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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.
Ever find yourself struggling as you launch a new project? For me, getting the story off the ground offers a daunting challenge, at least until I figure out the answers to these questions. Keep answering with each new story, chapter, and scene, and eventually, you'll have yourself a book -- or at least an engaging, complete manuscript, ripe for shaping and editing.
1. Is the person telling the story sufficiently compelling? Will the reader emotionally relate to and quickly bond with this character? Or does the character elicit a strong reaction, whether it be curiosity, fascination, or even horror? Interchangeable, "generic" characters need not apply, even for supporting roles. When working to answer this question, ask yourself if the scene would be stronger or more interesting from another player's point of view? Don't hesitate to try writing the same scene from a different POV to find out which works best.
2. Does the character's trouble matter enough? Stories typically begin with a compelling character in a monumental jam of some sort. (If yours doesn't, you may have begun in the wrong spot.) Ask yourself, is this a humdrum, everyday sort of issue that anyone with a handful of working brain cells could solve? Ask yourself as a reader, why should I care enough to waste my time worrying about whether the character comes up with a solution. Then brainstorm ways to make the issue matter more.
3. What could happen to make the trouble far worse? Ask yourself, who would be the worst possible person to show up? What would heap even more stress on the character? What would complicate matters so horrendously that even you can't figure out (for hundreds of pages and thousands of hours, at least) how the character's issues can finally be resolved?
These are just a few of the important questions I ask myself repeatedly as I work to give a story wings. Are there any you would add to this collection?
Note on the art: An old French poster on future flight, from Wikimedia commons. Cool, huh?