“We’re built of contradictions, all of us. It’s those opposing forces that give us strength, like an arch, each block pressing the next. Give me a man whose parts are all aligned in agreement and I’ll show you madness. We walk a narrow path, insanity to each side. A man without contradictions to balance him will soon veer off.” — Mark Lawrence
That battle of hemispheres is going to continue all through the writing of a book. Once you’ve got the basics in mind as to what your premise will be, it’s worth considering some of the story’s fundamentals. You’ll want to think about the protagonist and the antagonist (or, if we’re being technical, the antagonistic force – it’s not always a person). They both are going to have goals and motivations that will cause conflict.
For your protagonist, their goals and motivations will change throughout, often as you change from one act to another. The turning points transition the story’s momentum, and the protagonist drives a lot of that momentum. Which means their needs and desires have to change in response to what’s occurring.
John Truby has some interesting insights into what goes into a story. One element he draws upon is the difference between want and need. At the most fundamental level, your characters will have some aspect of their persona that makes them want something. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. For example, the loss of a husband would leave a void in a wife’s heart. She may be magically inclined and what she wants to do is bring her husband back. But what she needs to do is realise that isn’t possible, and to move on.
A quick and most basic overview at this point means that you have (and all of these are very likely to change):
- Premise: Some idea of what the basic premise is. Knowing this helps to introduce the following elements
- Protagonist: What do they want? What are their motivations? What do they want compared to what they need?
- Antagonistic force: Who/what is it? What does he/she/it want? Why?
- Conflict: The two forces above, in the setting of the premise, they’ll drive the conflict
At this point it’s good to review what you’ve got so far. Is your premise strong? Does it sound complete? Will it bring about conflict? Does your protagonist have the makings of a nicely rounded and suitably flawed individual? Can you see ways to add layers of depth to their psyche? Does your antagonistic force seem suitably powerful as to drive change in the world? What is your conflict going to be? From the little you have so far, can you see how the conflict may develop as your story progresses? Can you see how your protagonist will be reacting to initial events, and do you have any idea what they may find out that causes them to push forward more actively?
The art of asking better questions really comes into its own here. I’m working through and jotting down what I’m thinking of for my story as I’m doing this. At this stage of my review I’ve written down 18 questions specific to my story that I need to ask myself and consider the answers to. Even a single question could completely change and revolutionise your writing. It’s better to make these huge changes now whilst your word count is 0 (that said, I 100% understand that sometimes you have to invest 10,000 words to realise what’s what in your story – but for a novel in 3 months, that’s a much tougher choice!).
Once I’ve worked through them, I’ll have the characters fleshed out a little more. I can review again, and then I can move on to the next phase…