Changes. Story Structure and Character Evolution.

Firstly, I want to apologize for the wordiness of the blog below. Like so many of us, this merry winter season, I have a head full of snuffles and snot… and when I’m sick I tend to get long winded. 😛 Still, for those of you who are at the very beginning of your novel-writing process, I hope this post will help!

“To be in time means to change.”

I don’t remember exactly where I heard that quote, but it rings very true. The crux of the thing is that there is something commons to us all that ardently resists change… This conflict is at the very core of what it means to be human and is the centre about which all great stories revolve.

I think… I mean if you disagree it’s okay. 🙂

As far as I can tell, a successful story is one that chronicles a characters great adaptation/revelation. If no change happens to your character then you’ve just written either a slapstick comedy or a very cynical tragedy. While both these genres can say something depressingly profound about out tendency towards being obstinate… I prefer a story that inspires us to be more than what we commonly are.

Now I’m going to talk about story structure. I’ve come to the belief that once you know the rules you can break them with intent and purpose. So let’s start with a character-driven plot, built by following a three-act structure: Beginning, Middle, and End.

Like life, the heart of this story revolves around change.

The Beginning is about the “who” of the story. You need to use every trick in your pocket to get your audience to intrinsically connect with your main character within the first 5 pages… within the first five paragraphs is better. You establish the character’s unique way of perceiving the world and their ‘normal’ environment (even if normal for them is fighting aliens or posing as a drug lord… whatever). Be sure to give your character a weakness as well… this is great for story and usually makes her more likable.

To move your character from the Beginning to the Middle, you need an ‘inciting incident’. This is something that intrudes dramatically upon the character’s normal world. This inciting incident demands change from the character… normally, the protagonist resists change and needs a very compelling reason to continue. A helpful mentor of some sort is usually inserted here.

By the Middle, your protagonist has a clear goal in mind and a very strong reason to not just get up and walk away from the whole mess altogether. The Middle is a series of obstacles (increasing in difficulty) that your character must overcome to achieve her goal.

I also suggest you use these obstacles as opportunities for reflection and self-evaluation. After an intense action scene, it can be a good idea to insert a short scene of evaluation to develop character and give your audience a short moment to catch their breath.

Everything in the Middle all builds towards a climatic confrontation of some sort. In some of the books I’ve read, this part is called ‘the journey  to the innermost cave.’ Sounds ominous doesn’t it?I think it’s a good idea to kill off that ‘mentor character’ about now but I’ll let you make the choice on that point. 🙂

To end the book, your protagonist must joureny to a place of ultimate testing, often aided by a totem of some sort… anything from a magical sword to an intimate memory to give them strength. This is a place of great temptation as well.

For a happy Ending, I suggest your character has a brilliant revelation of self and makes the necessary changes to overcome this great trial. In doing so, your character evolves to a new level of self-awareness and now becomes the master of the old world they began the story in and the new world they stove to overcome.

Hmmm… like I said. Learn the rules and then break them. If you can detect a note of cynicism in my writing, you’re probably right. All I’m trying to say however, is that this structure works really really well. Just ask George Lucas. Personally, I’m still using classicstory structure myself. One day, perhaps, I’ll be smart enough to go beyond it but I’m not quite there yet. Any ideas?

Okay… now I’m going back to bed. 😛 Happy New Year everyone!

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About cjgosling

I paint, I sing, I walk in the rain. I'm clumsy and I love the smell of campfire. My head is full of imaginary things and the only thing I ever really want to do in life is write. My first book "Shadowlands: The Guardian" was released in Feb. 2011. The sequel is coming in 2012! View all posts by cjgosling

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