The Journey from the Outside In

For all of you writers out there,

Today I’m tackling part 3 of story structure.  Here’s part 1 and part 2.  Just to review.  You start with a complex character and you give them a goal.  The goal should drive the plot.

But don’t confuse the inner journey with the outer journey.  You need both, but the inner journey should be more subtle.  Nobody likes an “issue story,” but you do want to see your character change in some profound way at the end as well as get (or not get) what they originally wanted.  In fact, you might try giving them something else that they never knew they needed.  The happy surprise, just like in real life 🙂

For example: Character X can have a stuttering problem, but the goal should not simply be to overcome that problem.  There should be an external goal, (i.e. the character wants to be class president) which forces the character to face that issue.  As Character X battles his opponent, he must also tackle the childhood wound that caused the stuttering to take place.  The character not only stops stuttering and wins the election, but also comes out with greater self-esteem which is the real prize.

Bottom line:  Your job as a writer might be to show character growth, but  readers are here for story.  If you can deliver that first, they won’t mind the lesson they learned along the way.  In fact, they just might be grateful for it 😉

 

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Stick to the Mission

I recently talked about the importance of giving your story structure.  See my post here.  Today I’m going to share part 2 of that concept.

To maintain the structure you worked so hard to create, you must continue to keep the tension going and build suspense.  But how do you do that?

Remind your readers of what’s at stake.  What is the mission?  This should always be present in some way or another.

The easiest way to do this is through action.  

Ex: The hunter clung to the rock ledge, reaching for the rare flower that would heal her brother’s fatal wound.

But you can also do this while building your character.

Ex: Rubbing her face clean of dirt, she tried to remember what it was like to be a woman in love.  Then she carefully  added the war paint.  A smile played upon her face.  She had a new role now.

Or through setting.

Ex: The rolling hills reflected the setting sun like a shiny new penny.  The road looked rough, but she didn’t mind.  These hills would save her, if they didn’t kill her first.

No matter what you’re trying to do with character or plot, don’t ever let your readers forget what they came for.  THE MISSION.  That’s what drives the story.

Just remember.  As the writer, you’re at the wheel.  So take your readers where you want them to go.

Give Your Story a Backbone

What’s missing in your story?  Try a story structure.  Focus your story more.  Give it a backbone.  If you’re a plotter, you may have already done that.  But if you’re a pantser, like I used to be, you probably didn’t.  You just went along with the story following it wherever it went.  This is fine.  Some great stories were created that way.  But I guarantee those same stories went through a rigorous round of revisions as well.  The best part is that once you’ve found your focus, it will be so much easier to cut away the excess material.

How DO you find your focus?  Start with a story question.  Figure out what your character wants.  Figure out your character’s wound, which is shaping his world and holding him back.  What or who is physically standing in his way?  And what is he afraid to lose?  Don’t forget to add a ticking clock to add tension.

Now get going.  Grab an eraser and get to work.  Kill your darlings, as they say.  Underneath the rubble of words you just might find your masterpiece.