Lewis said that it would be cool to make it so the old man was going to have his will altered, and that the train would take him there) so that solves problem 2.

But it doesn’t stop there. Naturally, his daughter would go with the old man, right? If you make it so she was injured, like she had a broken leg or something, you could keep her out of London for as many chapters as you wanted. That solves Problem 3. But wait! What if the hero were on the same train? That just sweetens the pie, as he could rescue the heroine from certain death and get back in her good graces, thus solving problem 4.

And as for “young prig B”, Lewis decided that he could make him the signalmaster whose inattentiveness caused the train wreck. This takes care of problem 5, as it gives him a nasty moral shock. Incidentally, this also links him up with the main plot (as he may go apologize at old man A’s funeral, seek help from one of the characters, try to make amends, go to prison so the hero can bust him out, etc.) which solves problem 6.

Killing multiple birds with one stone is far more artistic than just thinking of a bunch of little solutions to your problems. I’m not saying that the latter is unacceptable: I’m just saying that it’s almost always a far better solution to link all of the problems with one solution. It shows the reader to connect the dots and how clever you were by creating such an outlet.

Good luck, and happy writing!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: