Foundations and Structure

… are what stop it falling down.

It might seem obvious but you’d be amazed how often something I critique is as flimsy as a house of cards.

 So the question is, can your work stand up to scrutiny?

The historical novelist Sharon Kay Penman talks about how she tackles truth in fiction, weaving together her tremendous historical knowledge (she has a PhD in history I believe) with the ‘stuff she makes up.’ But she rightly says of that, she makes sure the stories have a solid historical foundation before she weaves her worlds around that.

Everything we write needs a foundation, be it metaphorical, be it background as Sharon talks about, or be it the way you lay the first layers of the plot. The basis of story is conflict, but it has to be solid; your protagonist has to have a solid goal worth fighting for or the reader will ask themselves why they should care? So all of this is in the set-up of the character’s needs, flaws, passion and it needs to be credible.

When you tip the character over the threshold into their adventure we should be invested in that — we should ‘get it’ now and above all we should care enough to take the journey with them. And, if you have set the foundations well enough, it will hold.

But always remember to keep in mind what the character wants as this is the driver.

Coincidence, unless used as a specific theme or device that’s deliberate,  is not enough to motivate or cause action in fiction. If too many scenes are wrong place, right time, there just happens to be a policemen when you want one, the structure that now holds it together starts to crack.

I remember one of my tutors on my MA talking a lot about MOTIVATION FOR ACTION. All actions need basis. At the time I rather thought she was over-egging that, giving extra cause for action, surely people would just buy into the character in a moment of madness doing something out of character? But , NO. She was right. The seeds have to be there. And we have to know why a character acts as they do.

In other words, we have to believe a character’s actions or we start to question the premise and the premise is what makes a story.

I have been plotting and re-plotting Isle of Pelicans so many times because of this. How can I justify every action? Why would a young cop behave in a reckless manner? What would drive him to take the action he does for the plot? And this is where it’s about crafting together enough of his back story without sidelining the main event, but creating a credible enough motivation for action to drive the action and for, at no point, the reader to say, “Yeah, as if he’d do that.”

Sure we shout that at movies often, right? And it is fiction, but trust me, set the foundations right, make the reader believe in your character, in what they want and you will allow them to accept even when maybe ‘in real life’ it might not happen quite like that. But whenever you can, ask the credibility question and make sure it’s as watertight as it needs to be — don’t want any leaks now do we?

Have a great day.

House of cards

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Filed under being a successful writer, Blogging, Learning to be a writer, Living the dream, Mainstream Fiction, Novel writing, Passion for writing, Publishing, Reading, Story Structure, Writing

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