Before I get started, I have ConCarolinas news.
Calling all attendees to ConCarolinas! People are arriving at the airport in Charlotte on Thursday and Friday, and they need rides to the hotel. (It’s $80 by cab.) If you need a ride or can be available to give a lift for gas money, to take people to and fro, or want to share a cab, here is your chance to network. Email me personally and I will coordinate. firstname.lastname@example.org. So far we have two arrivals handled, thanks to John Hartness. Wayne McCalla is willing to help too.
The MW lunch will be Saturday. Come by the signing tables and ask us for the definite time and place, but it will likely be at the same place, same time as last year.
I have an aside that I am editing in. I will be on a tweetchat tonight for readers and writer of fantasy at #sffwrtcht. Come ask me anything – in 140 charaters or less.
Onwards to the post. Today I am one post away from wrapping up the series on knowing our books, covering questions we writers can ask ourselves about our own work to understand it better, spot weaknesses, and make our books tighter. (These are things we can do before we write a book and during the writing of a book, but mostly, it’s things we can ask ourselves after we finish that first draft and we are getting ready for the first major rewrite, yada yada…)
Disclaimer: All of us go through certain procedures and the Q&A I’ve been writing about are just one writer’s methodology. Not all. 😎
03. Protagonist: Who and what stand in the way of your protagonist(s)?
02. What is your protagonist’s(s’) plan of action to get what he/they want?
These questions are tied in with motivation, (see last week’s post) but also stand alone. Unfortunately, many fantasy writers put little thought into the protag’s motivation. We end up with a BBU (Big Bad Ugly, AKA the book’s antagonist) who wants to kill the hero, blow up the world, destroy all life as we know it, whatever, yada yada. The motivations are not always clear and easily understood. And frankly, I think they should be for one simple reason—the book is a better read if they are. The tension level is higher, the MC (main character) has a harder fight to reach his goals, and in today’s market, bestsellers are made by the level of tension as much as by any other factor.
One easy way to develop that tension is to understand your BBU’s motives, what his plan of action is to get what he wants, and what and who stands in his way. When you know that, the book develops an entirely new and dramatic dimension.
As some of you know, I have my writing roots in the mystery/thriller/medical-thriller/police-procedural genre, and in that genre, the BBU has to have a motive, a reason for doing what he does. He (using universal pronoun in this post for ease of writing) has to have a plan of action to get his evil deeds done, and he has to have things that interfere with and negatively affect carrying out his plans. To help talk about that, I am going to take off my fantasy-writer hat and put on my medical thriller-writer hat.
Over the course of the four book, Rhea Lynch, MD medical thriller series, my MC, fights (has conflict with) many different things and characters:
- A person who wants the family money and has no moral problem with lobotomizing family members to get it.
- A pandemic with origins in a terrorist plot.
- A voodoo practitioner and a faith healer in town at the same time.
- A serial killer.
Each BBU had to be realistic in a real-world way, a medical way, and had to be things that a doctor would see in a small-town rural ER. In other words, things I’ve actually seen in the ER in the rural the hospital where I work. I built a world around one I was familiar with—though with distinct differences to avoid pesky lawsuit problems—and I had to be true to that world just as much as I have to be true to the fantasy worlds I build.
In the first book of the series, Delayed Diagnosis, by Gwen Hunter (my AKA), Rhea (pronounced Ray) comes home from vacation to hear that in her absence, her best friend (BFF) has had a stroke. Both characters are 29-ish and in good physical shape, so the stroke is unexpected.
First let’s look at the Main Character’s motivation, plan of action, and obstacles.
Motivation – Save her friend.
Plan of Action – Get in to see her friend, diagnosis her, even if those two things violate medical ethics.
Obstacles – The first obstacle the MC has to overcome is getting in to see her friend who is now recuperating at home. Her friend’s husband has refused all visitors and the friend is in a type of isolation. The obvious BBU is the husband, and Rhea’s goal of diagnosing and treating her friend are stymied by him. The real BBU, who wants to control the family money, never intended murder—that would be wrong—but with the secondary character, Rhea’s BFF, now totally dependent and isolated, as well as kept away from proper medical care and rehab, the BBU has what he wants.
Now let’s look at the BBU’s motivation, plan of action and obstacles.
BBU’s Motivation – Control of family money. BBU has a secret gambling problem and has lost everything.
BBU’s Plan of Action – Find a way to take over the family finances to pay off gambling debts and buy back the family property. If a murder was involved, police would be involved too, so a little accidental brain injury works a lot better—if a method can be found to accomplish that, in such a way as to avoid death and be undetectable.
BBU’s Obstacles – What stands in the BBU’s way: Does not know how (yet) to cause the injury without being caught. Then, Rhea Lynch MD and the medical and legal system stand in the way. Over and over again.
To show the changing plot arcs I’ll offer the BBU’s Macro Plan of Action and the way the MC’s plan intersects it:
- BBU practices brain injury methodology on one man, and the man dies.
- BBU hides the body and tries again.
- On this attempt, BBU is happy with the results, and now only needs Rhea out of the way and the husband out of the way.
- BBU pays cohorts to assist, assaults Rhea’s friend. Friend is misdiagnosed with a stroke and her husband quickly takes her home to recuperate.
- Book starts. Rhea comes home and starts to investigate. (Violating her medical ethics in the process, but being banned from practicing medicine is a small price to pay to save her friend.)
- Rhea finds injuries and lab tests not consistent with stroke.
- BBU has to deflect her and so encourages Rhea to discover the husband’s infidelity and the BFF’s visit to a divorce lawyer.
- Rhea discovers that a CT-scan’s final result is missing from the patient’s file. When she finds it and gets her hands on the ER chart (violating her medical ethics) it shows the first clue, an abnormal pattern of heartbeat and bleeding in the brain. Rhea starts to request what appear to be peculiar tests on victims. Now the BBU is in danger of possible discovery.
- The BBU’s cohorts have to silenced.
- Unfortunatelyfor BBU, Rhea sees that the cohorts are have the same symptoms that her friend had when she came to the ER.
- Rhea is in the way and has to be stopped.
- BBU attacks Rhea and tries to kill her. Rhea saves the day and gets her friend into rehab, thus thwarting the BBU’s plan of action and accomplishing her own.
As you see the BBU’s plan of action is best thwarted by the MC. The tension ratchets up if the MC and his friends and loved ones will/do suffer.
So—number 3 and number 2 from your book. Keep it short and sweet.