Tuesday, September 22

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, September 22, 2009 No comments
In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he'll do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling. The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing his hands when he doesn't immediately understand something--he'll make use of all the intellectual tools at his disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. An 8-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would he/she really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? I've been amazed at how these lines of questioning open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.


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