My writing career was going nowhere. I’d imagined hundreds of thousands of dollars of income, fame, and something far more elusive, critical acceptance. My average annual income was hovering at $42.11; rejection letters carpeted the floor. Why? What was I doing wrong? I would have fixed it…if I’d known what “it” was.
Enter Story Genius by Lisa Cron, a book recommended by one of my writing buds—and the pieces fell into place. Cron’s hypothesis: All great stories have both an internal conflict and an external conflict. Because people procrastinate, because not a one of us wants to face our inner demons, great stories use an overwhelming external conflict to force the protagonist to grapple with his or her internal conflict.
Consider Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She was a discontented teenager looking for the way home. So crucial is Dorothy’s internal state to the story, that Dorothy’s fears are characters. She’s afraid to make tough decisions (the scarecrow); she fears she’s a coward (the lion), she doesn’t know how to love the people she cares about most (the tinman). I’ve always found the tinman incredibly moving. As a young woman becomes an adult, her body changes, and thus how she interacts with her family also changes. Physical demonstrations of affection can become awkward and stiff. Dorothy feels rusty, unable to move. She longs to be a child again, when affection was simple, when she could easily throw her arms around the people she loves.
The external conflict in the story forces Dorothy and her friends to face their fears. When Dorothy is kidnapped by the flying monkeys and taken into the lair of the Wicked Witch, the scarecrow hatches the rescue plan. Hmmm…smart and decisive. The cowardly lion is willing to fight the palace guards to save her. At the end of the story, when she must leave, the tinman weeps. Dorothy who, at the beginning, was willing to listen to munchkins (who told her to follow a stupid yellow brick road to find a wizard) learns that her future is in her own feet. Remember, the wizard did not get her home. She missed the balloon. Instead, she got home by clicking her heels together. Her actions, not those of a charlatan wizard, determined her future.
Thus, we see Cron’s classic pattern:
External Conflict → Compels the protagonist to face → Internal Conflict
The Wicked Witch of the West → forced Dorothy to face→ her fears about her own future
Before I put a single word on the paper, I ask myself: What is my character’s greatest fear? Then I craft an external event so powerful that my protagonist is forced to face that fear. I leave her no room to dither or escape. Finally, when she wrestles with her fear, when she grows, when she becomes more than she ever dreamed she could be, then I know, I’ve got a great story.
A Slice of Orange would like to welcome Kidd Wadsworth. Her column, Infused with Meaning, will post here on the 18th of each month. We are thrilled to have her writing for us. We hope you enjoy her posts as much as we do. Welcome, Kidd!
I’ve always loved encouraging others, especially writers. I love to teach what I know in order to help people get a little further along a path I’ve walked. And I love asking other people about what they do and how they do it – especially writers!
So when I decided to finally make time to create a podcast, something I’ve wanted to do for a few years, I didn’t want to focus on only one of the areas above. In December, 2017, WRITE NOW! Workshop Podcast (named after my classes of the same name) launched with three episodes a week.
On Sundays, I produce a short Encouraging Words episode whose aim is to help writers feel like they’re not alone, and give them some of my trademark sunny encouragement. 😀
Every Tuesday, I teach some writing tip or trick or talk about a writing device that the listener can put into practice right away in their writing.
And each Thursday, I interview someone in the writing industry (or tangentially related) about what they’re doing. I try to make sure there is always some take-away value for the listeners, but I also try to be sure the interview is interesting and fun!
If you want to start listening from the beginning, or jump in at any episode you choose, you can search for WRITE NOW! Workshop Podcast on your favorite podcast app. (There’s probably one on your smart phone.) Either listen to just an episode or two, or hit the Subscribe button so that new episodes automatically download. You can also listen on my website, and most of the episodes are also on video that you can watch on YouTube here.
Episode 000 is a short introduction that tells you what to expect, then all the rest of the episodes have either a “T” or an “I” or an “E” after the number. T means it’s a teaching episode, I is for the Interviews, and E designates the Encouraging Words episodes. See how it forms T-I-E, TIE? I want to help you tie all the parts of your writing life together. Learn what you can do to improve your writing, learn from what others are doing, and get lifted up with some encouragement to keep going! 😀
This month’s interview guests include Bonnie DePue, an occupational therapist suggesting some good stretches and exercises for writers (and others who sit and type all day); Lee Batchler and Janet Scott Batchler, screenwriters sharing tips on screenwriting, story, and collaboration (airs tomorrow, May 10, 2018); Laura Drake, a women’s fiction author who will share her tips on how to make The First Five Pages sing (airs May 17); and Chris Fox, author of the new book, Plot Gardening (airs May 24).
Past guests include Jacqueline Diamond, Lauraine Snelling, James Scott Bell, Debra Holland, Lisa Cron, and so many more! I hope you find some interesting, helpful, and encouraging tips that help you take your writing life to the next level! 😀
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