A Novel in 3 months (week 4) – my basic structure

Last thing watched: Brothers & Sisters
Playing on the iPod now: RWAmerica’s National conference

So, by this stage we’ve been working on characters and plot, and have sketched out a basic storyline.  So now it’s time to share my progress so far (I’m going to be deliberately vague, on account of the story being a wip :grin:)

  • Intro Emily and Zac – GM (off screen kiss).  Emily’s internal conflict #1
  • intro Zac’s external conflict #1
  • intro Emily’s external conflict #1 (antagonist/villain of sorts)
  • Zac solves Emily’s problem, thereby intro’ing Emily’s internal conflict #2
  • journey to Sydney to confront Zac’s external conflict
  • Zac thinks he’s solved external conflict
  • share dinner and talk about past – tension
  • Zac proposes mistress arrangement – cue Emily’s internal conflict #2
  • Emily alone in room – introspection/call to sister?
  • Emily says yes, first kiss
  • work – some tension beneath cool exterior
  • Zac’s conflict #1 crops up again, has to deal with it
  • work and more tension – nearly discovered by co-worker
  • love scene
  • conflict re: Zac’s ex
  • more conflict – red herring
  • Emily and villain
  • Zac comes to the rescue
  • love scene – Zac talks about past, Emily still reluctant
  • Zac POV – brother’s wedding – conflict with father
  • black moment – Zac walks out
  • Emily reveals past
  • HEA

I expect the whole book to flesh out at around 230p (Desire requirements).  As you can see, I make sure I list scenes of conflict, introspection,  plot and the growing romance.   Turning points are important scenes that I list, too.

What are turning points?  They are simply scenes or moments that takes the story on a different turn.  It could be something the character does  or something is done to them, which forces action.  For e.g.  in Raiders of the Lost Ark (the movie currently on repeat in the DVD player!) one of Indiana Jones’ first turning points is when the government officials tell him the Nazis are close to finding the Ark.   He consciously makes a decision to go after it himself to save it from enemy hands.  This sets him on his journey (and after 28 years, this story is still as exciting and riveting as it was in the cinema 😀  Not to mention a perfect example of  the Hero’s Journey).  Actually, Jenny Crusie puts it better than anyone, ever – coz she’s brilliant.  Read about it from her conference workshop here.

Want another example?  Take take this off-the-top-of-my-head scenario: the heroine of your story is married, two kids, loving husband.  She may be vaguely unsatisfied with her lot in life, she may be completely involved in her job, or she may have a sneaking suspicion that something’s not right with her husband (is he cheating?)… whatever.  Then one day she discovers a bag full of money in the back of their closet.

What does she do?  Does she confront hubby about it?  Turn him into the cops?  Go snooping for information?  Take out a bundle of bills and pay off the credit cards?  Skip town for the Bahamas with her boy toy?  Or shove it back and say nothing?  The choice she makes is your turning point.  Even if she does nothing, she’s still making a conscious  decision to do something (which is nothing :grin:)

So she runs off to the Bahamas with her much-younger lover.  They’re having a great time, gambling and partying.  Until she spots her husband in the crowd.  What does she do?  TURNING POINT!!   See?  Wherever the story takes a different twist or turn, thereby upping the tension and/or stakes, that’s your turning point.  And to engage the reader, there must be (amongst other things) a series of turning points.  Otherwise there would be no story.  (BTW is it me or does this fictional wife-on-the-lam story sound intriguing? :lol:)


A Novel in 3 Months (week 4) – more on structuring your plot

Last thing watched: Burn Notice
What’s playing on the iPod right now:
See Me Beautiful by Sister Hazel

I just received two loaners  from Kitty, one of my crit gals, and I simply must share this.  The first is a DVD of Michael Hauge’s “Screenwriting” workshop (for those interested, he’s visiting Sydney and Melbourne in June to do his Art of the Romantic Comedy seminar – details here).  The other is an audio CD called The Hero’s Two Journeys with Michael Hauge and Chris Vogler.  While I haven’t listened yet, there’s two accompanying  diagrams that I found really valuable.  The first is:

The Hero’s Inner Journey – Chris Vogler

  1. Limited awareness of problem (Ordinary World)
  2. Increased awareness of the need to change (Call to Adventure)
  3. Fear, resistance to change (Refusal of the Call)
  4. Overcoming fear (Meeting the Mentor)
  5. Committing to change (Crossing the Threshold)
  6. Experimenting (Tests, Allies, Enemies)
  7. Preparing for major change (Approach to the Cave)
  8. Big change (Ordeal, Death and Rebirth)
  9. Accepting consequences (Reward, Seizing the Sword)
  10. Rededication (the Road Back)
  11. Final attempt(s) (Resurrection)
  12. Mastery (Return with the Elixir)

I’ve put the accompanying stages of the outer journey in brackets so you can see where/when they occur.

The next is Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure.  While I’d love to reproduce the diagram for you, I’ll let him show you via the article on his website.  Print it out.  Use it.  It’s brilliant, especially for the more detailed plotting required in longer books (I’ve been using it for my in-progress off-world/erotic urban fantasy hybrid which I fiddle about with on my down days :grin:)

You can get ahold of these via The Book Depository (free shipping!!) or direct from the author’s site here.  (For those of you who insist on feeding the terrible corporate behemoth that is Amazon, go here for the 2003 edition, here for the ’04 edition).

Okay, that’s enough food for thought for today!  Later this week, I’ll share the basic outline of my story so far.

Write a Novel in 3 months (week 3) – the beginning

What I’m watching: Cold Case
Playing on the iPod right now: September by Daughtry

Okay, so now I’m really itching to get started and write some actual scenes.  And pretty much every time I sit down to write a new story, I like to start at chapter 1.  The opening scene is where you really set the tone and pace for the rest of the novel, where you introduce the character/s, their GMC and setting.  It’s also where you need to hook the reader, to keep them turning the pages until The End.

When I first began writing, I didn’t actually start at the  most effective point in the story (apparently this is a common affliction for many writers!).   So let’s look at the characteristics of opening scenes.

Opening scenes should:

  • be immediate – start with a point of change, a problem, task or obstacle that the character must address
  • engage the reader – paragraphs of description, or introspection or internal dialogue do not make for a gripping beginning, nor do conversations that go nowhere.  As for your entire story, there must be a point to your scenes.  If not, cut it out.
  • introduce at least one major character – along with their goal and why they can’t have it.
  • end on a hook – because the key to good fiction is keeping the reader reading

That’s not to say that you have to start with a car chase, a big bang, a villain threatening the hero.  All my books so far have started with introspection 😀 But it’s been important introspection, which lets the reader know what’s happening and moves the story forward.  I learned the hard way when my Senior Editor told me to cut 18 pages from the start of my Diamonds Down Under book!

Do you have an opening scene you’d like to share or discuss?  Something you’re not sure about?  I’ll go first if you like – my wip starts with the heroine at home on the phone to her sister, lamenting that she’s just kissed her boss.  We discover she then quits (via email) and said gorgeous boss turns up to ask what she thinks she’s doing, quitting and leaving him without the best PA he’s ever had.  This is one continuous scene in her VP, most of it dialogue.  There there was a bit of introspection where she thinks about the stupid mistakes she’s done in the past, and of course, dialogue tags and internal dialogue to show her to be a sympathetic character who’s attracted to a yummy, single guy :::sigh – Eddie Cahill!:::: It was heaps of fun to write, too, BTW!

Australian Romance Readers Awards – I’m a finalist!

I’m thrilled and delighted to learn that I am a finalist in the ARRA Awards!  I must admit I knew a teeny bit before the official announcement, on account of me being their web designer and all 😀

The Magnate’s Baby Promise is nominated for Favourite Short Category Romance, and I’m up against some truly wonderful books, which include friends Annie West, Kelly Hunter, CC Coburn, Bron Jameson and Melanie Milburne.  And I’m also on the shortlist for “Favourite Australian Romance Writer of 2009” 😆  You can check out the full list of nominations here.

A Novel in 3 months (week 3) – the relationship

Last movie watched: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Playing on the iPod right now: No Surprise by Daughtry

Whether you’re writing category romance with a tight, intense relationship, or urban fantasy with sexual encounters, or a sweeping historical, or a fun chick lit romp, what distinguishes a women’s fiction/romance novel is the relationship.   Not just the romantic relationship, but all the other character interactions that round out your main characters, and make them like real people with real lives, real worries and real joys.

Let’s talk about the romantic relationship.

How do you show the natural progression of a romantic relationship?  How do you know you’re going too fast or too slow?  Linda Howard wrote an interesting article called The 12 Steps to Intimacy, which is based on information from Desmond Morris’s books The Naked Ape and Intimate Behavior, about primate culture and interaction.

She contends that there are 12 natural stages to effectively convey intimacy, which are:

1. Eye to Body
2. Eye to Eye
3. Verbal Contact
4. Hand to Hand
5. Arm to Shoulder
6. Arm to Waist
7. Mouth to Mouth
8. Hand to Head
9. Hand to Body
10. Mouth to Breast
11. Hand to Genitals
12. Genitals to Genitals

Think of it this way – if your hero and heroine were complete strangers at the start of your book, and your hero put his hand on her butt without going through all the other steps (and knowing she was interested), then you’d have a big problem.

Even if your hero and heroine have had a prior relationship, you still must show a believable growth in their ‘getting to know each other again’.  I instinctively follow a natural progression that, up until now, I haven’t actually thought about 😀  But if I had to write it down, it would go something along these lines:

  • first meet (or meet again) – Must be tension/conflict.  Definitely physical awareness and/or interest
  • introspection – either convince themselves that they don’t need/want the complication OR that they can keep it purely physical
  • first touch – If they start off as opposing forces, here’s where the first seed of doubt is planted.  This person is not what the other thought they’d be like OR reinforces their belief that they are the enemy.  Certainly there’s not full trust.
  • kiss – physical attraction heightened.  Major internal conflict.
  • introspection – the more they see of the other (either with their own eyes or via other peoples’ actions and reactions) they begin to think maybe this person isn’t all that bad.  Denial may often occur here, too.
  • physical intimacy – Generally speaking (I read this somewhere in a book… possibly body language expert Allen Pease), women use sex to become emotionally closer to men.  Men use emotion to get sex 😀  So (I’m not saying all the time, and it really will depend on your type of story), women tend to anguish more after the love scene than men.  But then again, maybe not 😀
  • emotional distance – things become too much because like it or not, they are emotionally and physically involved, effectively challenging each others’ core belief/s and invading their Ordinary World.  They’ll probably be thinking  “why can’t things be like they were before I met this person?”
  • emotional commitment – one or the other commits in their mind, although they may not say the “I love you”s.  This means their distrust/dislike that started in Chapter 1 has now been completely overcome.  At this stage, they may decide to sacrifice themselves (either emotionally or physically) for the other person’s happiness.
  • verbal commitment/HEA – The “I love you” moment, wrapping the story up with that ‘ahhhhh!’ feeling.  This isn’t a scene you should skimp on, nor is it one that should go on and on and on.

The other relationships

This one involves a character’s friends, work colleagues, family or sex partners (not involving a HEA).  Whatever you write, it’s important to remember that they should enhance but not dominate the main character’s growth.  Some women’s fiction gives equal time to many characters over the course of the story, and that’s fine.  I love those stories!  But I’ve also noticed that if a scene or chapter starts in one person’s VP, the author will put that character centre stage and keep them there.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is so very skilled at running secondary relationships throughout the major hero/heroine’s journey (see Nobody’s Baby But Mine).  And she has often said that to get it right, she will remove the scenes that involve those secondary characters and read just those, to ensure the growth is on track.  Then she does the same with the main relationship.

A Novel in 3 months (week 2) – more on plot

Last movie watched: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
On the iPod right now: Do You Know by Enrique Iglesias

I don’t know about you but once I get a few ideas about my plot, I have to write them down.  This is to a) stop everything getting jumbled up in my head and b) to make sure the plot will actually work.  I use a few methods because I find the writing down and transfer of information helps to reinforce things.  So here’s what I do:


On a large whiteboard, I draw up ten equal parts, which represents 1o chapters (give or take).  The first is ‘first meeting’ and the last is ‘HEA’.  In between I write the important plot points that advance the story forward, and any action that forces a character to do something.  If you’re writing a longer book, you could use a larger board, or two.  Or if you have a large expanse of wall bare, clip up a long stretch of paper and use that.  Or those standing flip charts that you find in conference rooms.

I also end up blue-tacking to my whiteboard any snippets of dialogue or information that I’ve noted on scraps of paper or in my notebook.  Then when I write that in the actual story, it gets thrown out.

Document Map

I then take those scenes and type them into Document Map.  If you don’t know what this nifty little program is, check out my article here.

It’s important to keep your summaries short, so when you’re done, the Document Map will read as a mini summary of your story.  And after every summary, I insert a page break.  I DON’T work in chapters at this stage:  that comes later.

So, in The Magnate’s Baby Promise, my final plot plan in Document Map was:

  • intro Cal GM – introspection
  • intro Ava GM – introspection
  • first meeting – conflict, ultimatum
  • Ava agrees to MOC
  • at Cal’s apartment – revealing character
  • dinner with parents – Cal has doubts about Ava’s guilt
  • morning tension on balcony
  • gyno visit – brief kiss (reveal Cal’s nature)
  • Ava cooks dinner – tension
  • Cal and Ava at party – Cal’s Ordinary World
  • confront father
  • Go to Jindalee – Ava’s Ordinary World
  • Love scene – Cal leaves
  • Ava introspection, returns to Sydney
  • Cal introspection, believes Ava is good person
  • engagement party – Ava reveals past
  • Love scene
  • wedding day – Cal and father
  • black moment
  • in hospital, HEA
  • epilogue

As you can see, I’m a plotter-scener 🙂 And by using these little summaries it’s easy to see if the plot doesn’t flow right or if I haven’t sufficiently increased the sexual tension.  In this book, it was important to show the growth of the h/h’s friendship and trust, which then culminates in a love scene (the ultimate expression of that trust).

And hey, I hadn’t noticed it before now, but you can also clearly see The Hero’s Journey laid out in the plot plan too! 😆

A Novel in 3 months (week 2) – plot

Last movie watched: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
What’s playing on the iPod right now: Belly of the Steel Beast by John Williams (from the Indiana Jones soundtrack)

I hope everyone has been thinking hard about their characters and jotting down notes!  This week we turn our hand to plot.

What is plot?  And how does it differ from story? About.com describes it as this: “Plot concerns the organization of the main events of a work of fiction. Plot differs from story in that plot is concerned with how events are related, how they are structured, and how they enact change in the major characters. Most plots will trace some process of change in which characters are caught up in a conflict that is eventually resolved. Plots may be fully integrated or “tightly knit,” or episodic in nature.  e.g. In a movie such as Pulp Fiction, the plot and the story are two very different things.”

For me, sometimes a new story forms from just one major plot point.  Sometimes it stems from my characters and sometimes my characters form around where the plot heads.  It’s important to now that you may approach every story from a different angle, starting first with characters, sometimes with the first meeting, sometimes the theme or sometimes plot.  My second book, Boardrooms & A Billionaire Heir started with plot.  My first and third books, with characters.  My fourth (The Billionaire Baby Bombshell, out in June) is a combination of both.

Some people are not plotters – they’re write-by-the-seat-of-their-pansters.  Or they’re organic writers, those who do a bit of plotting, a bit of pantsing.  And then there’s sceners, those who write out a whole bunch of scenes then string them together to make a story.  The best way to work out your own process is to go right ahead and try them all out.  You’ll soon realize which way works best for you.  Me, I’m a bit organic, a bit of a scener.  So for this exercise, I’m going to give you a few plotting methods I’ve used that have helped me enormously.

Plotting # 1 – the W method

Just imagine a great big letter W on your page… actually, don’t imagine it – write it.  Then at the top starting point of the W, write ‘trouble starts’.  Coming down to the bottom of the page, at that point write, ‘change of plan’.  Now, coming up into the second high point, write ‘point of no return’.  Coming down again to the second low point, write ‘major setback’.  Then, on the last upward point, write ‘climax, HEA’.  So, for the explanations:

  • Trouble Starts – this is the introduction of characters, conflict and tension.
  • Change of Plan – The characters’ comfort zones are breached; they reassess their feelings/ life/attitudes.
  • Point of No Return – No turning back now, they are both involved in the situation and with each other.
  • Major Setback (the Black Moment) – Will they both end up together?  Will they overcome the hurdles?  Discover the truth?  Solve the mystery?
  • Climax & HEA – The hero and heroine pledge their love for each other, the killer is caught in time, the baby is saved from the burning building.  All reader worries are set aside in a final, satisfying scene.

Now, notice the angle of the strokes on the W.  Slowly going downhill.  Slowly going uphill.  That’s the build up of your story, where you add little bits, piece by piece to achieve the high or low point.  And as soon as you hit that, you about-face and head off in the opposite direction.

Plotting #2 – The Jenny Crusie Method

When Jenny Crusie was out here for our conference a few years back, she outlined  her 7-point method of writing a story.  Here’s what I could decipher from my notes (and yes, I realize there’s eight there!):

  1. trouble starts
  2. character plans to solve trouble
  3. trouble gets worse (tension goes up)
  4. character regroups
  5. point of no return (tension goes up)
  6. pushed to the brink (tension goes up)
  7. boiling point/black moment
  8. Happy ever after

Plotting #3 – The Hero’s Journey

This is my favorite plotting device!  This is a mythical structure of story writing based on the popular techniques of screen writer Christopher Vogler, which in turn is based on Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces.   Analyze your favorite movie and you can see the stages of this plotting method quite clearly.  You can find an excellent summary here, but here’s a brief overview with my explanations, plus examples from National Treasure (warning: spoilers abound!):

  • Ordinary World most stories involve our characters being thrust from their ordinary world into a new, alien one. To highlight that, you must show them in their ordinary world.  e.g. in National Treasure, we see Ben Gates, treasure hunter, in pursuit of his dream of finding the mythical Templar treasure.
  • Call To Adventure –  your character is presented by a challenge, a problem or adventure to undertake.  Once presented with this they cannot go back to their Ordinary World.  It can also be the “call to love” or “call to relationship stage” Example: after realizing the next clue is on the back of the Declaration of Independence, Ben’s partner Ian Howe says they have to steal it.
  • Refusal of the Call -a character may not want to take that challenge, to step out of their comfort zone.  The heroine may refuse the hero’s marriage of convenience proposal.  The hero may not want to take on that high-profile murder case. Example: when Ben Gates refuses to steal the Declaration, thereby prompting Ian’s response:  “from now on, all you’re going to be is a hindrance,”  Ian and Ben, once colleagues, are now enemies.  Ben then goes to the FBI, the CIA, the DHS to tell them what Ian is planning,  but is laughed at.
  • The Mentor – a wise person appears to help your hero mentally prepare for the journey.  Obi-Wan Kenobi is a prime example.  Others can include colleagues, family, the best friend.  The ‘mentor’ may also be a form of inner talk, with the character convincing themselves to take the next step. Example: while Riley Poole is more an ally then a mentor, his aim to convince Ben it’s impossible to steal the Declaration only shows Ben it is possible.
  • Crossing the Threshold – the hero commits to the journey, taking that step into the unknown.  Example: Ben Gates finally makes the decision to steal the Declaration to protect it.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies – this is a test of our character’s faith, belief system, physical or mental strength.  Through these challenges,  we see how our character acts and reacts and we become more emotionally involved in the journey. Example: Ben encounters Abigail Chase, FBI agent Sadusky, his father Thomas Gates who, despite outwardly wanting to stop Ben, eventually become his allies.  How Ben also handles Ian and the bad guy’s threats is an indication of his character.
  • Approaching the Innermost Cave – your hero has his destination in sight, finally.  They may pause or rethink, which ups the tension.  In a romance, this is where I’d put my ‘prior to first love scene’ doubts.
  • Crossing the second threshold to the cave – the character is in it, boots and all, overcoming their reluctance.  This could mean another love scene.  Example: In the scene where Ben Gates and Abigail are buying new clothes, we see Abigail’s attraction to Ben and her fascination with the treasure overcome all her doubts.  And she gets to this point by seeing Ben under pressure, and watching him making choices based not on greed or glory, but from his love and respect of history, something she shares.
  • Supreme Ordeal – our hero hits rock bottom.  Also called “the Black moment” it seems all is lost, that the death of their goal, quest or ideal is imminent.  But they get through it by strength and cunning.  National Treasure is littered with mini-black moments, from Ben’s capture by the FBI, to Ian finally seizing the Declaration, to Ian kidnapping Ben’s father and finally making their way to Trinity Church, to where the Templar treasure may (or may not) be.
  • Seizing the Reward – Having survived the Supreme Ordeal, the hero takes possession of the treasure they’ve been seeking, their Reward.  This can be something physical (treasure, a new planet) or intangible (knowledge and experience that leads to greater understanding, a reconciliation with hostile forces).  In a romance, this could also mean the heroine throwing caution to the winds and reveling in lovemaking.
  • Pursuit on the Way Back – I like to think of this as the ‘oh, crap’ moment 🙂 where the character wants to return to their Ordinary World.  But of course, they cannot, as things have irrevocably changed forever and they have to deal with the consequences of confronting the dark forces.  If they haven’t reconciled with a parent, the gods or an enemy, they may come after after him.  Quite often, this can be the hero and heroine doing what it takes to make the other one happy.
  • Death and Resurrection – This is often a second life and death situation, almost a replay of the death and rebirth of the Supreme Ordeal.  It’s a kind of final exam for the hero, who must be tested once more to see if he has learned the lessons of the Supreme Ordeal.  At this point, the hero might say the big “I love you” and be prepared for rejection or non-reciprocation of the feelings.  Whatever the task, he is transformed by these moments of death and rebirth, reborn as a new being with new insights.  Example: when Ben, Riley, Abigail and Thomas are stuck underground, no way of escape and are confronted by what seems is an empty room where the treasure used to be.  Ben slowly realizes that his whole life has been spent chasing a non-existent treasure.  The resurrection is, of course, a couple of simple clues that prove that the treasure really does exist.
  • Return with the Elixir – The hero returns to the Ordinary World, but the journey is meaningless unless they brings back some Elixir, or lesson from the Special World.  In National Treasure it literally is the treasure, but in other stories it could be a healing potion, love, freedom or even just knowledge, wisdom or experience.  In a romance, the heroine’s Elixir is the hero and his love.

Important things to remember about the Hero’s Journey:

  • it’s a framework that should be fleshed out with the details and surprises of the individual story.
  • The structure should not call attention to itself, nor should it be followed too precisely.
  • The order of the stages are only one of many possible variations.
  • You don’t have to give equal page space to each stage.  You may find your “refusal of the call” runs just a couple of paragraphs and “Approach to the innermost cave” is a chapter.  That’s up to you.
  • the stages can be deleted, added to and drastically shuffled without losing any of their power.
  • The values of the Journey are what’s important.

So, you can chose your method here to give you some solid idea of where your story is going.  I normally use The Hero’s Journey, but only as a comparison after I’ve fleshed out the basic idea of my story, to ensure I’ve hit the important points.  And my basic story is around 5 pages of synopsis, starting with the who/what/why/where/when for both the hero and heroine, then just a cause and effect: ‘this happens, then this happens, which causes the character to do this.’  I then go back in and follow the romance thread, ensuring I foreshadow the attraction, the conflict and the growth of the romantic relationship.  Third pass and I check to make sure any gaping holes have been addressed e.g. if the heroine is estranged from her parents, do I need to mention their return.  Fourth pass and I ensure all the emotional questions have been resolved, things like the hero coming to terms with his brother’s death, bitter first divorce or an emotional scar that had first impacted on him at the beginning of the story.

Whew!  That’s it for now.  Later in the week, I’ll talk about how I actually write down the basic plot.

A Novel in 3 months (week 1) – preparation and more on GMC

It occurred to me that while you’re all busily writing and wondering whether your characters’ GMC is strong enough (yes, I’m talking to you!) I should provide a few examples from movies that I love.  Interestingly (as you’ll see), none of these are actual romances 😀  That doesn’t matter – GMC is GMC, not matter what kind of story you’re writing!  So here I’ve blatantly lifted from my own GMC workshop notes from a few years back.

Goal – (also known as desire or want)

  • Characters should want what they don’t yet have.  Those who simply want more of what they already have do not make for strong characters.   Characters can outwardly show that they’re just wanting more of what they have – money, power, property, but if the reader knows it’s not all, she will keep reading.  There’s a multitude of ways you can indicate to the reader that they are more than just a playboy, a billionaire with money to burn, an unfeeling perfectionist cop, a best friend joker with loads of girlfriends.
  • Characters who want something and are denied it will take action.
  • Action creates plot, which is imperative for a novel.
  • Goals should be important enough for the characters to act against their best interests and out of their comfort zone.  The consequences of not achieving the goal will be unpleasant (unpleasant can mean embarrassing, fatal, heartbreaking, financial ruin).  Falling in love can also be unpleasant if the character wants to avoid falling in love.
  • Goals are not always achieved.  If your character wants something badly enough e.g. a certain man, she may not get what she wants, rather get what she deserves, e.g. another man and her real true love.

Example from Ice Age:
Manny (the mammoth) wants to be left alone.  Diego (the sabretooth tiger) wants the baby for his pack leader.

Example from National Treasure:
Ben Gates wants the Templar treasure.

Example from Cars:
Lightning McQueen wants to get out of Radiator Springs

Motivation (aka drive or back story)

  • Is the most important of the three.  Anything is possible for a character as long as you explain why.  If you fail to give the reader enough motivation, you will lose credibility and your readership.
  • It means knowing your characters inside out.  Their actions should be in character, justifiable and their reasons clear to the reader.  This will let them (and you!) maintain integrity.  E.g. if hero comes from a violent background, he may avoid picking fights.
  • helps the reader empathise with your characters.
  • When a character wants something badly enough, the reader will want it too.
  • Emotion = Motivation (i.e. what the character feels makes them move to do something or act on something).  E.g. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – we see Charlie’s poor home life and how much this seemingly little thing would mean to him.  Put that up against the rest of the kids like Veruca Salt, who just wants more of what she has.
  • The higher the stakes, the greater the emotional impact.  Doesn’t have to be life or death, but can feel like that to the character.
  • Motivation is individual – what motivates one, may not another.  Psychology tells us if a child suffers trauma after the age of five, then they are more than likely be able to overcome the trauma to lead a relatively normal life.  If they suffer before five, then they probably will not.  For example, JD Robb’s Eve Dallas.
  • Think about the prime motivating force in your character’s life – what motivates them to do something?  For personal gain – why?  For family – why?
  • Weave in motivation with back story so the reader can put it together as it appears in importance in the story.
  • Motivation is many-stranded.  Sometimes the character has no idea why, but the reader may know more.

Example from Ice Age:
Manny wants to be left alone because he already lost his mate and child and doesn’t want to go through that pain again.  Diego wants the baby for his pack leader because he needs to be part of the herd, to belong.

Example from National Treasure:
Ben Gates wants the Templar treasure because he needs to vindicate his family name.

Example from Cars:
Lightning McQueen wants to get out of Radiator Springs because he needs to win the Piston Cup, an accolade he’s been working all his life towards

CONFLICT  (aka trouble, tension, roadblock)

  • Drives the plot and motivates the characters.
  • Provides pace to the story.
  • Must be relevant to the plot.
  • Must be believable and strong enough to sustain the story for the length of the novel.
  • Must be a driving force and unavoidable.
  • It is the struggle against someone or something in which the outcome is in doubt.
  • It is bad things happening to good people, and bad things happening to bad people.
  • Box your characters in.  If they walk away from the conflict then tie them to it.  e.g. marriage of convenience

External conflict is someone doing something to your characters .e.g. someone actively taking away your possessions.  Can be a person, an intolerable situation or an act of God.

Internal conflict is intangible e.g. it is worrying about someone taking away your posessions; Is the inner struggle within the characters; Is fighting attraction, which in turn raises the emotions.  Change stirs emotion, which stirs internal conflict.

Sources of conflict can also stem from archetypical plots:

  • The homemaker and the traveller
  • Mentor and protégé
  • Bad boy and good girl, or bad girl/good boy
  • Boss and assistant
  • Cowboy and lady
  • Cop and lady, or cop and gentleman
  • good v’s evil
  • Reunion/lovers reunited
  • Secret baby
  • Cinderella/Pygmalion
  • Beauty and the beast (and vice versa)
  • Marriage of convenience, mail order bride, citizenship required
  • Disguise (pretending to be something they are not)

Example from Ice Age:
Manny’s external goal is: retain the status quo/be alone
Why?    Because he lost his mate and child to hunters and doesn’t want to experience that pain/loss again
Manny’s internal goal is: family and love
Does he know this? No.  His external goal is in direct opposition to his internal goal.

Diego’s external goal is: Get the baby
Why? So he can please his pack leader / in his nature
Diego’s internal goal is: acceptance and friendship (shown to full impact when Manny puts his life on the line to rescue him from the lava. When Diego, clearly shocked, asks:  “Why would you do that?”  Manny says, “Because that’s what herds do. They look out for each other.”)
Does he know this? No.  His external goal is in direct opposition to his internal goal.

Example from Cars:
Lightning McQueen’s external goal is: to get out of Radiator Springs
Why? So he can win the Piston Cup, an accolade he’s been working all his life towards
Lightning McQueen’s internal goal is: friendship and acceptance (we get a glimpse of this when his agent wants to send tickets to his friends for the race and Lightning can’t think of anyone).
Does he know this? No.  His external goal is in direct opposition to his internal goal.

"I'm not going without the Declaration!"

Example from National Treasure:
Ben Gates’ external goal is: to find the Templar Treasure
Why? because he needs to vindicate his family name.
Ben Gates’ internal goal is: respect (we get a glimpse of this – via great use of dialogue – in the opening scene when colleague-turned-baddy Ian Howe says to Ben: “I understand your bitterness, I really do. You’ve spent your entire life searching for this treasure only to have the respected historical community treat you and your family with mockery and contempt.”).
Does he know this? I suspect Ben does on a certain level, but it’s expressed more as family honor/vindication.  However, if we take another of Ben’s goals – stop the Declaration of Independence from falling into the wrong hands – we have now one of his external goals (steal the Declaration) in direct opposition to his internal goal (honor/respect).

So, now a few dot points in summary:

  • Force the character to face his darkest flaw.
  • Emotion vs. Logic = Conflict (e.g. your character feels lust (emotion), but labels it as revenge (Logic).  This rationalises his motivation and actions).
  • As the plot thickens and the main characters struggle, the reader’s involvement in the story also intensifies (throw roadblocks in front of the character).

Happy writing!