Thursday, October 4, 2007

Let the Contest Begin—Sort Of

Well I'm signed up and beating my brains out trying to come up with a more detailed outline. In fact I spent all last weekend reviewing notes I'd accumulated for years from other writers, trying to figure out what it actually takes to make a story. Why do some stories work and other not work? What elements have to be present to qualify as a story? You know--the big questions. I did mention I've been working on my plot with mixed success, right?

So what does it all boil down to?

Stories are about characters and/or their goals being transformed through conflict.

Usually this takes the form of a outer conflict producing an inner change. I say this because the character is usually spurred into action as a result of some outer force--some sort of change in their circumstances upsetting the status quo.

The basic structure goes something like this:
An inciting incident produces a need (your thematic subject) that motivates the protagonist to pursue a goal, but an obstacle (the antagonist) prevents this, causing conflict. The character struggles with a series of successes and failures until resolution (change occurs).

  1. The protagonist is transformed--because the type of person they were could not accomplish their goal and they must be changed into the type of person who could accomplish that goal.

  2. The protagonist’s motivation/goal is replaced with a more desirable motivation/goal.

  3. The protagonist is destroyed (unable to pursue any goal).

I should probably mention that protagonists often have more than one goal. Frequently they are torn between two desires, the one they think they want and the one they really want, but don't know until a conflict forces them to choose—clarifying their real desires in the process. This sort of inner conflict is particularly rewarding because the suffering is ultimately self-inflicted and active characters making choices is always better than passive characters that are simply being acted upon. So even if you have a transformational plot where the goal doesn't change but the character does, he needs to struggle with the cost of that change, producing that same inner struggle.

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