Plot Points for Characters

Last week Writer Unboxed ran a piece called How to Craft a Page-Turning Plot by

The article is rather long, but the relevant part is under item 1. Apologies for such a long quote, but it’s totally worth reading the rest of the article.

Essentially, Yardley is reframing the elements of plotting in terms of what they mean for the characters.

The inciting incident is the first domino struck: if the incident hadn’t occurred, then the protagonist would not have a goal.

The first plot point, generally the end of the first act, is where the goal is established, although the protagonist has no idea how to accomplish said goal.

The midpoint is a turning point, where the protagonist goes from reactive to proactive — from aimless to focused.

The third plot point is the hardest to pin down, where the protagonist sets up for the final act… the calm before the storm, the prep, a moment of confidence because they’re stronger.

Then, there’s the black moment, where the worst thing that can happen to the protagonist, in terms of the story goal, strikes.

Then the climax and resolution. The protagonist’s transformation is complete. Through the lessons learned, the protagonist is changed and the goal is either obtained or not, depending on the kind of story you’re writing.

That’s it, in a nutshell. Again, this isn’t the only system, and it may not be the best for you. But I have found it helps to approach it in terms of your character thinking:

– “I want this, it’s important, but I don’t know what I’m doing”

– “I know what I”m doing, but it’s going to be really hard.”

– “I may have the hang of this, but I’m scared.”

– “My soul is absolutely crushed.”

– “I have grown, changed, and become more than I was. I resolve the goal, one way or another, as a result.”

When you look at it in terms of character, emphasizing change, you’ll usually find the middle starts shaping up a bit more easily.

This set off a lightbulb in my brain. I can’t even quite put my finger on it now, after the fact, but I know it’s there. I’d been looking at plot elements solely in terms of plot, as though that were separate from character.

This helped me to finally, finally!, write a decent query letter. In a query you have to lead the reader through your set up (the normal world), then the inciting incident, then where things start to heat up, then explain what the potential consequences will be for your primary characters. (Did I just come up with a query formula? I think I might have.) Query format demands plot, but it needs the emotion of character in order to mean something.

So, thank you, Cathy Yardley!! I’m ready to go wading into the #PitchWars trenches now!



Central Casting

On Writer Unboxed there’s a post called Central Casting by . I find the premise a little alarming.

Quoting Gore Vidal: [E]very writer has a given theater in his head, a repertory company. Shakespeare has fifty characters, I have ten, Tennessee has five, Hemingway has one, Beckett is busy trying to have none. You are stuck with your repertory company and you can only put on plays with them.

Alright, I actually find it rather horrifying. I’ve never liked writers leaning on the same archetypes again and again. The idea that I could fall into the same trap is very distressing.

The world is not made of these archetypes, and even if it were there are so very many of them that using only a handful is staggeringly short-sighted. I try very hard to make my primary and secondary characters into their own personages, as unique and layered as real people. I don’t want to just ring up central casting.

How limiting. *shudder*

So here’s a question, gentle reader. Do you find this sort of thing bothersome? Does it pain you to pick up a book and realize it’s the same characters from the last, completely unrelated book? Or am I tying myself in knots for no reason?

Battling Egos in Romance

I read a lot of blog posts on writing, thanks to Twitter. A lot of the information is on repeat, but not The Ego Struggle: The Core of the Romance Storyline posted by .

I think this post has some solid insight. When it comes to romance, it’s about battling egos. It’s about changing in order to make the relationship work. That’s character arc right there.

Each of them has to decide what they’re willing to give up for the sake of the relationship, versus what they need to keep because it’s essential to their happiness. … The decisions are made incrementally and often unconsciously, as the romantic couple grows closer—until the end of the novel, when they finally shed their illusions and choose each other over things they thought mattered more.

Through this struggle, their sense of identity changes. Their ego is dismantled and rebuilt. 

What the characters value changes. Importantly, they put side something of their own, a sacrifice.

Thanks, Andrea, for making me think!

A story without conflict…

…well, that’s just not a story. Conflict is essential to story. Without it, there’s nothing to tell. It’s just, “Two ducks existed. They lived in harmony. The end.”

Yesterday I got a beta reader request that began with, “It is a romance story that has no conflict, just pure adorableness.”

What this writer meant was that the story contained no violent conflict. Your story doesn’t have to include explosions and carjackings for it to have conflict. It doesn’t have to include a murder or even one person slugging the other one. You don’t even need a “fight”.

What you need are two (or more) characters with conflicting goals/wants/needs. That’s it.

Let’s say that Sir Duckington wants to buy a red car, and Lady Duckworth wants to sell a car. No conflict, they’re both going to get what they want. No story.

How about if Lady Duckworth’s boss has challenged her to sell the last blue car on the lot? Now she’s motivated to try to change Sir Duckington’s mind. Maybe he doesn’t really mind a blue car. Still no conflict. But, if Sir Duckington is dead set on a red car, has always wanted a red car, cannot imagine driving anything but a red car, then you have a conflict.

We now have a story about Lady Duckworth struggling to change Sir Duckington’s mind.

No violence necessary.

See, when we say “conflict” we don’t mean violence. We just mean conflicting goals.

The writer who reached out to me actually summed up her conflict just by mentioning the genre: romance. The “will they/won’t they?” question is inherent in romance. That’s conflict. We make the assumption that the story will be about the individuals overcoming obstacles that keep them apart. Romance and mystery are unique in that they immediately suggest a story question (“Will they solve the mystery?”).