Top Ten (Okay Eleven) Things You Should Know About Your Own Book: Part One

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Some time ago, I was on a panel with romance writer Andrea Parnell. (http://andreaparnell.com/) She had a list of the things every writer needed to know about their own book. Over the years, I’ve changed, rearranged, renamed, and made her list my own. Even though we have gone over most of these here at MW, perhaps we have not made them into a comprehensive set of posts, so I thought I’d start a Top 11 this week.

It is simple stuff, but if your WIP is missing that vital something, that special element that sets it apart from other unpublished books on the market (or hopefully someday on the market) perhaps you’ll spot it here. The better we know our books, the more likely they will interest an agent or editor, and the better they will interest the reading public. Knowing our books better can make us more confident writers, and take us to the next level in our writing.

     11. What is the  external conflict / goal / purpose of your story? If you aren’t sure, then ask yourself the questions that your story will answer. Will Jessica and Booker get together or will Jessica go to NYC? Will the virus escape and  kill Joshua and his whole town? Will the Zombies find the taste of beef  good enough to change over their primary food source, or will Stewart run away with the cattle? Will Rose and her unicorn be good enough to win the Unicorn Games or will they lose the family farm?  This is your external conflict  pared down its most basic form. If you don’t know the purpose of your story, then you don’t know the external conflict that needs to be resolved, and neither will your readers. Once you have the conflict/goal/purpose of your story, see if you can put it into a question,  as above, and share with me.

     10. How does your story’s external conflict (see above) impact the character’s internal conflict? This is where the beginning writer moves into a more advanced writing process. To create well developed characters, those characters must have flaws or weaknesses to grow through or resolve. Every flawed hero has to be faced with something that is difficult to achieve, something that challenges his core weakness. Another way to say this is that every main character needs to want something that is out of reach. Your character’s main weakness or greatest desire must be challenged by the plot conflict, challenged by the desire that seems unresolved and unresolvable. Resolving the external plot conflict should resolve the internal one (for better or worse). I’ve phrased the examples listed in number 11 (above) as questions below. Once you’ve looked over the examples, make your internal/external conflict into a question(s).

Ex.: Jessica has wanted Booker all her life. She has also wanted to go to NYC to study dancing. By the end of the book Jessica has the opportunity to accomplish either one or the other of her goals, but not both. Resolving this will allow Jessica to grow. She has to choose the professional and personal growth of NYC or the safety of a relationship and a different kind of personal growth. Question: Will Jessica chose Booker and love and stability, or NYC and a life of excitement and possibility, alone?

Ex: Joshua has survived the viral outbreak so far, and his natural fear of disease and death and horror shows him the opportunity to get away clean, but the town is still in danger. Question: Will Joshua risk his life to save his town from the virus?

Ex: Stewart has spent his whole life creating the best breeding stock for Angus beef. He also has built up the town from little more than a ghost town into a bustling commerce and tourist town. Now he may have to choose between the two: saving the stock or offering it to the zombies to save the remaining townspeople. Will Stewart be willing to part with his prize bull to save the town or will he run, bull in tow? But even if he offers the beef, will the Zombies find the taste good enough to change over their primary food source? Or will Stewart find another way? (Stolen from David B Coe’s response to a panel questions at Dragon*Con 2011 – Poisoned brains…)

Ex: Will Rose decide to cheat and feed her unicorn the golden apple that will assure them a win at the Unicorn Games? If she doesn’t, will her unicorn be good enough to win the games? And if she loses, how will she live with herself when the bank takes the family farm?

Post your questions. I’ll read and reply. And remember, with the questions, brevity is golden. You want to say as much as you can in the smallest number of words. It’s a brain challenge!

Faith
www.faithhunter.net

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36 comments to Top Ten (Okay Eleven) Things You Should Know About Your Own Book: Part One

  • Yay! Great post topic, Faith. I like the idea of examining things at this level, especially since I’m engaged in more rewrites. Thank you for this.

    Since escaping with her life as a child, Janni wants nothing more than to be a landmaiden, and not the princess she once was. But her usurping uncle’s reign has grown more tyrannical than ever, and now it threatens her peaceful life. As she journeys to earn the right to serve as the healer and lay-priestess she wants to be, she must choose: will she ignore the turmoil around her and pursue her one desire? Or will she sacrifice her dream, face her uncle and become the queen her country needs?

  • David believed he lived in an utopian society. Demia was the only planet in the galaxy that valued merit over birthright. Then one day he discovered that Demia has been secretly ruled by the same family since the start. Will David become the leader Demia needs or will his parents plan to make him king of Demia affect his choices? Can he allow himself to love the daughter of the current ruler knowing she is next in line for the throne?

  • sagablessed

    David has shut himself off from the world, ever since his husband died (whose spirit is taking exception to David’s self-imposed exile). Now his nephew and his nephew’s unborn child need him. Add a girl with a deadly secret, a feral hedge-witch making trouble, a RimeGiant bringing chaos to New England, and a man who won’t take no for an answer, and David may retreat further into his own world. Can David overcome his sorrow to save the world, his nephew’s baby, and perhaps give love a second chance?

    Tune in next week -same bat-time, same bat-channel. (roflmao)

  • Laura, I’ve seen this expressed here at MW a couple times and some of the others were a bit clunky. This is your most concise, clear cut, easy to follow one yet. Good job! Keep this one for your query letter. 🙂

    Saga, I like this, but it is a bit unclear. To clarify, I have changed a few things and have questions: When his husband died, David shut himself off from the world, though Jonah’s (or whatever) spirit is taking exception to David’s self-imposed exile. Now their (?to bring in the spirit again?) nephew and his nephew’s unborn child need him. (We need to know why. VERY briefly. The baby is sick, or something.) Add a girl with a deadly secret, a RimeGiant bringing chaos to New England, a feral hedge-witch making trouble, (I switched these to keep the reader’s eye from associating the witch with the secret-girl) and a man who won’t take no for an answer, and David may retreat further into his own, (spiritual? mental? or a virtual world he created?) world. Can David overcome his sorrow to save the world (from what?), his nephew’s baby, and perhaps give love a second chance?
    Play with it a bit and I’ll take a second look. With tiny bit of work, this can be the start of a good pitch.

  • Fireheart1974

    OMG this is hard…okay, taking a stab.

    When Ella Hawk’s newest courier is found dead, she joins forces with the incorrigible Nikola Tesla and a newly promoted Inspector, Jonah Knight, to seek the murderer. While striving to find the killer, Ella must also balance her responsibilities to her dying sister and try to find peace with the recent loss of her parents. Will Ella be able to find her courier’s murderer? Or will she shut down in the face of more tragedy?

    Thanks, Faith!

  • Fun post and task!

    Mary uses the power of hellfire to smite demons, all the while hiding her secret: she got it by murdering her pregnant sister-in-law. Now, with a vengeful demon and vampire hot on her heels, will she be able to bring the hellfire, and her guilt, under control and save Dragon Con and her friends? Or will she lose control and let the hellfire consume the world,her friends, and her with them?

  • I don’t respond often, but this post came at a perfect time for me. This is exactly what I needed to think about today, although I never would have been able to articulate the questions as well as you did!

    Keely is trying to escape her past as a Killer. She joins the Enforcer squad to start a new life even though no one on the squad wants a Killer around. When the escalating crimes on her new planet point to a frightening conspiracy, Keely realizes that her past may be the key to saving the future. Will Keely use her Killer skills and knowledge to uncover the conspiracy, or will she deny her past to win over her new colleagues?

  • Deb S

    Fun post, Faith. I’ll give it a go.

    Frankie has the ability but not the strength to keep an Otherworld army of from invading. She can augment her strength, but it might not be enough and if her friends are right it will destroy her soul, the human part anyway. Will Frankie trust that her friends will find another way? Or will she do whatever’s necessary to increase her power and hope she can seal the breech between worlds before her Otherworld soul gains control?

  • Great post, Faith. The linkage between external conflict and internal needs is, I think, crucial. I’m wrestling with it now in my WIP (Darwen III). Thanks for focussing my mind 🙂

  • Fireheart — nice! Now, if you can find a way that helping her dying sister causes trouble finding the killer, and a way to input that here, you will have a winner! That will more firmly link the internal and external conflicts and torture the character (as per Lucienne’s post this week).

    PeaE — When you juxtapose D*C with the world, it comes out sounding less serious that I think you want. Try it with out the *world* part. Also, I think you need a descriptive word in front of vampire, like you have in front of demon. Plus, I want to know what will happen if she fails. So I rearranged it some. Ex:
    Mary uses the power of hellfire to smite demons, all the while hiding her secret: she got it by murdering her pregnant sister-in-law. Now, with a vengeful demon and furious vampire hot on her heels, will she be able to bring the hellfire, and her guilt, under control and (here you need to say what will happen if she is not successful) stop the demon in time? Or will she lose control and let the hellfire consume her friends, and her along with them?
    Play with it a tiny bit and stick it back up here.

  • Sisi — this is really, really good. I could nitpic with a word choice, but you covered all the bases and I don’t think my word choice really adds anything. Nice. Don’t change a thing.

    Deb, there are a lot of things here but I think you actually need a tad more! (Not something I say often.) I’ll put a comment in the spots where you need to add something.
    (Half-human, half-Otherworld, or somthing, to show the internal conflict right off the bat), Frankie (last name, bedcause Frankie seems too quick), has the ability but not the strength to keep an Otherworld army of from invading (Earth?). She can augment her strength, but it might not be enough(,) and if her friends are right(,) it (the attempt? or the success?) will destroy her soul, the human part anyway. Will Frankie trust that her friends will find another way? Or will she do whatever (is) necessary to increase her power and hope she can seal the breech between worlds before her Otherworld soul gains control?

  • AJ, I think about this stuff all the time in the rewrite stage. I never get it right in the rough, sadly.

  • Thanks, Faith! Yes, the story’s becoming clearer, too. I will keep this, and likely use it when the WIP’s ready to send out again. But back to work for me for now. Writing is rewriting, as one of my bossses likes to say. 🙂

  • Fireheart1974

    Thanks Faith…huh…now I’ve got to go figure that out.

  • Thanks, Faith!

    After she and her brother almost killed each other, Harvey promised she’d never let the berserker rage overwhelm her again. But now a rash of frost demons and other signs of an unnatural winter are threatening her home town, and her daughter’s own berserker abilities are growing every day. Will Harvey return to berserking to save her children and her home? If she does, will she lose herself?

  • Thank you, Faith! I needed the encouragement today. Answering these questions really helped me focus on the core of my story. But I do have to ask . . . what word would you nitpick? Is it “colleagues?” I struggled with that one, and wasn’t really satisfied but couldn’t come up with anything I liked better.

  • Hi Faith, here goes nothing.

    Question first: my character’s interal conflict will come in when she will have to trust those around her that have betrayed her in the past. Then will the external conflict be with why her friends go missing or the who/what that causing the trouble, because they are two different people.

    Here goes my external/internal question: Jenna has always been a people pleaser. When Myra, her bully, tells her once again to help her escape their little town, running far away from their pack, she puts their families well being in danger, along with Jenna’s shaky reputation as pack princess at risk of being
    completly destroyed. Jenna wakes up one morning with no memory of the last few days, burns on her back, no idea where her families power source is and Myra’s body found in a feild near her house. To make it worse she finds Myra’s family’s power in her possession. When Jenna goes looking for answers in all the right places, she wakes up with more mysterious bruises and no memory of how she got them. Will she finally swallow her pride and hurt from the past when one of her close friends goes missing and asks for help or will she continue her quiet princess act and let it all fall on the recklessness of Myra.

  • Razziecat

    Oooh, this really make me focus on the conflicts. Thanks Faith!

    The dark god Keshal has awakened in the world of Cydon. His power will overthrow all spiritual, magical and civil laws, plunging the world into chaos and evil. Standing against him are the priest-mages Erasmus Thorne, his protégé Cullen Emory, and their allies.
    Thorne once used magic to kill. He fears losing control of his magic and of his humanity. Can he overcome these fears before Keshal becomes too great to stop?
    Cullen’s magic is wild and strong, and something in his past makes him drawn to Keshal’s lawlessness and power. Can he resist the lure, or will he become something other than human?

    (The other characters have conflicts too but these two are the MC’s)

  • Laura, indeed it is. I am deep into the rewrites of Death’s Rival, weaving in all the stuff I left out!

    Fire, not every book has such a tight external/internal conflict mix, but your plot has all the makings of one that will keep the reader on the edge of their seats. Twining in the two plot lines will give it an intensity.

    Sarah, we need more. Not much more, but just a few clarifiers. The conflict must be clear, based on who the characters are, and that right up front. Ex:
    After (the berserker demons or whatever) Harvey and her brother almost killed each other, Harvey promised she’d never again let the berserker rage overwhelm her. But now a rash of frost demons and other signs of an unnatural winter are threatening her home town, and her daughter’s own berserker abilities are growing every day. Will Harvey return to berserking to save her children and her home? If she does, will she lose herself (and we need to know what she will become if she looses herself, like) and become a flame of rage that burns everything in her path (or whatever).

  • SiSi, don’t laugh. I know (by the cap K) that it is intrinsic to the story, but it was the word Killer. I wanted more. Assassin. SOmething. But it would add nothing and the Capped K is just enough. Like I said — ignore me on this one.

    Latedra, I think you gave more, and less, than was needed. I think… Because I may have it wrong. Myra may not be dead, which we need clarified. Anyway, Try this and fix what I screwd up!
    Jenna, the pack princess, wakes up one morning with no memory of the last few days. She has burns on her back, and no idea where her family’s power source has gone. The murdered (yes?) body of her Bully, (This is something different from a regular bully, yes? So I capped it to indicate this) Myra, has been found in a feild near Jenna’s house. It looks as if Jenna killed her friend. To make it worse she finds Myra’s family’s power in her possession. When Jenna goes looking for answers in all the right places, she wakes up with more mysterious bruises and no memory of how she got them. Will she finally swallow her pride and her memories of past pain, and ask for help when one of her close friends goes missing, or will she continue her quiet princess act and let it all fall on the recklessness of Myra.

  • Razzie, it is good to concentrate on the MCs. 🙂
    This reads like classic fantasy, yes? If so, I think you need to clarify a couple things.
    The dark god Keshal has awakened in the world of Cydon. His power will overthrow all spiritual, magical and civil laws, plunging the world into chaos and evil. (Interesting. Does he want something? Other than to be the big bad destroyer? You might want that here too. Maybe.) Standing against him are the priest-mages Erasmus Thorne, his protégé Cullen Emory, and their allies.
    Thorne once used magic to kill. He fears losing control of his magic and of his humanity (if he draws on his power to kill the dark god), (becomming as evil as Keshel himseslf?). Can he overcome these fears (and take control of his gifts) before Keshal becomes too great to stop?
    Cullen’s magic is wild and strong, and something (what?) in his past makes him drawn to Keshal’s lawlessness and power. Can he resist the lure, or will he become something other than human?
    Try it one more time and let me see it again.

  • Yea, I see where I gave too much information. You were right, Myra isnt the average bully and yes I meant to imply that she is dead. So, I shouldnt give a small peice of who my characters are? Doesnt that help in showing the internal conflict?

  • Razziecat

    OK, trying again. I actually added a little this time:

    The dark god Keshal has re-awakened in Cydon. Bound to the mortal world, he seeks to overthrow all spiritual, magical and civil laws, and recreate Cydon in his own image. Standing against him are the priest-mages Erasmus Thorne, his protégé Cullen Emory, and their allies. Together they must craft a spell to master a god.
    Thorne once used magic to kill. His life has been all about control and discipline, keeping him from realizing his own potential. Can he learn to “let go” and accept his own power before Keshal grows too great to stop?
    Cullen’s magic is wild and strong, and Keshal’s awakening has magnified it. Drawn to Keshal’s lawlessness and power, can he resist the lure, or will he become something other than human?

  • Latedra, absolutely! I missed the intent with the line break. My bad. (reading too fast.) Try again?

    Razzie, Perfect. Really really good! Love this line: Together they must craft a spell to master a god. Yummy!

  • A little longer than I intended. I used part of the flash pitch for it.

    To put an end to a galactic civil war, ace Battle Suit pilot and mercenary captain Ahlia Jensen must discover the secret behind an ancient prophesy before a madman plunges the galaxy into chaos. But to do so, she will have to give up her darkest secret, revealing that she is part of an offshoot race of psionic humans pushed into hiding by the same tyrant that threatens the Secession movement, and trust a soldier from the wrong side of the conflict, though both may cost them all their lives.

    But as a frighteningly familiar force is unleashed that could turn the tide of battle against the Secession, will she take her team of misfit mercs, her only family, and run from what seems an impossible situation to protect her secret? Or, will she reveal what she is, fall for a man whom she believes has betrayed her, and fulfill the prophesy that could ring in a new era for the human race before all is lost?

    Could be better. Sounds a little like a back of a book blurb. 😉

  • Daniel, there are wonderful similarities.
    And while yours is long, it is also excellent. I’d try to cut it by a third if it wsa me, but really, that is gonna be hard!

  • At the age of sixteen, Aline Taylor dreams of becoming one of the youngest recruits ever admitted into the space military academy. When their merchant vessel, the Noble Ark, is boarded by Mwalgi—parasitic aliens who consume human spinal fluid—a half-human member of the attacking alien ship, Larkin Trovgar, turns on his own people, saving Aline’s life. She feels duty-bound to watch over the impossible monstrosity, determined to see him for the animal he is despite his easygoing charms and virile physique. But Lar’s presence brings out the best and worst in the human crew, especially as they’re pursued by more Mwalgi ships. Will Aline look past Larkin’s alien heritage to find love, or will her mistrust cost her everything?

  • Colette, that is superb. Totally superb. It would go perfectly into a query letter.

  • Julia

    Faith, thanks so much for this post. I found it really helpful as I’ve been conceptualizing my new project while I wait to hear back about my other manuscript. I may be coming too late to the dance, but here it is, if you’re still reading. Thanks!

    Darro was once the darling of her country’s powerful Sisterhood, until shed her novice robes for an emerald twirlskirt and snuck into the Sylander ducal ball. It should have been a lark. But Darro was a barely trained Sensitive and starstruck besides. One of the powerful Eld lords suborned her gift, slipped into her skin, and knifed the Sylander heir in the middle of a waltz. Before the night was out, Darro was attested for murder.

    Darro did six years in the Vault for a crime she never intended — and now she’s done with Eld and politics alike. But when the Sisterhood declares her fit for parole, her freedom comes with a price. Darro must partner with a loyalist Eld woman and the Sylander matriarch in order to keep a band of rebel Eld from suborning the city. Will the bitter history of betrayal doom their efforts and destroy their land—or will Darro learn to trust an Eld woman and face down the man who shattered her innocence?

  • Julia, not too late. Sooo, this is charming. I think you could cut it way down and still keep the gist. But I like. Okay (rolls up virtual sleeves)

    As a lark, the powerful but untrained Sensitive Darro shed her Sisterhood novice robes for an emerald twirlskirt and slipped into the Sylander ducal ball. A powerful Eld lord suborned her gift, slipped into her skin, and knifed the Sylander heir in the middle of a waltz. Darro was attested for murder, sent to the Vault for a crime she never intended. When the Sisterhood declares her fit for parole six years later, her freedom comes with a price. Will Darro agree to partner with a loyalist Eld woman and the Sylander matriarch (if these are the same person, cut one) to keep a band of rebel Eld from suborning the city? Will the bitter history of betrayal doom their efforts and destroy their land—or will Darro learn to trust an Eld and face down the man who shattered her innocence?

    Shorter, but maybe not better… I liked yours. 🙂

  • sagablessed

    Since his husbands death, David has cut himself off from the world, refusing to to acknowledge life beyond that moment or practice his Skills as a shaman. Yet now his nephew, Roger, needs him, for Roger’s pregnant girlfriend lies in a comatose state along with dozens of others from Boston’s North Shore: all cursed by a mad witch seeking to corrupt the ntural order of the world. As he strives to discover the magick-user’s identity, the spirit of his deceased lover meddles, his best friend’s daughter holds a secret that could kill them all, and David has to finish before the CDC makes a mess of things. Can David restore the victims, keep his sanity, and find love -again?

  • sagablessed

    And thank you, Faith. As always, a thought provoking post.

  • Julia

    Thanks, Faith! There are some things I like better about your version, so I’ll be keeping both. It’s always helpful to have different length descriptions.

    I’m jazzed that you like it. This is the first time I’ve talked about the new project. 🙂

  • Saga — PERFECT! Just perfect!

    Julia, writing-brain-teasers (as opposed to writing brain-teasers) always gives us a new way to view our project. And yours sounds wonderful!

  • Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this. I look forward to the day my input can be of similar value to other aspiring writers.

  • sagablessed

    omg. Faith, you made me cry…in a good way. Thank you.