Saturday, May 26, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Inside - Part 2

Dear Storyteller,

Continuing on from part 1 of this letter, we will now make things bad for your protagonist. Really bad.

The Magical Midpoint beat is where the protagonist experiences something that makes her want to go all in, either positively or negatively. She goes all in emotionally and mentally in response to the monumental external event she's experiencing

In my young adult novel From Bad Girl To Worse, Sandra Porter and her love interest, Mack kiss each other for the first time. They go all in together, body, heart and soul. After this significant moment, Sandra decides in her heart to do whatever it takes to keep Mack’s love. She would even kill for him if she had to. At this point, Sandra undergoes a huge internal change—for the worse.

But she’s not done yet.

The All Is Lost beat is where the protagonist winds up so much worse than she was when her journey began. At this point, your heroine should be bankrupt, deported, wounded, abandoned, lost or trapped. Or better yet, all of these things at the same time. She must have no way out of her precarious predicament. But you must make it even worse. You must make sure she can’t escape the despair, the dread and the hopelessness she feels inside when she ponders her tragic situation.

Your protagonist must beat herself up emotionally, scolding herself for what a total fool she’d been. If she’d only given into her misbelief, she wouldn’t be in the miserable pit she’s in. At least when she was in the stasis=death world of the Opening Image, she was safe. She was miserable then, but at least she wasn’t totally destroyed. 

That's how she feels anyway.

My protagonist, Sandra has just taken part in a brutal murder of her teacher
in the All Is Lost beat. She didn’t want him to die. She didn’t want his blood on her hands. But because she did nothing to stop the murder from happening, he dropped dead right in front of her.

Sandra recognizes that she'll have to live the rest of her life knowing she was responsible for the killing of another human being. In this scene, her heart implodes with regret and remorse. Talk about internal change.

In the Final Image beat, your protagonist should emerge from her proverbial cocoon and spread her wings as a glorious new creature. She must be drastically different in every way than she was in the Opening Image. She ought to be different not just on the outside, but on the inside as well.

You, as the writer, must make sure that your heroine uses what she learned in all of the experiences you put her through. The lessons learned will help her make her drastic internal change. You must introduce her to a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing the world she lives in. 

It’s important to show her, and your reader, that her world didn’t change. She did.

By this final beat, your protagonist must confront and overcome her longstanding misbelief and make peace with who she’s become. It doesn’t matter whether or not she achieves her greatest goal. What matters is that your protagonist changes internally into a stronger person.

Who your protagonist is on the inside must be different.

In the Final Image beat, my heroine, Sandra, is standing in a jail cell. She definitely looks different than she did in the Opening Image--and not in a good way. She's wearing ugly prison clothes. And she's behind bars. On the surface, things look pretty bad. She’s being held in connection with the murder she took part in.

But something glorious happens to her on the inside.

Sandra overcomes the longstanding misbelief that she can’t do anything right. She acknowledges that she is doing the right thing by turning herself and her friends in to the police. When she commits that courageous act, something truly great happens.

She learns that by doing the right thing, she does, indeed, do something right. As a result, she gains a sense of self-respect that she never had before.

The best part is…Sandra discovers that she doesn’t need anyone to give her a sense of self-worth. She finds the inner strength to love herself all on her own. She doesn’t have to prove to anyone that she's special or lovable. She proves it to herself. For the first time in her teenage life, Sandra Porter is free. She's free from self-condemnation.

The Final Image of Sandra at the end of the story is a drastically different snapshot of her than the Opening Image of her at the beginning of the story.

I can’t stress this truth enough: Your story must clearly show your protagonist changing from something ruinous to something great. Your reader must be able to see each step of your heroine’s internal change—and understand why each phase of her change takes place.

Otherwise, your reader will stop reading your novel and find another novel where she can see the protagonist changing. And your former reader will enjoy making the vicarious change along with the protagonist that is not yours, in a novel that is not yours. Get the picture?

But you won’t let that happen, will you? You will make sure your novel contains the story that readers will love. You will make sure your reader finishes your novel experiencing the same magnificent internal transformation that your heroine does. And you will like it. Your reader definitely will.

Analyze the four critical story beats that we discussed in your own Blake Snyder beat sheet. Are they showing your protagonist changing internally? If so, then what is she changing from, exactly? What is she changing to, exactly?

In a future letter, we will break down each of your story beats even further, and craft them all in such a way that your protagonist will have no choice but to change. And your reader will have no choice but to keep reading.

Wishing you the greatest success,

L. R. Farren

Author of From Bad Girl To Worse
and The Dangerous Way Home

P. S. – A brief representation of your protagonist’s internal change should be present in your high-concept pitch—and your novel’s logline.

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