Writing Tips & Tools

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lesson 15: Complications

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Complications.

Every protagonist has a goal. This means every one also has problems, because no goal is achieved without overcoming obstacles. Easily achieved goals are not goals at all...LOL! the obstacles to the goal are important, they are the essence of the plot!

Plot can literally be be the tally of many complications hurled at the hero. Complications can be inner, psychological, and private, or external, unprovoked, and public. Or both! Just make wherever your hero is going, difficult to get there.

The obstacles have to be believable, whether internal or external. Look at your favorite novel. Many pages are relegated to making the opposition real and credible. This is good storytelling.

The simplest way of opposition is to have an antagonist. But he/she needs to be a good villain. This is sometimes hard because most authors are not evil at heart. To be a good criminal you have to be able to justify your crime...and feel justified by it. Thus, motivating the villain is an essential breakout skill!

Step 1: What is your novel's main conflict?

Step 2: What are the main complications that deepen that conflict?

Step 3:To each complication, assign the name of the character who primarily will enact it. How will he/she do so?

Step 4: Work out the primary motives for each character who introduces a complication. Then list all the secondary motives, and underline the last ones you wrote down...Pick a scene involving that character and reverse that character's motivation, as you did back in the Reversing Motives in chapter six.

Note: Plot complications need characters to bring them about. The obvious choice of character is not always the most effective. For example: You would expect it to be the boss who tells you that you are running out of time. What if it was the janitor that told you he felt bad for the last guy who didn't complete the assignment on time.

Follow-up: For at least three complications, work out who will be hurt the most when it happens. Incorporate it in the story.

Most authors underutilize their secondary characters. Adding complications is a way to get more mileage out of your cast!


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