THE STORY INSIDE THE STORY
Using internal conflict to create a gripping romance
There are two levels to every gripping story:
Outer: the plot – the things that happen to the protagonist, the action of the story.
Inner: character - about the people: what happens to them on the inside, how the action of the story changes the protagonist, either for better or worse.
- E.g. Titanic: the outside story concerns the unsinkable boat hitting an iceberg and killing hundreds. The inside story belongs to Rose, how being on the Titanic, meeting Jack, and ultimately surviving, changes the course of her life.
The External Story
The plot is the external action of the story, the physical events that push the story forward. However, action alone has no intrinsic meaning.
- Think of watching a piece of video footage where cars are racing each other, driving fast, is mildly entertaining but we don't get very emotionally involved. We could increase the tension by making the cars race faster, putting them in city instead of a race track, adding extra obstacles for them to deal with, but we probably wouldn't watch this for long.
PLOT needs to be centred around a CHARACTER.
Readers want someone to identify with, to root for.
- So, if we identify one of the drivers as our hero and another as the villain, suddenly we are more interested in the outcome, we could do better…
GOAL, MOTIVATION and CONFLICT
A character needs a goal to create dramatic tension (and that dramatic tension is what gets readers hooked into a story and keeps them turning pages):
GOAL: what your hero (protagonist) wants.
MOTIVATION: why they want what they want.
CONFLICT: what is stopping them getting what they want.
Back to our car chase hero - let’s make this a race…
Goal: to beat the villain to the finish line. (All of a sudden, this is much more interesting!)
Motivation: why? Maybe because he wants to win the big-money prize?
Conflict: he has a skilled opponant who wants the same thing he does, and possibly won't play fair to get it.
Adding the motivation of a monetary prize certainly raises the stakes, but we need to keep asking why - motivation is often multi-layered and multi-faceted. It would be nice for our hero to win the money, but I don’t really care that much about it. How can we raise the stakes further?
(Okay, this is a bit corny, but it's simple and understandable, so let's work with it.)
What if his son had been kidnapped and he needed the prize money to pay the ransom? Now we are invested in the story, because the meaning behind the action just got personal. We don't just think it will be nice if the hero wins the race, now we really want him to win! Strong, personal motivation engages readers.
Look out for part two The Inner Story tomorrow!