Reading for Bootcamp always reveals confusions about where to start the story and whose story it is. For perspective, look at THE MALTESE FALCON. Here are the events of the story as they happened:

• 16th Century: the falcon is made of gold and jewels by the Knights of Malta as a gift to the King of Spain.

• It’s stolen by pirates and passed around Europe for centuries.

• At some time it’s coated with black enamel to conceal its value.

• 1928: valuing the falcon at two million dollars, fat Caspar Gutman has traced it to General Kemidov, a Russian exile in Constantinople.

• Gutman sends Brigid O'Shaughnessy and Joel Cairo to get it.

• After obtaining the falcon, Brigid ditches Joel and flees with Floyd Thursby and the falcon to Hong Kong, then San Francisco.

• In San Fran, Brigid decides she wants to be rid of Thursby. Posing as “Miss Wonderly” she hires Sam Spade and partner Miles Archer to follow Thursby, supposedly to find her sister, who ran off with him.

• That night, planning on getting Archer and Thursby into a fight, Brigid leads Archer into an alley. Either Archer will kill Thursby, or he’ll kill Archer and be arrested, allowing her to vanish with the bird. When Thursby backs off, she kills Archer with Thursby's gun to frame him.

• Gutman is hunting the falcon; his gunsel Wilmer kills Thursby.

• Frightened now, Brigid returns to Spade for protection.

• Eventually Gutman learns Brigid’s falcon is fake and Spade figures her for Archer’s murder. Gutman heads to Constantinople for the real falcon. Spade turns in Brigid for the murder.

• At the end, the falcon remains lost – “the stuff dreams are made of.”


Lots of disagreement on the definitions of plot and story. For my ad hoc definitions let’s just say that STORY is the sequence of events and PLOT is how you relate those events


Plot comes down to Storytelling – taking the events of the story and choosing the order in which to reveal them via various personalities and agendas in such a way as to have the most dramatic, thematic, and emotional impact.


The first things to decide are whose story you’re telling and where to start. If it’s…


SPADE: Start with the classic P-I opener: a beautiful dame walks into his office and wants to hire him. He thinks she’s square and has to figure out what a lying, thieving, murdering conniver she is.


Hammett, a former Pinkerton, chose Spade. This looks like the best choice because Sam’s partner has been killed: “When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it.” He’s hearing lies from all sides and must find his way to the truth. He’s the moral center of this version.


But is this the only way to tell the story? Gutman and Brigid – either one, handled properly, could anchor an interesting tale. Think of WICKED: the author took a famous story, extended the timeline into the past, and told "The Wizard of Oz" from the Wicked Witch’s POV. So if you choose…


GUTMAN: Start with his learning that General Kemidov in Constantinople has the falcon. He hires Brigid to get it, learns he’s been double-crossed, and goes on the hunt for her and the falcon. He’s on a mission but this P-I Sam Spade keeps getting in his way. And he’s got to control Wilmer.


BRIGID: Start with her being hired to go to Constantinople. She’s a sociopath and can’t resist stealing the falcon and either seducing, double-crossing, or killing (sometimes all three) anyone who gets in her way. Maybe she’s got a secret grudge against Gutman – maybe he’s partly responsible for her behavior.


Hell, you could go fantasy and throw in a resurrected Knight of Malta relentlessly pursuing the falcon to return it to its place of origin.


Been looking for something to write? Have at it.