Saturday, May 26, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Inside - Part 1

Dear Storyteller,

Way to go! You’ve identified the fifteen story beats for your novel. Your story is looking a lot like…well, a story. You’ve done a fantastic job.

Now it’s time to make sure your beat sheet is tracking the most important element--your protagonist’s internal change.

Using the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet can make crafting your novel deceptively easy. After all, it provides a template for you to plug the major events of your story in to key points where significant story-related things are supposed to happen according to the BS2 formula.

But don’t fall into the dangerous trap of thinking this is a story-by-numbers method of plotting your novel’s storyline. The BS2 was never intended to be a method to construct a plot full of exciting yet irrelevant things that happen, and don’t add up to anything.

When Blake Snyder created this method of storytelling, he had the internal change of the hero in mind from the Opening Image to the Final Image. One of his most famous sayings was, “All stories are about transformation.” Of course, he was referring to the internal transformation of the hero.

Your story should ultimately be about the internal transformation of your protagonist.

That being said, there are some key beats we need to take a close look at. Why? Because these key beats are the points in your story where you--and the reader--should see your heroine change internally, turn by turn.

We need to pay close attention to the Opening Image, Theme Stated, Magical Midpoint, All Is Lost, and the Final Image beats.

The Opening Image beat is where we first meet your protagonist. Here is where she lives in the life “before” with her “six things that need fixing”. In her life of the Opening Image, life is not good. Either disaster strikes at every turn, or one day simply blurs into the next. The heroine isn’t living, she’s only existing. She’s in stasis. 

And Stasis=Death.

If something doesn’t happen soon, your protagonist will fade away. She desperately needs a change—an internal change. Here’s an example.

In my young adult novel, From Bad Girl To Worse, Sandra Porter in the Opening Image is one miserable young lady. Her aunt refuses to speak to her, and her mother is mentally incapable of speaking—or even looking at her.

Sandra shares a house with two other people, yet she exists in the blackness of solitude. Something needs to change in a big way for poor Sandra.

The next key beat, the Theme Stated is where the protagonist first hears the “theme”, or the point of the story. This is a critical beat because it's where the seed of change is planted in your hero’s mind and heart. For example, someone could say to your protagonist, “You can’t bury the past, no matter how hard you try”. These words make him evaluate his current situation, wondering how he might be able to change it.

The events you put into the plot must tie into this point and, by the end of the story persuade him to make the internal change he needs in order to become a better person.

Remember: The first step you took in crafting your novel was stating the point you wanted your story to make. This point will drive the whole narrative. In the beginning of From Bad Girl To Worse, Sandra hears her friend, Lexie say to her other new friend, Mack, “He who lies down with dogs shall wake up with fleas”. 

Immediately after hearing these words, Sandra begins to question her choice of friends. And guess what? These words will cause her to continue questioning whether she should stay with her newfound friends, or run as far away from them as she can. 

Stay with me. In my next letter to you, you will see how to make things get worse for your protagonist before they get better. But don’t worry. This progression will force your protagonist to grow, and to become a different person who sees her world with new eyes.

I remain,

L. R. Farren
Author of From Bad Girl To Worse
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. – Your protagonist must change internally, even if a little bit, in every beat. And your reader must recognize each change, in the moment, on the page, as it happens.

P. P. S. - The sole purpose of each beat of the plot is to force the protagonist to take action by confronting and defeating her longstanding misbelief, so she can pursue her greatest goal unhindered.  

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