Thursday, 15 September 2011

New Voices Workshop - part one

I thought it might be useful to post the main points of the New Voices workshop I gave at Brixton library on 14th September, but since there is quite a lot to get though, I thought I'd seperate it into a few posts and put them up on consecutive days. Here's part one:

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…


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!


Susie Medwell said...

Thanks Fiona, wish I could have come along to the workshop. Already posted my chapter 1 New Voices entry but this is really useful for input into the rest of the story, and future writing.

Fiona Harper said...

Glad you found it helpful, Susie!

Julia Broadbooks said...

Thanks so much for posting this!

Abbi/Barbara said...

This is great, Fiona. Thank you.

And I love the title of you WIP.

Abbi :-)

Lacey Devlin said...

Thanks for sharing this, Fiona :-)