If you’re a character-driven writer in search of a plot, or a plot-driven writer in search of characters, this is the book you’ve been waiting for. The Story Within Guidebook helps you explore your own story and connect your plot directly to your characters, and vice versa. Using the exercises, you’ll be working towards a more vivid and coherent plot, and vital and active characters.
Introduction: How to Make the Miracle of Story
The Protagonist: Identifying Your Protagonist
Discovering Your Protagonist’s Strengths
Reversing the Strength for Conflict
The Conflict: The Purpose of Conflict
Types of Conflict
Plotting: The Protagonist’s Journey
The Story Questions
Check out the excerpt below for a sample.
The Heroic Challenge (an excerpt from Chapter One)
Heroism comes from the protagonist doing something difficult. It should be positive in terms of the plot; that is, she rescues the child; he wins the gold medal– to be heroic in the Western popular tradition, at least, the character usually has to be effective.
But most important, the protagonist has to change, to stretch, has to do
something that seemed impossible in the beginning of the book. This can be as
world-changing as stopping a nuclear explosion, or as minor as apologizing.
Heroism is in the action, but it’s in the action relative to this person and
this plot. What’s heroic for one protagonist might be unheroic for another. The
action should be heroic by the scale of what the protagonist can’t manage
in the beginning.
For a firefighter, saving someone’s life is just another day at work. What
might be heroic on his scale is to… admit he was wrong. Or reach out for help.
Or stand up to his boss. Or adopt another pet after his best buddy Rover dies.
What is it he finds most difficult to do because of his internal conflict? That’s
likely what he ought to be doing.
It all comes back to what the character lacks at the beginning, or refuses
to do, or doesn’t feel capable of doing. And it can be either in the external plot
(stopping that terrorist from stealing the plutonium) or in the internal plot
(apologizing to his dad) – or both.
That’s why so many supposedly heroic characters don’t come across as
heroic. It’s because they don’t change. The plot doesn’t present them with any
challenges that stretch them, that force them to change. So even if they commit all sorts of derring-do, they aren’t better in the end than they were at the beginning– they’re no more courageous or self-aware or well-adjusted. They aren’t any more able to live a fuller and better life. That makes the events of the plot seem unimportant, as it has no real effect on the characters.
But you can make your plot important, and you can make your
protagonist heroic. Think of your protagonist as someone on a spiritual,
moral, emotional, or life journey. What happens in the beginning of the
story forces or encourages her to take to the road (metaphorically speaking!),
with or without a map. (If she has a map, you’ll have to provide some
diversion– the journey never goes as planned.)
You the author know the destination of this journey. The protagonist
doesn’t. She may think the journey is towards wealth or the solution of the
mystery or whatever is marked on the map. But only you know the real
destination: how this character must grow, change, evolve, achieve during the
course of this journey.
This means your plot must provide your protagonist with the opportunity
to be challenged. She is going to have to solve that murder, or grab that Holy
Grail, or win that promotion. That conscious, chosen journey forms the external plot.
But you can’t stop there. You have to give her an internal journey too.
In other words, that clever murder mystery is more than an intellectual
puzzle for the reader. It can serve as a vehicle for the character’s journey to
This doesn’t mean you have to give up your clever, complex external
plot– only that you give it the additional purpose of character-propulsion. That’s really easier than it sounds. Just think of it this way: What protagonist could most benefit from the events of this plot?
Now benefit is a funny word to use, because your protagonist is very
likely not going to perceive these events as beneficial. In fact, he might very well think he’s been cursed by the gods! That’s because we generally don’t change unless we’re forced to, especially if the change is towards the sort of growth that will require more strength and endurance and courage from us. After all, if it were easy to become better people, we’d do it in a minute, right? But it’s not. It’s hard to overcome the inertia of life, of habit, of familiarity, to take on the challenge of change. That’s why we need to give our characters the
external conflict that will cause them, once and for all, to confront their
internal conflicts and resolve them.
But that also means you must create a protagonist who needs to change,
one with an internal conflict that has heretofore resisted resolution. When you
do that, you’ll find it much easier to select the particular plot events to make up that protagonist’s journey. Conversely, if you’ve already got a plot, then you’ll need to create a protagonist who will benefit from making the journey through that particular set of events.
For a comprehensive journey through plotting a book, try The Story Within Interactive Plotting Guide.