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The Who

Lesson 6 from: FAST CLASS: Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius

Lisa Cron

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Lesson Info

6. The Who

Next Lesson: The Why

Lesson Info

The Who

And now that you've done that, what if Right, we're right here. We're in the media. It's rest. What if kind of going that way? You pulled back a bit and you thought, OK, why is that gonna matter? Who's it gonna matter to now we're going to dive more deeply into that. And now the question is, who? Whose story is it? Because you'll notice. Like when you're telling somebody about a movie that you saw a novel that you read. Nobody ever says to you way Whose plot is it? Everybody says, Whose story is it? Because that's what it's actually going to be about. That is again, As we said earlier in a prior lesson, that is your readers avatar. That is where all meaning comes from. And so now that's what we're asking whose story isn't. And interestingly, it's something that writers will sometimes forget to ask, especially if they've got a great big giant What if, like what if the sun didn't come up or what if what if the Internet went down and we had no Internet and they wanted to sort of write for...

ward and see where it takes him and see who emerges and you don't want it to that. I'll never forget the first writing group I ever talked to. And I was really nervous because I've never given one on one feedback And they drove up to this house on like my heart was pounding and I was sitting in the car and it was really hot, so I thought, Okay, I will actually go in and they went in and it went really well. There was a nice camaraderie with the group, and I always thought I hit something to say, and so we're kind of going back and forth and I was completely relaxed. And then I got to the last one. It was her house, and she starts to read her pages and they are all over the place. I mean, talk about a bunch of things that happen. Nothing was connected. There were all sorts of people doing all sorts of different things, and now my heart is pounding again because I can't even grab onto anything to say anything. So she stops reading and she looks at me without no expectant look. And so I said, OK, I might be a complete dolt, but I'm not sure who your main character is. You tell me who's your protagonist? Because I figured if she told me who the protagonist was, I could maybe grab onto something in at least see what she was trying to dio. But she just looked at me, another all looking at me, and this is dead. I'm thinking, Oh my God, I am a complete don't because it was totally obvious it was Roger or Sydney or Sylvia or that parent that kept flying across was obviously the protagonist, and I am the only person didn't get it. And then she said, Well, I have so many characters Do I really need a main character? And the answer is, Yes, you do, because that is very a reader is going to is going to is going to root for your readers goingto be in that skin everything. They're going to see everything based on how it is going to affect that person. You need to know who your protagonist is from the starting gate. And to be very clear, however, we're talking about who your protagonist is before the story starts, because remember, we've got that end medias arrest. If that's right here. Here's page one. We're over here. We're over here. Your protagonist at this moment has no idea the dark and stormy night that you are thinking of shoving them into. And it is really important. Toe. Ask yourself that question. It's really was said about a year ago I was teaching class a workshop at U C. L. A. We're doing exactly this. Every person in the workshop was in the midst of either a work in progress or they were in the 3rd 4th draft. And there was this one woman who had been working for four years on. It was a young adult fantasy. And so I had her do this, this exercise that we're going to do at the end, which is to right. Okay, look who's your protagonist, where they before your story starts. And so they're all writing. And I'm standing there kind of looking around the room and I see her and I watch all the color is draining from her face. And I'm trying to think she having a heart attack. So I know. I know CPR. Is that a blood sugar thing? Is she gonna pat like what? And she looked up and she went, Oh my gosh, I've never asked myself that question before. And when I look at who my protagonist is, I don't like her. She's really annoying. It's like this kind of collective all you know, went through the class, and we all wanted to give her a group hug. It was really a profound moment for her. So you really want to ask yourself this? Who is your protagonist before the story starts? But another place where writers sometimes go wrong is that they'll think about like what she just said. I don't like my protagonists and they'll think, OK, here's to my protagonist is and my protagonist needs to be likeable. And it's absolutely true that from the first page forward we have to care enough about your protagonist and what's happening to to go all the way through the story inside their skin. But the term likeable is often really miss understood. People will say they're protagonist needs to be likeable, and they mistake likeable for completely socially acceptable. In other words, perfect. And so you get these characters. Remember we talked about the surface world. We get these characters who are perfect in the surface world, you know, they're people that, like, you know, they would never swear, even if they stubbed both toes. If a dog you know, bit them in that sunk its teeth into the thigh, they wouldn't kick it or heard it or anything that ask it nicely to let go. They never steal anything. Even if they're starving, they wouldn't take us Muchas a loaf of bread. This is the kind of person you could invite over to Thanksgiving, and you wouldn't have to worry about any family member getting upset about anything. The problem is, is that not only are those characters surface, they're boring and they're dull. And they're unbelievable because we come to story looking for what goes on beneath the surface, and we all know that a lock was on beneath the surface. So when you see somebody whose picture perfect up there, you don't even believe that they are a real person. They're just somebody who was a complete, shallow, uninterested ing person. And if if the goal of a story is to force your protagonist to come to grips with a miss belief, well, if they're perfect, what kind of change they need to make. They don't. It's sort of like think about we hear about this all the time. In Facebook, people are always complaining about, yeah, everyone on Facebook. They put their perfect life out there, and we all know those people right there on Facebook and like they go on vacations and everything is picture perfect. And they've got the world's greatest job and they've got the best marriage. They always have date night with their spouse, and their kids are always doing well in school, and their house is always clean and they're always really perfectly well dressed. And they're getting awards for Think about those people in your life. You don't like those people. You a hate those people you want them to stop doesn't think we block on Facebook as they make us feel terrible. And the truth is, when somebody seems that perfect, what does it really leave you thinking? It leaves you thinking, What are they hiding, what's going on in the basement over there because nobody is that perfect. So you want to be really careful. The truth is, and I kind of love this, novelist Elizabeth George said. She said characters with the most edge are the most interesting to write about and to read about. And I think that is so deeply so. I see it a lot where someone will have this recently, a client sent in, Ah, what she was working on and the protagonist was a person like I'm just talking about was just perfect. And of course, nobody is that perfect, because if you're always doing what other people need you to do, and you've got no inner needs, ever then that person isn't even realistic in any way. So what we're really thinking is that could be nobody like that on the face of the Earth. And plus she's boring. But when she got to the villain because it's had actual antagonised in it, Oh, my car, he was like a different person wrote it. He leapt off the page. The horrible stuff he did in the way twisted way. He saw the world in what he was after, You know, she said, she said to me, Yeah, it's way more fun, too, right? It's like, yeah, because that's what we come for. Is that internal? We want to be able to relate to the character. My advice to anyone who's writing either a debut novel or a breakout novel is stick with one protagonist. Stick with one because the work that we're doing here on your protagonist, which is work that you kind of will need to dio to some degree about with every character. But if you have more than one protagonist, you have to not only dig as deeply into both of them as you would with just one, but because the story is, and I can't say this strongly enough. One problem that grows, escalates and complicates. They couldn't be both part of that. And there, miss Belief has to play into that. So it's going to dovetail all the way through its hard, in other words, and the truth is that even when you think you have more than one protagonist really often, there's what I call the Alfa protagonist. In other words, when you come down and you dig deep, it really is one person's story. The past is the lens through which we make sense of everything and the way that those characters are able Teoh to analyze what's happened, why they're doing what they're doing. They all have passed one of the things that as readers, we come in. We've got tacit expectations as readers, and one of them is that we expect every character to actually have a past, because we all do. So, yes, you need to figure that out because you need to know how were they making sense of the world? And I think in the best mysteries they do have something that they're struggling with all the way through. They do get deeper, and mystery writers often say that Here's a a quote from Sue Grafton. Kinsey Millhone was her is her detective, and she says Kinsey doesn't change so much. But the reader learns more about her, and this is the keys line and how she sees things. And as we've said, how you see something doesn't just isn't just born in the moment. It comes from all of the assumptions and all experience you bring from the past. That's what makes them interesting. And even even with Jack Reacher, right, here's Lee Child. I found this in an interview where someone asked him, Is it okay? We get what Reacher is like now, but how did he become that person really Child was saying. He's often asked by readers that readers will come up and ask him that question, and he hasn't done all that much back story. I think he said there three or four books that really do go into this. And he said He actually said, Writing in, you know, in writing reaches back story, He says, Interesting for me to do I really like it. These are the things that moulded his life. So, yeah, you really do need to know this, because again, your protagonist isn't going to step on the page. Some empty Seifer who can solve crimes they're gonna bring their past with him with him, as we all do. That's what makes him interesting. So you do need to ask these questions no matter what you're writing, nobody gets off the hook is the point here. So the questions that you're asking yourself here are Where is your protagonist before the novel starts to think about the exercise that we did in the end medias rest lesson that you did. That's what we're doing now for this person. Your protagonist is standing right here, just like you, just like you did and This is not Michael for more than a year. But this is how do they see their lives? Where are they before the novel starts? Where are they? Because don't forget. I can't say it strongly enough at this moment. They do not know what you have in store for them. At this moment. They think that kind of whatever has gone on in their life will go that way forever. They've got balls in play that they're waiting and hoping are gonna happen. And you need to ask yourself, where do they see their life going? What do they want to have happen? What does that desire? What do they want to have happen as it goes forward? And what are they most afraid off? What is that thing and the thing to think of here? And I'll say this over and over and over again. Or maybe just once. But I'm going to say it now. Which is you don't want to try to rate this. Well, you're not looking to write pretty. You don't need to tell us stuff about your protagonist that we don't need to know that you don't need to know. We don't need to know that she's got rave in dark hair and soulful brown eyes, and she's five foot seven and she loves to wear leather. We don't need to know that unless there's some story specific reason that she's thinking about it. What you're looking for is that internal. Who is she and where is she? In her life? That is what you're looking for. Do not try to write it Well, because when writers come in and they try to write well, when I say right, well, I mean with beautiful, lovely, lyrical sentences. I mean, with all that stuff that they tell you that they tell you is gonna make your story come to life. That is not what makes your story come to life. Knowing this is what makes your story come to life. So so, like, I mean, if you do write something beautiful, totally fine, but otherwise that's not where your attention should lie. Your attention should lie in this depth. Where are they in their lives? Where do they think they're going to be? How did what they think the future is gonna hold for them where they want, which is what we're going to dive into next, but you're starting that now again. It's not as if do not make this mistake, but now that you know your protagonist is right, before the story starts now you can start going into the story. That's not why we're doing this. We're doing this for the same reason we did the other because it's going to give you enough that now you can start asking more questions and dig more deeply. I'm gonna go out of frame taking for deeper Dig in this direction. Now take more deeply so that you can really get from the general to the specific because the general and simple declared of sentences will lead you. A stray story is in the specific and the problem that writers have when they would write forward from something exactly like this would be, they would know in general why the protagonists wants this, and in general, why they're afraid they would have summed it up even, maybe very nicely here. But if someone said OK, we'll give me the specifics. There aren't any, because writers, this is a trap that writers fall into. They'll give you the summation of something, but they got nothing beneath it that they summarised s. So there's no actual They're there. So this is going to allow us to dig into the there and then dig even deeper into their their off frame.

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Marianthi Tzanakakis

I was introduced to writing tools and techniques, I didn't know existed. Now I feel I have a much better grasp in what it takes to write a truly great novel.

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