Tag Archive - Four Corner Pillars of Novel Construction

Introducing Conflict into Your Story

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at the third corner pillar of novel construction: conflict with high stakes. Conflict is crucial in a novel, and it doesn’t have to come from just one main source or one clearly defined antagonist. We explored the topic of stakes, and looked at how high stakes are measured by the value the protagonist puts on the thing at stake (and this applies to all other characters in your book as well). In essence, the stakes are high if what is being risked is highly valued. These are personal stakes.

 Although I haven’t yet gotten into “public” stakes (what is at risk for others in your novel or “the world at large”), just keep in mind that any and all stakes have to concern your hero. If there are going to be large consequences to his choices—ones that affect others on a small interpersonal level, community level, or even global level—he has to care about those repercussions—because the book is essentially about him, his choices, and his goal. Depending on the genre, stakes and their consequences will vary. But a great novel will have conflict and high stakes at its core. Continue Reading…

Creating Believable High Stakes for Your Characters

Before I jump into the topic of inner and outer conflict, I’m going to share with you today what I feel is the biggest pitfall writers fall into when it comes to setting high stakes. It’s something I’ve seen in countless novels I critique. And it’s a bad thing—because it threatens believability. If you want your readers to believe in your characters, they have to behave believably. Right?

Here’s an example of what I often come across. A character in a fantasy novel goes through some magical portal into another world, where he learns he is the deliverer foretold to save this hidden kingdom. He’s your average guy and knows nothing about this world. Without hesitation, he not only accepts the truth of this prophecy/claim/appointment (fill in the blank), he immediately is willing to risk everything—life, limb, future, his firstborn, you name it—to assume the mantle of authority and responsibility. Continue Reading…

The Secret to Crafting High Stakes

We’re looking at conflict in our fiction, and last week I touched a bit on this essential “corner pillar” of novel construction. Conflict is crucial to having a compelling story, for if our hero has no obstacles as he tries to reach his goal, the story will be bor-ing. What would The Wizard of Oz be like if, once Dorothy arrived in the Land of Oz, she had only to take a walk in the park without incident to arrive back in Kansas? Well, there wouldn’t be a story, and story is everything.

So I’ll assume we’re in agreement that we need conflict in our novels. I talked last week about some different types of classic scenarios that pit man against other forces (opposition), and how conflict doesn’t necessarily imply a bad guy or antagonist blocking your hero’s way. But what conflict should do is present high stakes for him. Continue Reading…

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