"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Structuring Your Novel: What is Learned?

You must also decide what it is you want your people to learn from their experience. What should be the outcome of one man's greed, another's foolishness, or even another's kindness? However, when you actually write the book, don't preach these findings to or analyze them for your reader. Demonstrate through action and dialogue without direct expression; i.e., show, don't tell.

Like your initial characterization, if you know these things, your story will have more depth, be more focused, and they will emerge into the plot naturally. What is learned will also be reflected in your theme.

From my 1992 RWR article: "The Outline: Your Blueprint for a Structurally Sound Plot."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Structuring Your Novel: Obstacles/Conflicts

Once you've set up your characters' motivations, goals, and what is at stake, add some conflicts, obstacles, and collisions of wills. Without these ingredients your characters' adventures won't be interesting to the reader. Create stress, pressures, disagreements, and changes that hinder the hero's direction or goal. If a man sets out to make his fortune, put obstacles in his path and people who want to thwart his every move.

Be cautious, though. Don't get overzealous and have so many obstacles that your story ends up sounding like the Perils of Pauline. Keep the obstacles believable, and make sure your main characters aren't drawn along helplessly on a string of events. Have them make decisions--whether right or wrong--that will put them, for the most part, in charge of their own destinies.

As you pit man against man, or man against nature, you'll have to explore the inner makings of the secondary characters we well. They must also have good reasons for what they do. Villains can't merely be psychotic--a typical stereotype. Your character analysis probably won't be as in-depth on secondary characters, but you will must explore their past in order to tie it in with their present motivation. Remember, everyone--even the bad guy--has a reason for what he does.


COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL: From my 1992 RWR article: "The Outline: Your Blueprint for a Structurally Sound Plot."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Structuring Your Novel: What's At Stake

Good characterization and believable motivation are of utmost importance in your story structure, but whether it's money, love, success, or life itself, there must also be something at stake for the characters in order for the reader to care. You must create tension and suspense. Even if it's done in a very subtle way, you must make readers care about the people so they, too, will have a stake in the outcome.*

To see some really good examples of "What's at Stake" for your character, study the hit TV series "24." Jack Bauer is constantly having to change directions because he is presented with another "what's at stake" scenario if he doesn't comply to the villains' demands. It might be his life, the lives of his family or friends, or the lives of thousands of people. And it's not just what is at stake for Jack; every character in the series has his/her own goals, motivations, and something that is at stake in his life that is driving him to do what he does.

Your character, too, has to be faced with the threat of losing something very dear to him. It doesn't have to be someone's life at stake, but the stakes need to be something valuable enough to the character that he will be forced to take risks and do things he might not otherwise.


COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL: *From my 1992 RWR article: "The Outline: Your Blueprint for a Structurally Sound Plot."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Structuring Your Novel: Motivation

Every character (except perhaps the walk-ons) must have an incentive for what he does. He must have a motivation that will drive him to reach certain goals he's set for himself. Like characterization, his motivation must be consistent throughout the book. It must be believable to the reader and strong enough to carry the story to the end.

Motivations tell you what type of person your character is, or has to be in order for the book to work. Motivation and characterization work hand in hand until they mesh together into what your plot will be.

As an example of how integral motivation and characterization are, consider the two main characters in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, the 1985 Pulitzer Prize winner. Woodrow Call is a man driven to action. He's a leader of men and has little tolerance for laziness or weakness in anybody, even himself. On the other hand, his best friend, Augustus McCrae, is a man who, like Call, can hold his own in an Indian battle and who loves adventure. But McCrae is also a man inclined to need a little nudge to get going unless it's something he wants to do. He likes his whiskey and his women--two things Call scorns. Contrary to Call, McCrae doesn't believe in working too hard, and he definitely doesn't believe in working continually.

The fact that Call is a driven man sets the book into motion. He wants to head a herd of cattle north to Montana. He's tired of the sameness of the last ten years in the little border town of Lonesome Dove. Maybe everybody is tired of the sameness, but he's the one who takes the action. Because of his personality and the fact that he is an ex-Texas Ranger with diverse experience, the reader never doubts that he can accomplish the feat. If McCrae had spearheaded the cattle drive north, he would have needed a different personality and motivation in order for it to be truly believable.

In this book every person has his own goals, even if some of the goals don't seem obvious at first. And each person has his own motivations in order to reach those goals. Who the characters are and what they want from life dictates their separate ends. They either go along with Call or they rebel, or like Lorena--the good-hearted whore--they use the drive to obtain something they want. Their motivations are the story. In this book we get a good look at the West and at what cattle drives were all about, but the people and their motivations are the actual story.*

Next week: WHAT'S AT STAKE?

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL: *From my 1992 RWR article: "The Outline: Your Blueprint for a Structurally Sound Plot."