Pro Writer: Start Writing 4

Strong protagonists, twisty antagonists, and clever surprises (the focus for Start Writing 4) drive great story-telling. These three give all writers angst. When writers do their writing right, they also give their readers angst.

Here’s the next two bits of advice that I gave my former student who wants to write his first novel.

9] Work in two betrayals. Have one early (before the 20% mark) and the other before the ¾-mark of the story (around 60-75%).

a] People hate betrayal. They remember it like acid burning their memories and their soul. Some people never quite recover from betrayal. Others keep waiting on the traitors to redeem themselves—that might could happen, mostly doesn’t.

b] The betraying character is often called a Shapeshifter. We have two forms:

      • The character who seems to be working for the antagonist but is not. Either this character was trapped into the appearance of alliance with evil or this character is working on redemption.
      • The other Shapeshifter is a true traitor, the double agent, the one who appears to support the protagonist but has been working for the antagonist the whole time.

c] Save the exposure of the true traitor for the latter part of your novel. As part of Start Writing 4, I’ll advise you to know who this character will be from the very beginning.

10] When you’re trying to think of how to surprise the reader and your protagonist, you need to reject what most people would think of. Think harder.

a] Always think outside the box of what normal people would do. That’s the major advice for this part of Start Writing 4.

b] People were shocked by Gone Girl and The Sixth Sense. I figured both out from the promotions, but then I’ve taught story structure and character development for decades. It’s hard to surprise me.

c] Tilt your head sideways with your betrayals and antagonists and angst and surprises.

Surprises are usually more like SHOCKS–maybe it’s appropriate that we’re doing these blogs as we head toward our Monstrous Month of October.

Shameless Self Promotion

For more on Betrayals, Shapeshifters, and their Importance, check out Discovering Your Novel, a guidebook to writing your novel in one year–or work faster and refer only to the sections you need.


Pro Writer Wannabe: Start Writing

6 / 7 / 8

from the List of 13 Bits of Advice to Start Writing Your Book

You can’t have a wonderful protagonist unless you have a twisty wicked antagonist. This is the key to the Start Writing 3 blog.

Dystopia that offers the dream of Utopia

When a former student recently asked for advice on how to start writing his first novel, he shared the cranial bone of his idea which gave a strong hint about his central antagonist. I’ll share the bit of bone here, since many stories, including the recent Hunger Games series and the 1970’s Logan’s Run, are built on the same brain bone.


BTW, that’s the reason ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the form that your idea takes through the words you put on the page. When someone steals your words, word after word after word, page by page, scene by scene, then that’s breaking copyright . . . and you can go get them!

So, in the bits of advice for him that I’m sharing with you in Start Writing 3, the conflict characters come after the primary characters.

6] Your antagonist sounds like the institution running the supposedly Utopian society, which means you have a masked dystopia—always fun to write the dawning realization by the protagonist who then must convince the allies of the dystopia and rally them and others to fight!

Side Excursion to Logan’s Run

a. Logan’s Run does this exceptionally well. As flawed as the film of the novel is, the film did an excellent job of shocking the audience with the switch from Utopia to Dystopia.

Typical Patriarchy: Man fully clothed, Woman in skimpy clothing

b. Along with the protagonist, the reader has a double -surprise following that realization followed by a second double-surprise with the protagonist’s allies. Then comes the quadruple-obstacle of escaping the dystopia—problem, problem, problem, problem—and still the writer is not finished with surprises. Escape only starts up a whole new set of shocks.

c. If you want to understand surprising the audience, you need to study Logan’s Run.

      • The film is highly dated and chauvinistic and therefore offensive to modern sensibilities.
      • If you want to see how much society has changed in less than 50 years, the film is the exemplar as a product of its time and the patriarchal mindset, to be much derided now–but fun to watch and point out the changed way of thinking while throwing popcorn at the screen.
      • However, it’s also a well-written story with constant movement that gets the necessary surprises right.

7] Besides this major antagonist, you will need minor antagonists more “local” than the mastermind. Make each antagonist more difficult to defeat as the story progresses.

8] Defeating the institution will seem impossible—defeating each antagonist should give a key to unlock the walls guarding the institution.

Be careful as you consider this blog’s three bits of advice. They may seem simple; they’re not. Many great writers have whole novels fall apart when they haven’t created strong antagonists. And the weaker the antagonist, the weaker your protagonist.

Surprises keep stories moving and readers reading. When you can tie multiple surprises to your antagonists, you have great story telling.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Understanding Protagonists and Antagonists and developing great characters is the focus of my writing craft book, Discovering Your Characters, second in the Discovering set and all part of the Think Like a Pro Writer series.

Discovering Your Novel goes far beyond characters and the initial start to your writing. From World Building and Character Motifs, to the Big Push of the Draft, and on to the Proof-Plus before publication, this will guide you through your first year of writing AND completing your first novel.

Completing the Novel is HUGE, BTW.

Just Published ~ The Hazard of Secrets

M.A. Lee’s 10th book in the Hearts in Hazard series of English Regency mysteries just published. The Hazard of Secrets offers impressment, human trafficking, and poisoning–along with murder!

Two hearts with dangerous pasts ~ Can they keep their secrets, or will murder force them to reveal all?

Along for the Write ~ Finishing Strong with a Biz Plan

Edie Roones has reached the Business Plan in her blog series for new writers turning professional.

How do writers adapt a small business plan to the writing business? What’s the Vision? What’s the Mission? How do writers turn books into projects that are part of a product?

Follow along with the first blog on the Biz Plan, part of Edie Roones’ Along for the Write series.  Bookmark the site to return each to finish the series.

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