Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting to the Root of the Problem

If a story is worth writing, it must be about someone rather than something. In the language of creative literature, we call that someone a character. If that statement seems redundant, think about what makes real life interesting. Why do we listen to what our friends have to tell us? We listen because their information is about the people we know, love, or who play an important part in our lives. A simple event like the crumpling of a car fender in a parking lot is worth telling because our friend was the driver, and we are immediately concerned about the effect it will have on him or her. Stories must be about characters, and that character must be doing something significant.

If a story must be about a character, it must tell us what the character wants. It can not be repeated often enough that plot is a verb. What does your character want, and to what lengths will he or she go to get it?

If your character wants something bad enough to interest us, there must be conflict. Conflict can be internal or external, but ideally, it should be a mixture of both. It should be presented in a manner that makes us care whether your character succeeds or fails. All of us at some time or the other have watched a movie and found ourselves cheering for the bad guy. What went wrong? We no longer care for the POV character.

If a story is to reach a satisfying ending, there must be change in the main character, and it must be something that is logical, satisfying, and desirable. That is not to say that the character must be triumphant, every enemy vanquished, or that he or she should live happily ever after. How do you as a writer accomplish this? As you craft your story, never stop asking yourself, what does your character want. Character, desire, conflict, and resolution. That is what a story is all about.

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