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Writing Your Novel: The Three C's

August 10, 2017

Admittedly, I'm bashful when giving writing advice because effective writing techniques vary with each individual. I'm even leery of  conventional writing advice, such as "Write what you know" and "Kill your darlings." (Not that these tips are 100% wrong, just as most writing tips aren't 100% right, and they are open to interpretation.) However, I've recently seen questions about how to compose query letters. It's difficult to condense an entire novel in a three-paragraph letter or even a one-page synopsis.

 

I do have a technique I use, though, not just to write a query, but to ensure I have the story's through-line figured out. It's terrible to write a draft or sixteen and realize your story meanders without heeding its major conflict. Being able to succinctly speak about your novel doesn't just show skill, but it shows you understand what keeps the narrative moving; if you ever lose sight of where to go with a novel, remembering the stakes of your character's actions and the magnitude of the outcome helps.

 

Unsure where your story's going or how to summarize it? Consider the Three C's.

 

Character: What does your character want? What is their goal?

 

Conflict: Okay, so your character wants something. What do you do in all your power to give them obstacles? The conflict often has two parts: external and internal, and both these conflicts tend to eventually dovetail and influence each other.

 

Consider the film Get Out. Without going much into spoilers, the external conflict is that our main character, Chris, is in an uncomfortable environment and witnesses strange occurrences that escalate and possibly threaten his life. The internal conflict isn't just his relationship with his girlfriend, Rose, but his struggles with a past event he feels guilty about. Eventually, his guilt over the past influences his actions during the climax.

 

Going back to Character, the goal can be rather simple, or at least appear to be simple. On the surface, many human desires appear simple, such as advancement or companionship, For example, Chris's goal is to make his girlfriend happy by going to meet her parents, even though he's uncomfortable being in a largely white area where the only black residents are servants. The conflict comes when this choice compromises his safety and possibly his relationship.

 

Consequences: What happens if your character fails to accomplish their goal? Something to consider: The world ending is a large-scale consequence and can certainly be a story aspect, but it's often the more personal and intimate losses that readers find relatable and draw them in. After all, what's the point of the world ending if we don't care about the relationships within the world? Nevertheless, the stakes should be high, and if one goes about establishing the importance of something to a character and how it'd be devastating that that something, or someone, was gone, it'll feel momentous even if it doesn't involve explosions. The important component is attachment, which will largely stem from establishing Character.

 

Hopefully, focusing on these three things will help you get to the meat of your story. How do you often construct or explain your plot?

 

Here is a free worksheet I created for the info in this post.

 

 

 

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