Writers' Advice Blog 1 Jan 23 by Lorenzo Samuel, author of speculative fiction and science fiction writings:
In the last issue of the Writers' Advice Blog, I discussed advice given to readers of a book by Leon Surmellion on writing fiction. In this edition I will discuss advice given in "Story" by Robert McKee.
Let's get into the book "Story" and how it can improve your writing. First, let's consider the protagonist (definition: the main character around which story events occur). According to McKee, these are the main characteristics of a protagonist: 1. A protagonist is a willful character. 2. The protagonist has a conscious desire. 3. The protagonist may also have a self-contradictory unconscious desire. 4. The protagonist has the capacity to pursue the object of desire convincingly. 5.The protagonist must at least have a chance to attain his or her desire. 6. The protagonist has the will and capability to pursue the object of her or his conscious and unconscious desire, or both, to the end of the line, to the human limit established by setting and genre. 7. The protagonist must be involved in a story that builds to a final action beyond which the reader cannot imagine another 8. The protagonist must be empathetic; he or she may or may not be sympathetic.
Why these points? That has to do with those who will read your story. If you make your protagonist per points 1 - 8 above, your readers will bond with him or her. It's that bonding that will carry a reader through the story. If readers don't bond, they will not be interested in the story or how it turns out; they likely will put it down unfinished and even tell others not to bother with it.
Okay, let's get into your story. The first change in your protagonist's life will be the inciting incident (II). The II strongly upsets the balance of a protagonist/s life. That change must mean something big to her or him. This must be set right. The protagonist can't say, "Oh well, what will be will be" then go on as if nothing had happened. He or she will do something, probably the minimum effort, to change life back the way it should be.
The II jump starts the story. From there, progressive complications (PC) will feed in more and more successes or failures to bring back the status quo for our protagonist. Perhaps she or he is happy with the results of action. In the next scene, something must happen that is worse to throw life off kilter again requiring more radical action by the protagonist. If things get worse right after the II, the protagonist must still take more radical action. He or she must respond with less conservative action to put things right.
Thus, we have the plot developing. Finally, after many ups and downs (the number depending on the length of your story), things get to the point of crisis in the life of the protagonist. He or she must make a decision to go all out and handle the problem once and for all. This situation could not be any worse. The reader sees failure ahead. How is the protagonist going to get out of this?
Through twists, reversals or red herrings at or prior to the crisis, cleverly hidden from protagonist, reader or both, she or he finds a solution. No matter whether or not these tricks are employed, the crisis and action coming from it must be logical with what has gone on so far in the story. It can't be off the wall, or the reader will pick it up and feel cheated. Thus, the protagonist must make a logical and surprising decision of what to do.
McKee makes a critical point that the opposition to the protagonist succeeding must not be any weakling. A strong opponent makes the story. Whether it be nature's elements (think wind and storms and avalanches in mountain climbing for example) or the extreme slyness and evil of a pretended friend (think back-stabbing family member doing it all for the best good), The opponent(s) must be well developed, even likeable and capable to provide a challenge to the protagonist. Opposition could be nearly overwhelming.
Now, your story has the reader hooked and hanging on for dear life, fully behind the protagonist and staying up past bedtime to see what will happen. At this point McKee gives us the climax. In the climax a major reversal occurs ‒ either the protagonist wins or loses, in extremis; it's final, no going back, last chance, do or die! The reader is right there with the protagonist. How will this character get out of this? We can see no way, the opposition is going to win, oh no! The reader is roaring through to the end, excited and wondering.
The climax must not disappoint; it must provide what the author has been promising the reader all along: the last battle, the last confrontation, the final occurrence. Irreversible change! The protagonist and the reader achieve relief together. If the protagonist losses the quest, relief of apprehension must still happen. Regardless of outcome, if the parts of the story are well done, the reader will think, "what a great story!"
The last aspect covered by McKee is the resolution, formerly named denouement. It's the wrap-up. Loose ends are tied up here. Ideally this will occur by the time of, or during, the climax; however, this is not always possible or advisable. An open subplot could be completed during the resolution. The reader thinks, "but, what about Bob?" Give his subplot an ending that doesn't change the impact of the main plot climax. Another way given by McKee is the "slow curtain" where some explanatory text or scenes show where the other characters ended up.
McKee discusses much more in the book “Story,” particularly the ways to accomplish the above. I recommend reading it if you are a writer or a reader or both.
Next month’s blog will post around 1 Feb 23.
Note: The book of short speculative fiction "Eve of Valor: 25 Tales" is available on Amazon at click here