Monday, May 5, 2014

Fiction in the Garden

First, champagne glasses up! We have passed 400,000 page views at Novel Matters. Thanks to all for your support and friendship.

On to the matter at hand. I applaud all of the authors of our serial story, "Out of the Garden." Such inventive minds! The characters are fully realized and the potential for conflict with Peta is very real. And there have been lots of fun surprises. You are talented writers!!! (Sorry for shouting.) Not bad at all for thirteen different writers, who never discussed the story.

There was an important element missing--no one's fault but an excellent chance to learn--we'll be talking about today.

Bonnie introduced me to John Truby's book, The Anatomy of Story, a few years ago. I've studied it like a sacred document and mentioned it here many times. I know, here I go again.

He does an amazing job of dissecting what makes a story work. He deserves a careful listen. I've tested his ideas against the best and the worst of the books I've written in the last few years, and he's so right.

In the "story world," Truby describes a dramatic code, which is a template we all have embedded in our brains that expects a person/character to change over time. Our characters don't change in a vacuum. "Change is fueled by desire."

We aren't necessarily talking sex here, but keep reading anyway.

The DESIRE is what the character wants in the story, not in her lifetime, just within the context of the story, a goal. At the beginning of our story, it seems that Maeve's desire is to move on from grief to life, a laudable goal but not easily measured for success.

And so, while our story has become rich with interesting characters and revelations, not much has happened. Maeve isn't moving toward her desire, and desire is the driving force of a story. We hadn't decided what that was for Maeve, and we probably would have stumbled upon her desire eventually, as pantsers do in their multiple drafts.

And so, we could have continued on, but if we didn't know her desire, how would we have known when she achieved it and resolved the story for the reader's satisfaction?

We average over 1,000 readers each week for the story! They're expecting action toward desire (even though they may not exactly know that beyond their subconscious) and a satisfying resolution.

That doesn't mean Maeve must accomplish her goal. She may decide that her goal was misguided, switch goals, and pursue the new goal. That's fine. She may discover that what she pursued was always withing reach too.

Here's something else about desire, according to Truby: "Desire is intimately connected to NEED. In most stories, when the hero accomplishes his goal, he also fulfills his need."

Let's say, then, that Maeve's need is to move from grief to life. She still requires a desire that can be accomplished within the scope of the story that will help her fulfill her need.

Just to clarify: NEED has to do with overcoming a weakness within the character. Maeve can't get her feet under her to live without Don. DESIRE is a goal outside the character. And that's what gives the story legs. The hero is overcoming obstacles, trying and failing, and pushing hard to achieve his desire.

I gave Maeve a desire in last Friday's installment here: Return Princess Orlagh to Donegal. I also threw in that Peta was not only an obstacle to her achieving this desire, but she could destroy the whole fairy culture. The stakes are definitely raised.

The story now has its legs, its desire. We would have come up with something, but we feared we'd be writing this lovely little story beyond anyone's attention span. Writers definitely don't want to run into that problem.

While the desire is declared, there are still many questions to answer. How will Peta try to stop Maeve and the princess? Will Maeve get the princess back to Donegal through magic or United Airlines? Will TSA be a problem? Who else, already in the story, will provide resistance to Maeve's desire? And how will we know that Maeve has had her need met and achieved her desire? And what about some of these memories I didn't explain, like her grandmother?

The only thing tougher than writing a strong beginning to a story is writing a strong ending that satisfies the reader. We're well on our way of doing just that.

Any questions?


Cherry Odelberg said...

Just like life. For awhile it's a game. But now it's challenging work.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I was quite happy with the desire to mend the Her and return her to the garden. There was plenty of conflict in the family (Who was going to find out and how)(one plot devise is to have everybody know but no body tell anyone that they know) and trying different remedies. It was going to be tight but I thought that was within the June timeline.
Now we have to get them to Donegal? That's going to take some heavy handed telling, not showing. And for this to be a Christian Magical Realism story we have to say, 'not without Peta'. She has to be redeemed somehow, even a little bit. Or she has to die colourfully, which I don't think is in the scope of our community.

Patti Hill said...

Cherry: Writing is always challenging work for me. Yes, there are playful moments, but I usually have to revise the easy parts to smithereens. At least, that's how it works for me. But I love the challenge.

Henrietta: I'm sure we all had the story pictured differently. That's why we decided to insert a desire for Maeve. Trust us, you'll see how much stronger the story gets.

Josey Bozzo said...

I like the direction the story is going now.
I was kind of feeling what Patty described in her post today, but I couldn't put my finger on it exactly. After reading today, I now realize what was nagging at me.
I think the story is definitely moving along with plenty of conflict, and struggles for the main character.

My biggest fear now.......being asked to take another turn!

Megan Sayer said...

Patti this was so timely for me, I've been writing myself around in circles for the last couple of weeks, skirting around something missing that I couldn't quite put my finger on in my project. Desire. Nailed it!
Thank you!
I'm sure there'll be many more circles to's usually the way I work, unfortunately, but for now at least I've got the first bit of answer to my unspoken question.

Patti Hill said...

Josey: I'm sure you've stopped reading stories that lacked the elements of a good story, especially desire. Nothing really happens unless the hero wants something bad enough to die physically or psychologically. And now our antagonist has a job: to thwart her. I'm glad you like where the story is going, and I believe you're more than up to the task of adding to the story.

Megan: This was an ah-ha moment for me, too. And then I saw heroes chasing desires in all the books I read. Some were more subtle, as you would find in women's fiction but always there. We're now writing an adventure, I suppose.

Hey, I can play "Waltzing Matilda" very badly. I must find out what all those terms mean.

Megan Sayer said...

Waltzing Matilda? Well done!!
Yes, look it up for a comprehensive explanation of all those phrases. In a nutshell it's about an itinerant farm worker who sets up camp by a waterhole, makes a cup of tea then steals a sheep for dinner, gets caught then kills himself rather than coming under the rule of the authorities.
When I was a kid there was a movement to make it our National Anthem. Gosh. With a meaning like that? We're such a patriotic bunch :)

Patti Hill said...

Megan, our national anthem is about a battle and is impossible to sing. I think we're about even.