Join Lisa Cron for an in-depth discussion in this video Example (Uncovering your protagonist's inner issue), part of Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story.
The way to pin-point the specific event that caused the problem or fear that the protagonist must overcome is to relentlessly ask why of everything until you hit paydirt. Here's how such a conversation between two writers might go. (female speaker: Thank you for going over my script with me and helping me with this.) (male speaker: Sure!) (female speaker: So, it's about a woman named Olive, and she cannot make any relationship work.) (male speaker: Okay, why not?) (female speaker: She sabotages every relationship she gets into.) (male speaker: Why?) (female speaker: Um, she starts to fall in love with a guy, and then she pushes them away emotionally.) (male speaker: And why is she doing that?) (female speaker: Because she doesn't feel worthy, she doesn't want to be hurt, um, she doesn't want to be manipulated?) (male speaker: Okay, so is there a specific incident in her past that makes her feel this way now?) (female speaker: I don't know. I guess that's where I'm blocked.
Um, okay, so when Olive was thirteen she had a huge crush on her older brother's best friend, Brad, and would do his homework for him, make him snacks, um, and one day she came home, and she overheard her brother and Brad making fun of her, and she was totally heartbroken, really sad, really devastated, and every relationship after that, she put up walls 'cause she didn't want to be hurt.) (male speaker: Okay, good. So we know what started it all.
The question I have for you is what's the issue in Olive's life right now that's forcing her to deal with that?) (female speaker: I know the answer to that one! Okay, so she just me the first man who made her feel the same way that Brad does. It totally feels like love now, and this time she's really desperate to break that pattern. And she's totally terrified, like can she do it?) Bingo! Specific fear versus specific desire. What a better place for a story to start? And you know what else? Asking why can be a great antidote to writer's block.
You can brainstorm like this with a friend, or you even by yourself.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots