Style, as I see it, is an underrated component of artful storytelling, and I hope to learn much, much more about it, but the key element, of course, is the story. Once upon a time, I equated story with plot, but I now understand that character is just as central, though some argue it owns the prominent place.
Some might think there is little left to say about plot and/or characters. I might have thought this myself, except I read another article in Writer’s Digest that opened my eyes to More. I’m referring to “Your Novel Blueprint,” an excerpt of the book From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen Wiesner.
The thing that grabbed my attention the most was the interplay between plot and characters that Wiesner clarifies. Here’s one example from the section entitled “Evolving Goals and Motivation”:
- Goals are what the character wants, needs or desires above all else. Motivation is what gives him drive and purpose to achieve those goals. Goals must be urgent enough for the character to go through hardship and self-sacrifice.
Multiple goals collide and impact the characters, forcing tough choices. Focused on the goal, the character is pushed toward it by believable, emotional and compelling motivations that won’t let him quit. Because he cares deeply about the outcome, his anxiety is doubled. The intensity of his anxiety pressures him to make choices and changes, thereby creating worry and awe in the reader.
I love this section, but the next is just as good – “Plot Conflicts (External)”:
- External plot conflict is the tangible central or outer problem standing squarely in the character’s way. It must be faced and solved. The character wants to restore the stability that was taken from him by the external conflict, and this produces his desire to act. However a character’s internal conflicts will create an agonizing tug of war with the plot conflicts. He has to make tough choices that come down to whether or not he should face, act on, and solve the problem.
That’s probably enough to show how Wiesner interweaves plot and character, but it brings up one of the components of story I think is necessary—well, two actually. The first is that the character must have a want, need, or desire. More than one actually, and these can not be secret. The reader must understand from the outset what it is the character is after.
The second is that the story is really all about the character working to achieve the goals, even as the goals change by growing “in depth, intensity, and scope.” Of course, to achieve these goals, the character must overcome the problems standing squarely in the way.
Of late I’ve read a number of novels that don’t demand my attention until a third to a half way through. I’ve come to realize that I don’t have a compelling reason to keep reading because I don’t see the character taking action to achieve some deeply felt goal. I don’t have a rooting interest in continuing to read.
So now I have a new goal for my own writing, a deeply felt one, I might add. 😉
First posted at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, January 2009.