Part 1: Story basics—review
Characters are key.
Point of view—the point of view character provides the body and mind through which we experience the story.
Emotion is the key to any story. The point of view character shows us how to feel about the story’s events.
Stories start with character and continue with conflict. Without conflict, there is no story.
The choice cycle is the basic element of fiction. It ties your reader into point of view, provides setting through sensory input, and provides emotional interpretation of events through the character’s evaluation and choice
If the choice cycle is the story atom, then scenes and sequels are story molecules—scenes and sequels are made of choice cycles.
A sequel is a unit of emotion.
For more information, read Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham. Click here to purchase.
The plotline is made of scenes and sequels, just as scenes and sequels are made of choice cycles.
The plotline has roughly the same format as a choice cycle. It has an inciting incident (sensory input), followed by a character goal (emotion, evaluation, choice), followed by action.
The first 500 words of a novel will often determine whether an editor, agent, or reader will take the time to read the whole novel.
If the first 500 words are as close to perfect as possible, editors, agents, and readers will often overlook minor flaws long enough to read your novel.
For more information, read “Hooked” by Les Edgerton. Follow this linkhttp://www.amazon.com/Hooked-Write-Fiction-Grabs-Readers/dp/1582974578/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344817913&sr=1-1&keywords=hooked+les+edgerton to purchase.
The self-concept is how the point of view character sees or defines himself.
It involves a deep, psychological view.
The story opening contains an inciting incident that challenges the self-concept.
The story worthy problem involves the character’s self-concept, and the inciting incident reveals the tip of this iceberg.
The Inciting Incident is usually big, exciting, and highly important to the point of view character—it challenges the self-concept.
Surface problems don’t necessarily challenge the self-concept directly, but they require immediate response and are related to the inciting incident through the choice cycle chain. They inspire your character to set short-term goals. You will have several surface problems. They are steps toward the climax, and will increase in tension as you near the climax—rising action.
The story-worthy problem is the underlying problem that exists throughout the story. It is the problem that will only be solved by the climax. The opening of the story will hint at the story-worthy problem, but the point of view character and the audience will not be fully aware of it until the resolution.
The story-worthy problem is inextricably tied to the character’s self-concept.
It is the underlying problem that exists throughout the story.
It will not be solved until the resolution.
Example: “Thelma and Louise”
›Thelma sees herself as an ordinary woman who has difficulty pleasing her husband. She keeps trying to please him, believing that someday she will, and their marriage will be happy.
›Her husband is rude to her despite her humility, and she chooses to sneak out with her friend, Louise, without asking his permission. This is the inciting incident and the pivotal choice. The incident challenges her self-concept because on some level, she realizes she will never please Darryl and be happy at the same time.
›Each choice she makes afterward presents a new problem (surface problems)—she goes out and a man hits on her and tries to rape her, then Louise shoots and kills him. Thelma can’t go to the police, or she’ll have to tell Darryl that she went out without his permission. As the story goes on, she realizes she has a deep, psychological problem—she allows men to push her around. The story-problem lies in her self-concept.
›In the climax, she changes her self-concept. She is a woman who will not be taken prisoner or change herself and her desires to please any man.
The inciting incident must be a dramatic scene—not a melodramatic scene.
›Your point of view character must feel at a crossroads—there must be tension and an immediate need.
›The character must be allowed to make a choice, and that choice will cause change.
›Express emotion through understated action.
›“If the character cries on the page… the reader won’t.” --Toni Morrison
Must be a scene, not a sequel.
›Comprised primarily of sensory input, choice, and action. Minimal back story—set up only. NO EXPOSITION.
Must challenge your character’s self-concept and force him/her to make a choice.
Surface problems make up the bulk of your story and provide conflict, choice, and rising action.
Progress your character from the inciting incident to the climax.
Set-up happens in the story opening. It is very concise and includes only what is absolutely necessary to set the tone and help us get acquainted with the character.
Back Story is also concise. It appears throughout the novel, revealing what happened to the point of view character prior to the inciting incident. It is triggered by sensory input and is only mentioned when it influences the “now” of the story. This includes flashbacks, which are told in scene form.
Exposition is an element that is generally not used in modern fiction. It includes long sections of back story which are told, not shown. It is an indicator of an older style of fiction.
Set up creates the “now”.
›Setting established through sensory input.
›Powerful characters introduced. (powerful=characters who influence the plot through their choices)
›Point of view and voice established
›POV character’s self-concept revealed through choice cycle—emotion, evaluation, and choice.
Back story reveals information about the character, but that information isn’t needed to accomplish the above.
The pivotal choice is possibly the most important choice the character will make.
It is a choice made in response to the inciting incident.
It must be consistent with the character, but may represent the feeling that the camel’s back is broken—that’s the last straw!
Everything in the character’s life will be different because of this pivotal choice.
The pivotal choice is important because it ensures that whatever happens, it is ultimately the main character’s responsibility. Thus, it is a character-driven story.
Introduce the story worthy problem through an inciting incident.
Challenge the main character’s self-concept.
Force the character to make a choice.
Hook the reader
›Anything can act as a hook. A hook is something that intrigues the reader and forms a question in his mind that he longs to have answered.
Physical objects with symbolic meaning
Hints toward what’s to come—foreshadowing