Hello, spooky ones!
In my previous post, I spoke about the differences between plot and story. Plot is what happens in the story; story is what your characters want and what impedes them, either externally or internally (typically both). If your character fails to overcome, there will be a consequence, which sets the stakes.
Here, I will give you a tip for how to know your story, and that’s to figure out the three C’s: cannibalism, cats, and chocolate. Just kidding! Character, Conflict, and Consequences. This will also come in handy if you need to summarize your story briefly in, for example, a query letter, since these function as the core of your story.
While determining your character’s appearance, quirks, MBTI, and zodiac sign is good, think about what your character wants and what they currently believe. This belief could infringe on their ability to have what they want or to fully realize the value of what they have until they go through the conflict. For more about this, you can watch the video below. I will write more about character misconceptions in a later post.
Also, keep in mind that what the character needs and what they want are different. They may end up combining and transforming like a gelatinous abomination, or the need will reveal itself later and replace or reconstruct the want.
This is what gets in the way of your character getting what they want, both internally and externally. Introducing this at the very beginning doesn’t necessarily have to start with a “bang.” In Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling wants to prove herself as an agent by solving the Buffalo Bill murders. There are many obstacles. One is institutional; Clarice is a woman in the FBI, which makes many of the men she encounters not take her seriously as an agent. She’s also relatively new at the job when Jack Crawford takes her from the Academy to gruesome fieldwork. This compels her to prove herself.
However, a more psychological struggle is her relationship with Hannibal Lecter. For him to help her get into the psyche of a serial killer, she needs to reveal parts of herself, and her past, that she’d rather keep hidden, that push her safety and emotional limits. Besides her father’s death, she recalls when she heard lambs screaming because they were being killed and how she futilely tried to save one. This ties into her solving the case and proving herself, since she wants to succeed where she once failed.
What happens when your character fails. This does not have to happen, but it should be what compels your character to push through the pain when the adversity peaks. Something important to note: the consequence does not necessarily have to be death or the end of the world. It totally can be. However, how do less speculative genres, like contemporary romance, engage their audience?
It’s all about relationships. A character is “complete” with another, and if they don’t reconcile when they separate at the end of the second act, all is lost. A “relationship” doesn’t always mean a romantic one, though. It can be platonic, friendly or familial. Consider your characters’ personal relationships, or at least what they value. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the character of Shylock is forced to convert from Judaism and Christianity. Sometimes, he’s depicted as killing himself after this, but he doesn’t physically die in the original play. Nevertheless, he has undergone a devastating spiritual death because a vital piece of his identity has been taken, as opposed to other plays during the time period that would depict the conversion as joyous because, well, anti-Semitism. The point is that one can lose a piece of themselves, something that ruins them, without dying. Think about what your character couldn’t live without.
This is tied to what they want. Make it difficult for them to escape the consequences. Consider what the character wouldn’t do and test that to its limits.
And there you have it, the Three C’s!