Writing fiction can be complicated. You’ve got a lot of threads to keep in mind: characters, plot, pacing… on and on.
Unfortunately, the more fiction you write, the more complicated writing may seem. So when I ask a student who’s working on novel number two or three: “how’s it going?” the words I dread hearing most are: “I’ve been thinking…”
Thinking isn’t writing, and while thinking is necessary, preferably it happens while you’re editing. Plus, over the years I’ve discovered that “thinking” is code for: “something’s wrong, and I don’t know how to fix it.”
In these kinds of situations, it’s best to go back and focus on your characters.
Problems? Writing fiction is easier when you focus on your characters
Here’s what I suggest to my students. Whenever you’re writing fiction, and you’re stuck, ask yourself: who wants what, and why?
What your characters want will change over the course of the novel. Usually a “want change” happens at a turning point in the novel.
What your characters want changes over the course of your novel
For example, the inciting incident (the event which starts the main action of the story) will change what your main character wants.
Let’s say you’re writing a mystery. Your sleuth is a detective (Bob), who has major challenges. Not only has Bob missed out on promotion, his wife has packed up and left him, and he’s discovered that his boss is in the pay of the local crime boss.
So, “ordinary world” Bob (if you’re using the Hero’s Journey to plot your novel), not only wants a promotion so that he can get away from his corrupt boss, he also wants to solve his marriage problems.
The inciting incident of the novel is the kidnap and murder of a child.
At that point, what Bob wants changes. He knows the child’s family; the child is the same age as his daughter.
Remember open loops: they’re gold
Now Bob wants to solve the crime. Finding the child-killer is Bob’s major goal. However, he still wants a promotion, and to save his marriage.
Bob’s previous wants move to the backburner temporarily; they’re now open loops. We’ve talked about open loops:
Open loops are psychological strategies used most often as copywriting tricks. They’re hooks and unanswered questions. You can and should use open loops right throughout your novel.
Keep your plot moving: find your open loops
Your readers will read your novel in a few hours. Writing your novel takes a lot longer. You can easily lose track of what your main characters want.
Your characters want lots of things of course, and what they want changes, but remember that “wants” don’t go away. Your readers won’t forget them, and neither should you.
An apropos quote, Checkhov’s gun:
“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
Keep track of your open loops.
Vital when you’re writing fiction: who wants what, and why?
When you’re writing fiction, and you know you have a problem, go back and look at your characters.
Chart what they want, right now. Why do they want it? What did they want a few scenes previously? When you track what your characters want, not only will you find plotting much easier, you’ll find writing easier too.
All authors do; no one sets out to write a boring novel.
Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.More info →
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.More info →
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