Dawn is making an appearance swathed in gray. Yesterday I was indoors most of the day so when I stepped out for a walk, I was surprised at how soft and springlike the air felt on my skin. Although the geese around here are unreliable as harbingers of spring, since there is a large pond nearby, I counted three flocks winging north. Then I noticed that daffodils that have joined the crocuses blooming in sunny patches and camellias with their fuchsia-colored and waxy leaves are appearing also. Finally I passed a mother and her small son drawing with colored chalk on the sidewalk, stars and dogs and a smiling sun.
But while spring is coming to this country, our government is still borrowing millions a day to run this war, taxes are still being cut for the rich, while there is a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan with its nukes is becoming increasingly unstable, the government in Iraq is still not solidified, and the number of American troops cannot be maintained because the troops are exhausted and there are none to replace them. It seems that there is no sector in this country that the Bush policies and corruption haven’t damaged or ruined. But spring is coming, spring is coming.
Meanwhile, I believe I have forgotten to report that I finished my latest book for Writer’s Digest, Bullies, Bitches & Bastards: How toWrite the Back Guys in Fiction. It will be out in July and I handed in the last revision a few weeks ago. I and have taken a few weeks off from working on a book and have editing projects to work on, but I’m also cleaning, gardening and trying to catch up with friends. Next week I’m going to start on a new book that will be out in spring or summer of 2009.
But let’s get back to the elements of effective fiction:
Characters are built from dominant traits. Create main characters with dominant and unforgettable traits as a foundation of personality. These 3-6 traits will be showcased in the story events, will help him or her achieve or fail at goals, and will make the story person consistent. For example, Sherlock Holmes’ dominant traits are that he is analytical, deductive, intelligent, and deeply aware. These traits are showcased in every story he appears in along with secondary and contrasting traits such as his Bohemian tendencies. When your character first appears in the first scene, he arrives with his dominant traits intact.
Emotional need Protagonists and main characters are people with baggage and emotional needs stemming from their pasts. These needs, coupled with motivation cause characters to act as they do. For example, in Silence of the Lambs Clarisse Starling is propelled by childhood traumas to both succeed as an FBI profiler and investigator and heal the wounds caused by the death of her father.
Significance The storyline focuses on the most significant events in the protagonist’s life.
Motivation entwined with backstory Motivation, the why? of fiction, fuels your character’s desires and drives him to accomplish goals. It provides a solid foundation for the often complicated reasons for your character’s behaviors choices, actions, and blunders. Motivating factors provide trajectories for character development, as a character’s past inevitably intersects with his present. Your character’s motivations must be in sync with his core personality traits and realistically linked to goals so that readers can take on these goals as their own.
Desire is the lifeblood of fictional characters. Not only do your characters want something, they want something badly.
Threat Fiction is based on adversity and this is revealed in a series of threatening changes inflicted on the protagonist. In many stories these threats force him or her to change or act in ways he or she needs to change or act. Often too, what the protagonist fears most is what is showcased in a novel or short story. It can be fear of losing his family, job, or health with this dreaded outcome providing interest, action and conflict.
Inner Conflict A fictional character doesn’t arrive at easy decisions or choices. Instead he is burdened by difficult or impossible choices, particularly moral choices, that often make him doubt himself and question his actions. Inner conflict works in tandem with outer conflict—an physical obstacle, villain or antagonist--to make the story more involving, dramatic, and events more meaningful.
Complications A story builds and deepens by adding complications, twists, reversals and surprises that add tension and forward motion. Plots don’t follow a straight path, instead there are zigzags, dead ends, and sidetracks. Complications create obstacles and conflict, cause decisions to be made, paths to be chosen.
Midpoint Reversal The middle act of a novel comprises more than half its length. At about the midpoint of most novels a dramatic reversal occurs. The hunter becomes the hunted; a second murder occurs proving the detective has been wrong in his suspicions; a former lover arrives in town to complicate a budding romance. This reversal keeps the middle from bogging down and becoming predictable and also breathes new life and often a new direction into the story.
Satisfying Ending every story needs an ending that satisfies the reader while concluding the plot. The final scenes, when the tensions are red hot and the character has reached a point of no return, must deliver drama, emotion, yet a logical conclusion. This is not to suggest that every plot ends with a shoot-out or physical confrontation, because some endings are quieter, more thoughtful. Some endings are ambivalent, some a dramatic or a violent clash of wills. But there is always a sense that all the forces that have been operating in your story world have finally come to a head and the protagonist’s world is forever changed.