Tuesday, December 30, 2014

44 The Secret to Compelling Fiction -- 6 Simple Questions Writers Ask While Plotting PLUS A MYSTERY BOX Giveaway

Have you ever noticed that the key to writing fiction, or writing anything really, is a simple three letter word?

Why?


In truth, though, the simplicity of this question is deceptive. Asking why is liable to lead you down the rabbit hole. The more you ask why, the more often you will need to ask it.

THE WHY OF STORY CONCEPT

Getting a story sold often comes down to a great concept. To ensure that your concept is compelling and novel-worthy, you must know the whys to three important questions.

1. Why is the conflict in this story large enough and dramatic enough to instantly grab a reader's attention?
2. Why would the concept interest a large potential audience?
3. Why is this different from anything that's been done before or why does your twist make it unique?

At a basic level, every story has been done before. For example, there have been stories about children forced to fight for their lives. There have been stories about children competing in games. But before THE HUNGER GAMES, there was nothing that made forcing children to fight for their lives a game that entertained the masses.

Hold on, though. Was entertainment the real reason for THE HUNGER GAMES? Of course not.

With simple entertainment as the motive, there might have been a story about the some games featuring children fighting each other, but it would have been a much smaller story, and it certainly wouldn't have been the one that Suzanne Collins turned into a brilliant trilogy. 

Collins has famously said that she got the idea behind the book when she was flipping TV channels between a reality show and something that featured Roman gladiators. What came next came from asking WHY.
  • Why would children be fighting for the entertainment of others?
  • Why would this entertainment be more than entertainment?
  • Why would it be a punishment and why would it need to be repeated every year?
  • Why are there a specific number of children?
  • Why were the specific children in this particular story be important? (Why these kids, this year?)
  • Why would one specific child be able to not just win the games, but win in such a way that it changed the status quo

THE WHY OF COMPELLING CHARACTER

That last question is what that created the character of Katniss Everdeen and began one of the most successful books in decades. It took THE HUNGER GAMES from a general concept to a specific concept, and from a generic story to one based on a compelling character.

At the most basic level, a protagonist is the leading character of your story, but often it's helpful to think of your leading character as one of the additional definitions: a proponent, champion, or supporter of a cause.

To establish the specifics of your concept, you must create a compelling character.

To create a compelling character, you must know what cause your idea your protagonist is going to champion. But you must go beyond even that.

To build an active, engaging story concept, it's helpful to know the why for three more questions.

4. Why is the status quo in your story in need of change?
5. Why is your character a champion for change within your story?
6. Why do your character's actions threaten the status quo?

Obviously, why is only one of the famous questions of writing. The others are: who, what, where, when, and how.

For fiction, why is the key to all of them. Writing COMPULSION, for example, I had an idea of a location and some characters. I knew some of the local history of the Charleston, SC area that I wanted to weave into the book. I'd even had a dream that became the anchoring visual of the book, that of the Fire Carrier setting the river around my low country island on fire at midnight every night. What I didn't know was why that happened, why it had been going on for as long as anyone could remember, or why it was important that it continued to be able to happen. Once I figured all that out, I still needed to know why my protagonist would be the one person who could find out these reasons, why she would care enough to want to change the status quo, or why she would be the one person able to do so.

Barrie, my protagonist, is deeply flawed. Her flaws lead her to make mistakes, and those mistakes create a specific set of circumstances that she must fix. Ultimately, she becomes the agent of change that Watson Island has needed for over three hundred years.

The moment I understood how my protagonist's character traits and upbringing both drive her to change the status quo and make her able to do so, I had not only the idea for one book, but a concept for a story big enough to span several books.

I'm in the process of plotting out book three now, and it's eerie and exhilerating seeing how all those things come together, and how they all stem from asking why.

Are your favorite characters champions for some sort of a cause? What do you think makes a character compelling? 


MYSTERY BOX GIVEAWAY




Win a New Year's surprise pack of five total books and/or ARCs plus swag. I hope your 2014 was wonderful, and I hope your 2015 will be even better!


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44 comments:

  1. Happy new Year!

    thank you for a wonderful article with specific examples!

    thank you :)

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  3. Hope you had a great christmas and have a great new year!

    I found this post very interesting, it has definitely given me some points to look into with my current novel that I'm writing :D <3

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  4. It is so nice that you provide such helpful advice.

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  5. I love those questions because as an aspiring writer I often fall down the rabbit hole because I think I have to know all the tiny details before I can make a cohesive story. Those are great questions to ask and to me, what makes a character compelling is motivation and personality.

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  6. This post is very timely and I love surprises!

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  7. This article really helped me as I head into revisions on my WIP! Thank you!

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  8. You always give such great writing tips! I bookmark all these so when I finally write my debut novel I'll be ready!
    😋❤️Britt

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  9. I love mystery prizes, thanks for the giveaway!

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  10. Oooh, mystery box :D

    Also, thanks for the questions! They'll come in handy for my writing group!

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  11. Great post. Very useful. Thanks for that and for a mystery giveaway. (I'm hoping a copy of Compulsion is in the box!!) Have a wonderful new year.

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  12. This is a great post! I have been working on a starter novel the past few months (my first lengthy writing attempt ever!) These questions are really helpful. It is so great when authors provide insight for others. And thanks for the giveaway! I just love surprise books, makes reviewing more interesting :) hope you had a great holiday!

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  13. This is so helpful! Finding your blog has been such a wonderful gift to me in 2014! All the best in 2015!

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  14. Wow! Thanks for the amazing chance! Happy New Year!

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  15. Happy New Year! Thank you for the chance!
    -Ashley

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  16. Happy new year! Thanks for the giveaway

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  17. Happy new year and THA ks for the exciting giveaway!!

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  18. Great writing advice! Happy 2015!

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  19. Great advice! I will be putting it into use soon! Happy New Year! Thanks for the giveaway.

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  20. i wonder what might be in the box

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  21. I love surprises, especially book surprises

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  22. Thank you for this giveaway and Happy New Year!!

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  23. Thanks for the chance!

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  24. Have a great Happy New Year!!!!!!

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  25. Thank you for the giveaway ! you had been hosting a lot ! like A LOT ! THANKS !

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  26. I really like reading characters that are different from me, different choices, different lives. Makes me think about others.

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  27. I'm so excited for this giveaway!!!

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  28. Great advice. I have a concept for a book, but the plot worries me. Thanks for the pointers.

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  29. This is such an interesting giveaway! And the post is really helpful for an aspirin writer :D

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  30. Happy New Year and thank you for the giveaway!

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  31. Thank you for this awesome giveaway!

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  32. I hope you had a great Christmas & New Year's, thanks for the chance to receive a mystery box:)

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  33. Great post! Happy New Year!!!

    kellis_amberlee at yahoo dot com

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  34. Happy New Year and thanks for the great giveaway!

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  35. I love surprises, especially when I know it's going to be books! Thank you for the giveaway!

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  36. I CANNOT WAIT FOR PERSUASION!!!

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  37. Thanks for another awesome giveaway!!

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  38. Is this giveaway open internationally?

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  39. This is a great post, I love reading such amazing tips about writinG! And thank you for the wonderful giveaway as well :)

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