January 24, 2013 / 6 Comments

His But Looks Like an Asterisk

             Bonus points if you get that reference…

            Something quick for you.  I’m trying to finish some rewrites.
            I’ve mentioned conflict once or thrice.  Usually I prefer the term challenge, which has also shown up here a few times.  Challenges are what make a story.  When my character deals with problems, obstacles, and unexpected twists, that’s what makes him or her interesting and keeps the audience engaged
            Yeah, there are a few character-heavy stories out there that manage to have no challenges at all and still be interesting.  Believe me when I say that they are very, very few and far between.  Much, much rarer than some of our college writing instructors and chosen gurus would have us believe.
            And really, at the end of the day, readers want to see challenges.  They want to read about characters who are doing something active—physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, characters who never face any sort of challenge are boring as hell.
            And that hundredth time is a coin toss.
            So here’s a simple test to see if my story has any kind of challenge in it.
“Who knows?  In a thousand years, even
you may be worth  something!
            Back when I was talking about expanding ideas, I mentioned that I should be using a lot of conjunctions when I explain my plot to someone.  If you look back at the example I gave (the first half of Raiders of the Lost Ark) you’ll notice that butaccounted for almost half the conjunctions I used.  This is because but represents conflicts and setbacks.  Indy finds the Ark of the Covenant, but Belloq and the Nazis steal it out from under him.  I would’ve had a great time at the party, but my ex was there.   Congress says they want to accomplish a lot, but the House and Senate never agree on anything.
            Take your novel, screenplay, or short story.  Try to summarize it one page.  This isn’t a sales-pitch summary like you’d find on the inside flap of the dust jacket or on the back of the DVD.  Write up an honest summary from beginning to end with all the beats and plot points.  Don’t hold back, include as much as you can, but keep it at one page.
            Now let’s take a look at it.  How many times did you end up using but as a conjunction?  You can count however if it shows up, and maybe though, as well.
            If I can summarize my whole story without using the word but, I have a problem.  Because but is where my challenges are.  No but means no conflicts, and no conflicts means my characters aren’t doing anything worthwhile.
            And that means they’re boring as hell.
            Hopefully you see my point.  But I’m sure some folks won’t.
            Next time… hmmmm, not really sure what I’ll do next time.  Open to suggestions as always.  If none appear… well, I’m sure I’ll think of something really interesting.
            Until then, go write.

0 replies on “His But Looks Like an Asterisk”

"To give an idea of the maturity
of my illustrations for this [blog], here is my picture of an…" ?

Really enjoy your books & blog. But have caused me to annoy my spouse with constant "subtext" references.

i was thinking last night about the "shapes" of a novel. in relation to shapes of a speech or something. start with a broad point, then narrow it makes a triangle. for a novel though, you have many plot points but also the main plot, i don't know. i was trying to understand how a story should shape up and got exactly nowhere. its pretty wrong to get into the "main plot" of your story halfway through right? If any of that made any sense to you and you could explain it in a future post, i would be greatly appreciative.

Haha, took me awhile to get the asterisk thing.

Your blog is great, and it challenges me…not in the way your characters are challenged (with conflicts), but challenged as in a carrot dangling ut there. Can I reach it? Will I?

How come I gladly read tangents in books (description, a childhood flashback, etc.), but I'm afraid to go off on tangents in my own writing in fear of losing the reader?

Mike, I hope things get better between you and your beloved as far as the subtext goes… 😉

Travis, that's not a bad idea. I did something a bit like that way back at the start of the ranty blog, but it might not be a bad thing to revisit. I'll add that to my list.

Cora, I was actually going to revisit my big structure ramblings sometime in the next month or so, and that might help with your flashback-phobia. Until then, you could check out some of the tags for flashbacks or maybe relevance and see if anything there strikes a chord with you.

Marcus–spot on, as usual.

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