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.