Join Lisa Cron for an in-depth discussion in this video Story check (Uncovering your protagonist's inner issue), part of Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story.
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The root of all your protagonist's desires and fears are buried in their backstory, which is exactly where you'll find the answers to these questions. First, what's the source of the fear and of the desire that the plot will force your protagonist to struggle with? Can you trace her inner issue back to specific events in her past? Do you know how her inner issue has stopped her from fulfilling her desire right up to the moment the story begins? Ask yourself how have these things shaped how she sees the world and herself? Second, has your protagonist revealed her deepest, darkest secrets to you? Writers often shy away from uncomfortable truths because they are hard to admit.
Just talking about them can be unnerving, but unless you're planning to write a story with the depth of a greeting card, you really need to explore the messy stuff. Third, are your character bios specific enough? When you close your eyes, can you envision it, picture it, see it, or is it conceptual? If it's conceptual keep asking what happened exactly? For every answer your protagonist gives you, ask her why. And never underestimate the value of the therapist tried-and-true question: now how do you feel about that? Fourth, why does your story begin when it does? Can you answer the question? Why now as opposed to yesterday, tomorrow, or when Aunt Bertha gets back from bingo? What started the clock ticking? What unavoidable event is compelling your protagonist to act now, whether she wants to or not? Fifth, where is your story heading? This isn't to say you need to know how it ends when you right word one, but it sure helps.
Ask yourself what will my protagonist have to come to grips with at the end? The more you know exactly what she has to learn, the more likely it is you will write a story that teaches her that exact lesson. To get the hang of it, open the example for your exercise files. It's an example of a premise that's just a little bit too general.
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots