Thursday, May 20, 2010

Author Tip #4: What's your problem?

No, not your problem, per se - the problem of your main character. The biggest issue I find when reading queries, and the reason why I choose not to request more material, is that I just can't figure out what the central conflict of the plot is. 

So sit down, Authors, and think: What does my main character need to accomplish? Is there a problem that he/she needs to solve? Sure this may sound a bit formulaic. It is. If your story is more character driven, you may need to approach this differently. But for those of you who are writing high-concept manuscripts, really think about it. If you don't know, then you really do have a problem.

Signing off,
Amy Hayden 

PS: A secret revealed is not, and cannot, be the plot. For example, the plot of Harry Potter isn't that he learns he's a born wizard. It's that he must defeat Lord _______ (hey, I'm superstitious). See? Maybe the reveal of the secret is the impetus for the rest of the novel; if so, tell me what comes next. How does this change the character's life? 

Good luck!


  1. I've been struggling with that a lot lately.

    See this huge whale washed up on the beach, so at first the protagonist (whom I named Whalen. get it?) wanted to save the whale, but then the whale died because some Japanese fishermen poisoned it so they could harvest the ambergris (which they did in an extended Dostoevsky-themed parable), so now Whalen wants to bury the whale (it's a symbol of his past lifestyle as a Plushie) but of course you can't bury a whale on a beach because the excavation costs are enormous and also due to erosion and exposion. I'm pretty sure that's a word.

    Anyway, those events (with flashbacks and flash sideways's involving the whale's parents never meeting) comprise the first 150,000 words. So I'm looking to wrap up in another 100,000 or so, but what are you going to do with the whale at this point? Blowing it up is so cliché. I had this idea where the whale is an emissary from an advanced space culture that comes to reclaim him, but that was too heavy an homage to the Mormon church.

    I was thinking Whalen could live inside the whale, but even if I take a fantasy cue and the whale doesn't rot, what's the significance of that? It seems like a lazy ending.

    Oh there's also a love story involving the great-granddaughter of a Nazi POW-camp guard-turned Nazi hunter whose past comes back to haunt her and who is also literally haunted by the ghosts of the Nazi's killed by her Nazi ancestors. I should probably bring the two plot lines together soon. I dunno; I'll figure something out this weekend.

    And when this project is finished, I'm definitely submitting to you first!

  2. This was one of those sneaky posts, that you read at first and nod at, then find yourself coming back and thinking about it more and more often in later days.

    You gave me a lot to ponder, and I wanted to say thank you for that.

  3. Glad to be of help. Nathan Bransford had a similar post last week (synchronicity is funny that way) that you may want to check out at well.

  4. Yeah I think it is hard to get across (or even find) the central conflict. i think the problem is that authors are too close to their work and they see all the itty bitty conflicts in each character/situation, and all are important to them (the author).

    I recently stumbled upon this one how-to pitch guide. Sooooo freaking helpful! Here's the link.