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When Your Character Is His Own Worst Enemy

Traditionally, there are four general types of opposition at the heart of a story. While our protagonist might face multiple kinds of opposition, the primary one will usually fall into man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, or man vs. self (and of course you can replace man with woman, or robot, or alien).

In story structure, there are key scenes in which the opposition rears its/his/her ugly head and “pinches” the protagonist—hence why these are called “pinch points.”

Two specific pinch points occur in traditional story structure, the first one falling between the 25% mark (turning point #2) and the midpoint (turning point #3) and the second one around the 67% mark (before the Dark Night of the Soul moment).

The purpose of the first pinch point is generally to introduce the opposition to the reader. The second pinch point reveals the full force of the opposition. Continue Reading…

The Intersection of Character Transformation and Moral Dilemma

The protagonist’s transformational journey is highlighted in countless stories, whether novels, movies, or plays. If you take time to examine some of your favorite stories, you should be able to identify key scenes or moments in which this transformation gradually takes place. It’s the events that transpire that erode the persona and emphasize to the character that living in that identity isn’t working.

People don’t change overnight; it’s a process. And when we write a story, we want that process to be believable. While there are six stages in the process, you might have a dozen or more scenes in which your character’s beliefs, opinions, and biases are challenged, one bit at a time.

What Theme Really Is

Keep in mind this truth: the theme of your story is your character’s inner motivation made universal. What drives him, what plagues him, what consumes him is what propels him toward the visible goal.

These key transformational scenes with your protagonist are the ones that will shine a light on the themes of your story.

Consider the movie Hostiles, which I explored in another post. The title itself implies the theme and poses the moral dilemma Capt. Blocker faces. Who truly is the hostile?

The question Blocker asks himself, essentially, is this: “How am I all that different from those I hate?” In asking that question, consciously or subconsciously, the theme is brought to the forefront. Continue Reading…

The Crucial Setup Scene in Your Novel

Way too often writers start their novels in the wrong place. With a scene that does the premise a disservice.

The setup is tricky but essential to nail. You have to be concise, succinct, and deliberate regarding what you show and tell about your character. Because . . . you don’t want to take a whole lot of time (numerous chapters) to do this.

Little bits, small tells, that quickly get your reader on board with your protagonist. You need the following:

  1. Descriptive details to indicate gender, age, possibly occupation, and pertinent aspects of appearance and demeanor and personality.
  2. A sense of something missing or out of place in the character’s life—either physically or spiritually—which I call the hint of the core need.
  3. Indication of the motivation in the character—what’s driving him at this point in his life and what factors are influencing him. The moment your character shows up on the scene, he should be in pursuit of something. He wants, but he’s not just sitting around wanting it. He’s already up in motion, pursuing it.
  4. A situation that will help set up your premise. It not only helps the reader get to know who your protagonist is and what motivates him, it also sets up the world situation, possibly the conflict or threat that will play a big part in the opposition for your protagonist. The issues or themes that will come into play and drive home what your story is really about. It sets up your premise—the situation your hero must deal with.

Continue Reading…