Monday, January 30, 2012

The Glue In Your Story


I figure it's time for a serious post about writing, so here's a little something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

One element in story crafting that I frequently find missing is cohesion. Each story needs a few elements that bind it all together and carry the protagonist--and the reader--through to the end.

For some reason, I find that adventure type books struggle the most with this problem. Often, the main character sets off on the adventure, but it feels more like they are strolling through some kind of museum. They wander along the hero's path, going from one interesting scene to the next. It feels like a series of random events that happen to the main character.

So the question is, how do we keep our story unified?

There are many ways, but here are a few to get you thinking:

The Main Character's Goals Must Be the Driving Force: Whatever it is that the main character wants, that should be what influences all their choices and actions.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's goal is to go home. It is what motivates everything she does. In The Hunger Games, Katniss wants to protect her sister Prim. That is why she volunteers for the games, and that is why she wants to win the games, so Prim is not left alone with a wacky mother.

This is perhaps the most important element in cohesion. If your main character's object of desire (goal) is not present throughout the story, the reader will loose interest. Why is he/she doing this? If we don't know, we don't care.

The Threat of the Villain: Keep the threat of the villain ever present and constantly hanging over the hero's head.

JK Rowling did a great job with this throughout SEVEN Harry Potter novels, always upping the stakes with each one. Never once do we forget He Who Must Not Be Named lurking in the back of Harry's mind. And, every other "mini-villain" Harry faces ties back to Voldemort in some way, such as Draco Malfoy and Professor Umbrage.

Not only should the villain be always present, but what's at stake as well. What happens if the villain wins?

Keep the Main Conflict Front and Center: This is good for books that are not adventure stories and don't have a specific "villain," like Twilight. Not much happens in the story, but the conflict is always there, hanging over Bella's head--forbidden love, is he or is he not going to eat her.

I've named only three. What other elements of cohesion can you think of?

12 comments:

  1. Great points, Julie! Hm, another element of cohesion? One comes to mind. I love the Harry Potter series. One thing J.K. Rowling does brilliantly is Harry's relationships with the other characters. Rowling's inter-person cohesion is amazing. That's what sets her above the others. Even a high-stakes adventures lose their attraction if we don't have a heart-felt relationship going on somewhere. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, the prominent Professors, Neville, Luna, and even Malfoy all bring depth and interest to a great plot. In the end, it's so satisfying to see all these people help bring the downfall of Voldemort.

    But what if the character is alone? It doesn't work well, usually. Even in the movie Cast Away, lone hero Jack has a heart-tugging relationship with Wilson, a soccer ball. Now that was impressive!

    Thanks for a great thought-provoking post!

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    1. Another excellent example. Thanks Jonene!

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  2. So the character needs a goal, a finish line, and needs to stay with it to the end correct? Like how Indiana Jones is always after some artifact, he has a plan that he follows til the end he gets what he has worked so hard for. Great post. This is going to help me in my writing. Thank you.

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    1. Indiana Jones is a good example. But, I also want to point out that the goal is not always something tangible--like a treasure. It can be a healed relationship, forgiveness, finding your place in the world, vindication...

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  3. Julie! I have awarded you the “Versatile Blogger Award.” Follow the link: http://nikkijefford.blogspot.com/2012/01/versatile-blogger-award_30.html

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    1. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much. I have to think about who I want to to award, but I'm dang excited. You have an awesome blog too, and I every time I check it, I learn something wild and crazy about you.

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  4. I like your new layout :) And happy birthday tomorrow!

    P.S. my word verification was Edison St, which clearly reflects your dizzying intellect.

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    1. Thank you tomorrow. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who looks for hidden messages in the word verification. In fact, I've been working on a blog post about it. :)

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  5. Happy Early Birthday. For me, the only way to ensure cohesion throughout the story is to build it with a proper foundation. I work hard to make sure my protagonist is always aiming toward her goal and is always being blocked by obstacles so the reader never loses sight of how bad the bad guy is. I remind the readers what is at stake for the protagonist and what she will lose is she fails to achieve her goal.

    This was a great, through provoking post. I see why Shell awarded you the Liebster Award. Congratulations.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and adding your two cents. Sounds like you've already got a really good grasp on writing.

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  6. Good points here. Sometimes the driving goal for the character can change, but it still needs to have the cohesiveness you mentioned, be part of the character's growth.

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    1. It's true that sometimes goals can change, but if they do, you might need to look at them very carefully. What you're thinking of might not be the character's ultimate goal--the true and deepest desires of their heart.

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