Like many of you, I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, as in even more than usual. Some things I’ve really enjoyed including All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, The Golden Thread by Kassia St. Clair, The Long Call by Ann Cleaves, and The Other People by C. J. Tudor. Some things I’ve found much less enjoyable.
I’ve been noodling over what it was I didn’t like when yesterday I read Nathan Bransford’s post on diagnosing big picture problems in your novel. His post helped me shape my own thoughts on the elements you need to have in place in most fiction.
Character goal. What is it that matters to your character? What is she trying to accomplish? What is he trying to keep from happening? No matter how you frame it, your character needs a goal. Just what that goes is may change in the course of a novel but that’s okay. If getting a basketball scholarship is the only way your character will get to college, a willingness to put something else first shows just how important that things is.
Plot. Your character needs a goal but it can’t be something that is easy to achieve. Whether your story is a novel or a picture book, there have to be multiple attempts. Otherwise it is all to easy. Something your character wants without a plot is nothing more than a situation. Think savoring a spoonful of melted chocolate vs striving to win a baking contest.
Change. I hinted at this one above. There has to be a change. Often it is a change in your character, some kind of growing awareness. Sometimes your character doesn’t change but manages to change their world. Much like something without a plot, a piece without change often feels like a situation vs a story.
When the time comes to rewrite your story, don’t just shift commas and fix spelling. Look for big picture items like character goal, plot and change.