Remember how I said writing a novel’s not like connecting dots? You’re not doing this in an orderly, paint-by-numbers sense but there is a set pattern. I’m sticking by my story skeleton idea, because I feel that stories are living things, extensions of those who write them and those who love them. As I missed Tuesday’s post, this first section of today’s post is about the points of connection in your own story.
I’d like to think of these connected dots as synovial joints in the human body. They’re the most flexible joints in on a human person, just like plot points should be when they’re being crafted. These points, or joints, come from key scenes. Ideally, you’ll produce a list of the more important things you want to happen in your story. Don’t worry about them all connecting just yet. Instead, make sure they’re worth writing down. If they don’t “feel” right, the reader probably won’t connect with the important, gripping parts of your story.
Chambers of a Story
Important joints or plot points aside, the meat of today’s post is about the heart of your story. Although we talked about its soul, the structure of your novel needs something to pump the blood through its veins. Much like a heart, a story has various parts which help it function.
The best place to find the core of your story is in its characters. The only way to create a truly lovable, hate-able, or believable character is through their motivations. You need to clearly identify who your characters are. Relatable characters are flawed, usually with traits you or your audience identify with. Provide your characters with the chance to outgrow their flaws and redeem or condemn themselves based on actionable moments. Their growth, or lack thereof, should parallel major developments in the story to really sink home the overall story and their changes.
This is where you get to screw with your characters and/or audience. I’m no sadist, but I certainly enjoy upending stereotypes. If someone anticipates a common story trope based on your character’s predictability, give it to your reader. Or don’t. There’s as much satisfaction in the antagonist remaining irredeemable and opposing the protagonist as there is in the protagonist’s forgiveness or acceptance of the antagonist’s goals. This is also the place where you explore the interpersonal and/or intercultural opposition you’ve sewn across your story.
There are various types of conflict, the two most significant being internal and external. Internal conflict occurs within a character’s mind and is best shown through reluctant action or inner dialogue. External conflict becomes more complicated, involving more than the antagonist. The character may be in opposition to society, nature, technology, the supernatural or another character in your novel. This opposition anchors plot joints as turning points which develop tension in your story.
Crafting compelling conflict involves a few key factors. They interrupt too much buffer time between scenes. They vary in intensity, depending on the parties in opposition. For example, a character versus self conflict might be much more dramatic if his doubt prevents a major win occurring for the protagonist in your story. Don’t be afraid to put in little things like personality conflicts as well as cross-cultural clashes. Foreshadowing and tension build conflict steadily. List the top ten worst things that could happen to your character(s). Refer to this list for points of conflict.
The best stories carry the author’s deepest convictions. Theme is a place for a writer to be a bleeding heart. Conflict and motivation reflect the theme(s) inherent in your story. The theme is your chance to tell whatever story you want told. Consider popular series like Harry Potter, where J.K. Rowling openly admitted the themes of grief and loss reflected her mourning of her mother. Take the entire Lost Generation or other writers who served in the Great War. Their fiction, prose, and poetry is some of the greatest ever written. They poured their beliefs, good or bad, about humanity into their stories. A good way to find your theme(s) is in identifying what you’d live and die for. List it out.
Characters will reveal your themes best: in the ways they act; in their motivations; and their dialogue. This means demonstrating strong character progression. There are a few ways you can go about finding your theme. Identify the protagonist’s main point of conflict. The protagonist’s beliefs and motivations should appear in his actions throughout the story. Certain symbols, relative to the protagonist or not, may reappear as subtle reminders of latent thematic elements. Subtext is key in revealing what your character’s actions do not.