And then what happened?

I've been lucky enough to take Neil Gaiman's master class on writing this week. Today, I wanted to share a little that has really stuck out to me. Perhaps, I relate to it because I'm a discovery writer. Plotting and planning in detail does not work for me. I go in with broad, vague ideas and ask hundreds of questions along the way.


Neil defines a story as something that keeps you turning the page and doesn't leave you feeling cheated at the end. Wondering 'what's going to happen next' is what keeps us turning the page. In order to foster this emotion in our audience, we have to care. If we don't care what happens next, no one else will either, and they'll stop turning the page. So how do we do this?


1. We have to discover, deep down, what the story is really about. Some call this theme, others might call it the story-worthy problem to be solved. You could simply ask yourself, what is it you want to say? Neil also says that a good story tells the truth by using lies. Think about that. Our characters don't exist, essentially making them a lie, but they can share a truth that people will connect to. The fiction around this truth is what leads the reader without spelling it out in lecture or sermon.


2. Create conflict. Early readers may want to create happy peaceful worlds. Sadly, this doesn't make for interesting reading. Don't shy away from the problems that need to be addressed. How do you know what the conflict is? By asking #3.


3. What do your characters want? This is the question that opens the door to what happens next. If you're stuck, ask this question. Make sure you have at least two characters who want something at odds with another character. In the end, only one of them can get what they want. By asking what they want in each scene and chapter, you can decide if they try and fail, try and succeed but make things worse, try and discover it wasn't what they wanted after all, etc. In the end, characters always get what they need, not what they want.


Are there places in your current manuscript where you need to dig deeper into what your characters want?

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