The Protagonist Will Struggle to Make Sense of Everything
This is something that writers are often taught not to do, one of the worst writing myths out there. So let's talk about how do you get emotion onto the page? Through this expectation. The reader expects the protagonist to try to make sense of everything that happens, in the moment, on the page, as she struggles with what to do. This is how you get emotion onto the page, it is that internal struggle. This is what we come for. We don't come for the surface, as we've been saying, we come for how is the surface is affecting the protagonist. We don't come for what your protagonist is gonna do, we come for the why, and the why is in this making sense of. And when I say making sense of everything, because, and that's why this so great because when you dive into these principles it will help you really figure out your story from beginning to end so you won't have any, as we'll discuss in few minutes, darlings that you need to kill, scenes that don't belong there to begin with, because if the ...
plot is one problem that grows, escalates and complicates, everything forces your protagonist to struggle internally with what they should do, then everything that happens is going to be relevant to that internal struggle, because think about the way we work in life. You have an agenda, you come in, you want something and when you walk into a room where you're dealing with people, what you're looking for is you're looking for tells. You're reading the room for savvy inside intel that thinks, is this gonna get me closer to what I want or is this gonna get me further away? And you're analyzing everything based on how it is going to affect you in your agenda. And this is something that all of us do every minute of every day because it is said that humans can go 40 days without food, which I firmly do not believe (laughs). (audience chuckles) I don't think I'd make it tonight (audience member chuckles) but so they say. So 40 days without food, three days without water and about 35 seconds without reading meaning into something. We are always reading meaning into it. This is what the reader comes for because we wanna know, whatever they do, why are they doing it? This is where the why lives, the why lives and breathes. Think of, think of your protagonist's brain as the command center of your novel. This is where all logic comes from. Again, it's your protagonist's narrative thread, it is the meaning that she will be reading into what's happening based on what she wants, based on what she's afraid of, and based on what she's being forced to do. It is your novel's command center, I cannot say this strongly enough. And this is where that writer in the beginning we were talking about who said, I feel like when I dive deep it makes me feel like I'm writing clunky. It's getting this onto the page because we have so been told not to do that. Don't tell the reader, you're talking down to the reader if you take us into the protagonist's head. Now the way that you do it is not, like you're not gonna take it into the protagonist's head and have them thinking about things like, let's just trip down memory lane because it would feel so good, or let's think about some hypothetical situation that's never going to affect anything and what do I believe about it, or look at those people over there, I wonder what they really want that has nothing to do with the story. The point is, is that all of this is in service of them achieving their agenda, whatever that is. This is how backstory comes in. When we said before your protagonist has a past, the way that backstory comes in, because we're in the moment and you think, oh my gosh what should I do? We pull a piece of backstory in, this is what we do. Again, watch how you think yourself. This is exactly what we do. We pull the past in to try to make sense of what's going on now. Well, the last time I tried this, that didn't work and I remember my uncle did this blah, blah, blah before, and my aunt who really wants that over there, I know she really doesn't like pecans because when I gave her pecans before she got really angry, didn't invite me over, and then if we turn to the past to make sense of what we're doing now, do it right, then it's not gonna feel like that bit of backstory stopped your story, it comes into the story present. This is where your novel lives and breathes, and if you don't believe me (laughs), you don't have to, I'll give you two very quick stories. I was working with a writer who said I wanna see this, I wanna see these thoughts and the backstory's woven in this way, she said. So she was reading Sharp Objects which is Gillian Flynn who wrote, Gone Girl's her first novel. More people know it now than before because I think HBO just did a mini-series on it. She said I wanted to see this so I got out a highlighter and I'm halfway through the book and I've highlit 60, that's six zero percent of the book is internality and backstory. I was saying this just a couple of days ago actually to an instructor at Stanford Continuing Education, I was guesting in a class and I was telling that story and she said, yeah, what she has people do is she'll have them take the first chapter of the Hunger Games and do exactly that and underline it, because people are surprised 'cause it's such an action-oriented novel, but there is a ton of that there, a ton of it, as she's trying to figure out, Katniss, and she has to go to the games and she's going with Peeta and she might have to kill him and could she kill him and what does she think of him, and it's all backstory. So, that is where your novel lives and breathes. Now again, as you can see, you can't have backstory and have these thoughts unless you developed it first (laughs), is the point. You've gotta develop the first half of the story before you can write the second.