For the last three weeks, I’ve been working on how to improve my Protagonist’s character arc. After talking to my editor, I went back into my WIP and tried to track her arc. I realized my MC remained fairly static. Ruh roh. So I decided to research characters that don’t change much or not at all. I ran across Belle from Beauty and the Beast. After reading the descriptions of the characters in the story, I compared them to my own and realized I had written a loose retelling of the Disney fairy tale. I don’t know quite what to think of that. Has that story been buried in my brain or is something more sinister at work? Ha!
To fix my heroine’s arc, Tim Storm, my editor, recommended I construct a character web for my heroine, showing how she is pushed and pulled by different characters in the story. That is supposed to help me see how she changes. The only trouble? I only had a vague idea what a character web was, but I knew where to look for direction.
I pulled my copy of John Truby‘s The Anatomy of Story from the shelf, and opened to the section on character, and that’s when I began to learn some things I thought I already knew. I read through the section on character, which was enlightening, but I still didn’t feel equipped to do a web. I realized if I wanted to fully understand what Truby was teaching, I would benefit from studying the previous sections on Premise and The Seven Key Steps of Story Structure. I read the premise section, took notes, and thought about my own premise, which was weaker than I thought before reading, so I tweaked mine. I also completed the seven steps for the book I’m revising. It has helped me rethink the cause-and-effect path of my main character, which is very helpful. I’m still not sure of some of the steps, but I plan to ask my editor about them.
The premise, which you may know, is the story stated in one sentence. It is the “simplest combination of character and plot and typically consists of some event that starts the action, some sense of the main character, and some sense of the outcome of the story.” There are a number of ways to develop your premise, but I tried what Truby suggested to clarify my story and maybe improve it as I revise.
Next, I needed to find the designing principle (which I’d never thought of like Truby presents it) of my story, which is the overall strategy for telling my story. According to Truby, the premise is concrete; it’s what actually happens. The designing principle is the seed of the story. It’s abstract and is the deeper process going on in the story, told in an original way. Designing principle = story process + original execution
My Premise: When an independent, proud woman faces bankruptcy and the loss of all she knows and loves, she offers her land’s mineral rights for marriage to a former soldier turned businessman to save her home and herself. Designing Principle: Force a man and a woman, who hardly know each other and who swore never to marry, to marry for convenience and fall in love. Getting to the designing principle was hard. I’m still not sure I’ve captured what I’m doing exactly. I’ll be giving this more thought.
The exercises at the end of the Premise chapter gave me a little trouble because my book is already written, but as with the other steps Truby suggests, this exercise helped me clarify some areas for revision:
- Premise: When an independent, proud woman faces bankruptcy and the loss of all she knows and loves, she offers her land’s mineral rights for marriage to a former soldier turned businessman to help her save her home and herself.
- Wish List and Premise List (skipped)
- Possibilities (what is possible in the premise): She could fall in love with the man she marries. They could have a marriage of convenience and live separately, which she would want to remain independent. He could take everything from her once they’re married, which she would hate, but could make for a lot of conflict. She could require him to sign a contract that she keep her home or only mine certain areas, which would be smart and probably what I would do.
- Story Challenges and Problems: How do I keep her independent but show her falling in love? How do I show how much she has to lose in the bargain? Will the man show compassion? How do I show the slow trust that develops between them and the slow burn of attraction?
- Designing Principle: Force a man and a woman, who hardly know each other and who swore never to marry, to marry for convenience and fall in love.
- Best Character: Faith will tell the story. She is a strong, independent woman who is resigned to her life as a spinster until her father insists she marry. Rather than be forced to accept someone chosen for her, she chooses to propose to a businessman in exchange for his help with mining her land.
- Conflict (who the hero is fighting and what is he fighting about?): The hero, Faith, will use her wits and her land’s phosphate deposits to keep the banker from taking her home, the only thing she has left of her family after the Civil War. What she never envisioned was falling in love with the businessman.
- Basic Action(find the single cause and effect pathway by identifying a basic action your hero will take in the story) She pursues mining her land to earn the money to keep her home and land out of the banker’s hands, even if it means her home’s destruction and the loss of her independence.
- Character Change (Start with the basic action and then go to the opposite of the basic action to determine the weaknesses at the beginning and her change at the end.) THIS IS WHERE I’M STUCK. Help me brainstorm!
- Moral Choice (List a moral choice your character may have to make near the end of the story. Make sure it’s difficult but plausible.) I think I know this one, but I’m not going to tell. You’ll have to read the book to find out what it is!
My next post will continue this thread. I’ll have three total posts: this one about premise, one about the seven steps, and the last about character. I hope reading these posts will help you because writing them is helping me make sense of what I’m trying to do. It’s not surgery, but the same “see one, do one, teach one is still applies.