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It is simple stuff, but if your WIP is missing that vital something, that special element that sets it apart from other unpublished books on the market (or hopefully someday on the market) perhaps you’ll spot it here.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!
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