Sunday, March 4, 2012

What's your problem

Last time at Writers Rest Molly Noble Bull posted how to create a one sentence plot for your novel. I’d like to follow up and discuss how to create a problem for your hero. I’m not talking about the obvious problems like finding true love or conquering the villain. I’m talking about deeper, internal conflict that makes publishers offer contracts and readers beg for your next book.

Sometimes we write half the book before we realize we don’t really know what the heroine’s problem is. Sure, we know she wants to find true love. We even know she can’t have her true love because he’s engaged to someone else. Or he’s in a coma. Or he’s a terrorist. Okay, maybe not that one, but you get the picture.

Or our hero is going to save all the little children who fell down a mineshaft. Or he must stop the killer before he strikes again.

Good problems to be sure, but our characters need a personal problem as well. Something besides the killer breathing down his neck or threat of a mine collapse or the love of our lady-fair’s life lying in a coma.

Let’s have a little fun here. Instead of how-to tips to teach how to come up with that inner conflict, let’s post examples.

For my current work in progress, my heroine wants a little respect. Yup.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. No one takes her seriously. Not her husband or her sons or the man who rams into her car. Everyone walks all over her. She allows it, thinking it makes her a submissive, godly woman. In reality she’s a coward. She doesn’t want to face her son’s drug use or her husband’s apathy or her own lazy parenting. As the story progresses she finds herself in a position that requires true courage. Yes, a real bad guy who wants to kill her. When she sees she can overcome an external giant, she knows, through Christ, she can overcome the lies Satan has made her believe her whole life that she is ineffective, insignificant and unworthy of respect.
What about the hero/heroine of your current work? What’s her problem and how does she overcome it? Sharing your character’s obstacles may help another writer develop growth in his own characters. 

UPDATE:
March 6, 2012. 
The Jewish feast of Purim starts today at sundown and last until tomorrow at sundown. Though Purim is not mentioned as one of the seven Feasts of Israel, it is said to be a happy celebration based on a time when Persia (present day Iran) had a Jewish queen, Esther, and Queen Esther was helpful in keeping the Jewish people from being killed by their captors. 
I plan to read the Book of Esther today and tomorrow. 

7 comments:

Molly Noble Bull said...

Teresa,
Without realizing it, I think you are talking about me. I am like your heroine -- but only a little, I hope. But I do hate battles. I let my character do that.
Thanks for making me think.
Love,
Molly

Teresa Slack said...

Molly, you are so funny. I think "Joy" my heroine has problems that most women can relate to. Most of us feel not smart enuf, not thin enuf, not spiritual enuf, at one time or another and it can make us ineffective in God's purpose for our lives. What about you? What's your heroine's problems?

cbalmony said...

My character is a new Christian and doesn't feel she's real good at it. Her best friend is now a missionary in Africa--you know, hard-core Christian who knows exactly what God wants her to do. So the main character feels inferior. And to top it off, she lives and works in a real PC environment that is generally antagonistic to Christians--a major state university. How can she live out her faith and disciple others when her faith is continually mocked by those around her?

Caroline said...

Altho the hero in the story I'm working on now, thinks his problem is getting quiet time to work on his own novel, his deep-seated problem is forgiving himself & his wife for the horrible marriage they had before she died. It's threaded through himself so much he subconsciously refuses to trust another woman. . .

Teresa Slack said...

Carole & Connie, you definitely piqued my interest. Notice how the more you think about the character's problems, the more you come up with? Just like real life.

Melissa said...

In my current WIP, my heroine gets left behind on a wagon train. She's consumed with trying to survive, but her real, deeper issue is that of trust. The hero is busy with his own pursuits, and with rescuing and helping her, but he struggles with guilt over a past mistake - or something he *perceives* as that. His redemption in the story has to do with going back home and facing his past.

Teresa Slack said...

Melissa, sounds really interesting. I love to see how stories and characters develop during the process.