Monday, January 9, 2012

Glueing It All Together

By Julie Daines

An element in story crafting that I frequently find missing is cohesion. Each story needs a few elements that bind it all together and carry the protagonist--and the reader--through to the end.

For some reason, I find that adventure type books struggle the most with this problem. Often, the main character sets off on the adventure, but it feels more like they are strolling through the zoo. They wander along the hero's path, going from one interesting animal (scene) to the next. It feels like a series of random events that happen to the main character.

So the question is, how do we keep our story unified?

There are many ways, but here are a few to get you thinking:

The Main Character's Goals Must Be the Driving Force: Whatever it is that the main character wants, that should be what influences all their choices and actions.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's goal is to go home. It is what motivates everything she does. In The Hunger Games, Katniss wants to protect her sister Prim. That is why she volunteers for the games, and that is why she wants to win the games, so Prim is not left alone with a wacky mother.

This is perhaps the most important element in cohesion. If your main character's object of desire (goal) is not present throughout the story, the reader will loose interest. Why is he/she doing this? If we don't know, we don't care.

The Threat of the Villain: Keep the threat of the villain ever present and constantly hanging over the hero's head.

JK Rowling did a great job with this throughout SEVEN Harry Potter novels, always upping the stakes with each one. Never once do we forget He Who Must Not Be Named lurking in the back of Harry's mind. And, every other "mini-villain" Harry faces ties back to Voldemort in some way, such as Draco Malfoy and Professor Umbrage.

And not only should the villain be always present, but the stakes. What happens if the villain wins?!

Keep the Main Conflict Front and Center: This is good for books that are not adventure stories and don't have a specific "villain," like Twilight. Not much happens in the story, but the conflict is always there, hanging over Bella's head--forbidden love, is he or is he not going to eat her.

These are only three. What other elements of cohesion can you think of?

Julie Daines


Virginia S Grenier said...

Great post. Adding this to my list of top ten blog posts for my newsletter.

Joseph Ramirez said...

I saw this post a few days ago, and I've thought and thought, and I really think you've nailed it as far as the main elements of cohesion. :) I can't think of any other major ones. There are basic things like 'Don't switch it to a fantasy novel 90% of the way through the book without any sort of set-up' or the like... but these you have listed are pretty much the core elements.