Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How To Write A Novel Readers Love - The Rail

Dear Friend and Storyteller,

In the last letter, you identified your protagonist’s longstanding misbelief. You also pinpointed why, how, where and when that misbelief took hold in your hero’s life.

But to stop there would be a grave mistake. Why?

Your protagonist’s misbelief must grow deeper before your story can force her to confront and overcome it.

How do you deepen your heroine’s longstanding misbelief? By identifying at least one other significant event that she'd experienced since the origin of her misbelief. And this significant event must deepen her misbelief. 

I would highly recommend creating at least three significant events for your protagonist to experience, each at different ages and stages of her life.

This is actually how the idea for the young adult novel From Bad Girl To Worse came to me. In the beginning, I was working on a novella idea where an abused wife plots to kill her alcoholic husband and run away with her lover—during a Cape Cod Nor'easter storm. The protagonist in this story was—yep, you guessed it—Sandra Porter. In this story, she was in her early thirties, and a world-weary barfly. Her last name was Libbey.

I created three significant events for her, thinking this was the story I was going to write. But as I crafted the misbelief defining events, a whole new idea emerged. One of these events stood out as a great young adult novel idea.

Here was how I originally wrote the misbelief deepening event:

At sixteen years old, Sandra aggressively throws her abusive father out of the house, and her mentally unstable mother goes completely crazy with grief as a result of her husband’s absence.

I'd created another misbelief origin scene for Sandra when she was fourteen. In this scene, she failed a Home Economics test (she burned chocolate chip cookies) and her teacher told her she would never be able to make a man happy or be a good homemaker because she couldn’t bake.

Here are the three original misbelief deepening scenes I created for Sandra.

  • At the age of fifteen, a rich boy at school rejects Sandra. The boy rejects her because he considers her “white trash”.
  • At the age of sixteen, Sandra kicks her alcoholic father out of the house. Her father leaves for good and her mother goes into a catatonic state because her husband is gone. She’s left with no family.
  • At the age of nineteen, Sandra shacks up with a drug dealer and gets attacked by him immediately after a police drug unit raids the apartment she’s living in. She flushes the drugs down the toilet before the police find them. She winds up killing her twenty nine year old boyfriend in self defense when he attacks her for disposing of the drugs.

As these scenes blossomed in my mind, I was able to visualize how each of them might play out and become stories of their own. Sandra’s confrontation with her father jumped out at me as the perfect place to start a story about a teenage girl who's lonely and will do just about anything to gain acceptance.

Hopefully you can see the value of dreaming up several misbelief defining and deepening scenes. You just might give birth to one or more bestselling novel ideas from this sort of exercise. It will certainly help you get to know your protagonist in an intimate way.

These scenes should make your protagonist falsely believe that her misbelief is continuing to save her from heartache and pain. But in reality it's destroying her--bit by bit.

When your heroine’s longstanding misbelief is lodged so deep into her heart and mind like a shard of glass, fierce battles between fear and desire will rage within her every time she tries to pursue her coveted goal. The proverbial shard of glass will tear her emotions to shreds.

In the case of Sandra Porter in From Bad Girl To Worse, the misbelief that she can’t form meaningful relationships will cause problems every time she tries to cultivate the friendships with her newfound friends. And this struggle has the necessary firepower to endure through the entire length of the novel.

Epic struggles are what keep readers turning pages—especially when the struggles are as primal as fear versus desire. These two viciously opposing forces actually forge what’s known as the “third rail”. This concept is introduced in Lisa Cron's second writing craft book, Story Genius.

What’s the “third rail”?

Think of a subway train. It's powered by an electric charge that a literal third rail supplies. The third rail runs parallel to the tracks that the subway train rides on. As long as the train stays connected to the third rail, it will keep moving.

So, in order for your story to become a novel that readers will love, the plot and the story line need to be connected to the “third rail”, the clash between your protagonist’s desire and her longstanding misbelief, at all times. When you create this dynamic, your readers will keep right on reading from the first word to the last.

As I conclude this letter, know this simple fact: The deeper and more complex you make your heroine’s misbelief, the compelling your novel will be.

Warmest regards,

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

P. S. – Make sure the first inciting incident that births your protagonist’s longstanding misbelief is more emotionally significant than the other three following misbelief deepening scenes. The next three scenes should deepen her misbelief so subtly, she doesn’t even realize it’s happening.

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