Shake It Up

I’ve been a little frustrated with NaNo the past couple of days. I just cleared 15K today, I didn’t write at ALL on Saturday because I was out from 3 p.m. until 1 a.m., and both Friday and Sunday were slow and painful.

But today I had a revelation. I was on the elliptical machine at my gym, which is where I have a good many of my revelations, listening to an episode of Writing Excuse I’ve been skipping for weeks because the title sounded lame: “Hollywood Formula.”

Now, if you haven’t heard me say it before, I love Writing Excuses. With a passion. It’s a running joke in my household, wherein I say, “Sanderson says…” and recount some piece of arcane writing wisdom to my fiance, who nods appreciatively while secretly rewatching Fight Club in his head.

Anyway, this episode dealt with the so-called Hollywood Formula, and you should definitely listen to guest Lou Anders explain it. I’ll just tell you the things that made me think.

1. The antagonist is not necessarily the bad guy. In fact, the antagonist is the person who thwarts your protagonist’s every move to reach her goal. In the case of my novel, that’s the main character’s pain-in-the-butt partner. I had to actually stop and think about this one for awhile. There are several “villains” in the piece, but I hadn’t tried to define a clear antagonist. This also helped me think about the MC’s relationship with her partner in a new way.

2. Every protagonist should have a “relationship character” who is not necessarily her love interest. This is someone who helps the protagonist, even guides her, and eventually helps her (and you) define the theme of the novel. I knew who this character was straightaway, but thinking about his role really forced me to articulate what I want my MC to learn in her journey.

These are just a few of the wonderful points Anders makes in the episode, and they may seem like fairly no-brainer points when I’m describing them here, but trying to apply this formula retroactively to my novel made me think about the story in new ways. I straightened several plot kinks, tied a few loose characters to the central theme, and caught a glimpse of the sculpture beneath the layers of yet-unhewn stone.

I urge you to try it out for yourself, and not just with this formula. Didn’t use a three-act structure? Try dividing your plot into three parts. Think you’re writing one “type” of plot? Cast your character as a different archetype. See what happens when you shake up the pieces and look at them in a new way.

What strategies have worked for you when you’ve found yourself in a plot rut?

2 thoughts on “Shake It Up

  1. Antagonists are my favorites. If I like them too much, they sometimes get their own stories and kick ass. If I hate them, they get what’s coming.

    I also agree that good protagonists need a good foil to help them grow.

    I’m kind of dragging my feet this week in NaNo, but I’ll try harder this week.

  2. Great post! My first book’s protagonist became one of the primary antagonists in the second — she’s acting like a massive pain in the arse, but it’s great for the story. But I hope it doesn’t go on much longer. She’s making me want to send an ink katana through her heart.

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