This book was one of the suggested texts in an online writing course I took last year. The course was offered through Ed2Go, an online adult and continuing education school, whose courses my library offers free of cost to patrons. I read only portions of the book during the course. Now I plan to go through it cover to cover.
Following are notes from Chapters 5 through 11…the final chapters.
Chapter 5: Conflict Mascots (and other ways to heighten conflict)
Conflict will die without a focal character (mascot)
Conflict is all about character, emotions, motivation
Viewpoint is critical, reader experiences conflict with the character
Heighten conflict by raising the stakes
Setting can match or contrast with the tone of your book: either can increase conflict
“Fish out of water” heightens conflict: character thrown into a strange situation
Foreshadowing: e.g. Indiana Jones encounters a snake and says he hates them, later he has a scene with many snakes, we know he hates them from the earlier scene
Words are your tools
Sentence construction enhances pacing
Study your genre to see how others have handled sentence construction
Point of View: choose the character who has the most at stake
Uncertainty of the outcome: balance good and evil in your book, villain should not be stupid or easily overcome, sometimes it takes a collective protagonist to overcome the evil
Conflict is like a garden that needs constant attention. In your writer’s bag of tricks you have the tools to provide that attention. The techniques mentioned here are only a few examples of the tools available.
Your strongest tool for heightening conflict is a meaty character to serve as a focal point. Readers want to experience the story through a character with whom they can identify. So put a well-developed character with a history into the eye of your “conflict storm.” (pg. 90)
Chapter 6: A Closer Look at the GMC Chart
Create a GMC chart when starting each book/story
Can be just notes, incomplete sentences, can add as you go along
Tag Lines: Tag line goes across the top of the chart and represents what the character learns
Dominant Impression: in describing a character, the first image that comes to mind is the dominant impression, it defines the character’s essence; e.g. obnoxious ambulance-chaser, aggressive nurse, charming nuisance; Han Solo = cocky smuggler, Princess Leia = royal rebel, Richard Kimball = innocent fugitive, Deputy U.S. Marshall Gerard = tenacious hunter
Dominant Impression: is not a physical description, gives us a clue to how a character will react to certain situations, hints at flaws and skills
Use the dominant impression to determine if an action or response is out of character
A dominant impression can change if the character changes
GMC is a roadmap for your novel: External GMC are the plot outline; Internal GMC are the emotional highs and lows of your book
Chapter 7: Big Black Moments Need GMC
Climax of a book = Big Black Moment
The black moment addresses the most current and urgent goal
The resolution of this conflict should have the biggest emotional conflict in the book; emotional; results in growth or sacrifice; reader must know what’s at stake
Outer conflict should cause the big black moment; the character’s inner GMC should resolve the big black moment
In romance: ALSO required to deal with the romantic big black moment; the two crucial moments can occur simultaneously or separately – romantic big black moment should come first; neither conflict can be resolved until character growth is accomplished.
If you write multiple viewpoints, each character should have his/her own plot concerns, emotional issues, growth and change
Chapter 8: Don’t Listen to Your Mother. Go Ahead. Make a Scene.
This chapter begins with a list of questions. (Some of this is paraphrased and some directly quoted from pg. 105.)
Will your GMC lend itself to scenes?
Can you work with it?
Is it going to provide a beginning, a middle, and an end for your book?
Can you show character growth?
The book’s turning point?
Don’t tell us about character growth or crisis. You’ve got to show it.
How about conflict?
Can you develop the conflict with the characters and the GMC you’ve created?
Look at your scenes, they will tell you the answers to these questions.
What is a scene? It is something lived through by your character and the reader. Scenes are immediate and urgent.
A scene must do at least one of these: illustrate a character’s progress; bring the character into conflict; strengthen or change a character’s motivation
Each scene must have at least three reasons for inclusion: first – goal, motivation and/or conflict; then any two other reasons – e.g. introduce another character, discover clues, sexual tension, comic relief, foreshadowing
Scenes are used, among other things, as a turning point, to show inner and/or outer conflict, to test characters and cause them to grow
Show don’t tell – telling distances the reader from the story, reminds them that it isn’t happening right now
Deliver backstory through characterization and dialogue.
The author highly recommends this resource: Fiction is Folks – How to Create Unforgettable Characters by Robert Newton Peck. The book is comprised of examples illustrating characterization
The chapter ends with a writing challenge (pp. 117-118):
1. Take ten or fifteen minutes to work up a GMC on one character. Create a completely new character and do not use the story you are currently working on.
2. Write a scene. Allow yourself one hour to show GMC and get the book started. The trick is to do this in the shortest amount of page space possible. SHOW DON’T TELL. And don’t put more time into this exercise than one hour.
3. The only unbreakable rule: Somewhere in the scene, your character must utter the phrase, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours…is up for grabs.”
When you work on your opening scene keep these things in mind. You need an event or circumstance. You’ll need to weave in some character backstory, but don’t drop huge hunks. Give the character a goal and an opponent. Bring your character to a moment of choice. Think motivation.
…Use something completely new, one-hundred and eighty degrees from what you’re working on now.
…Try something new.
Chapter 9: GMC Brainstorming
This chapter is a transcript of a writer and a small group brainstorming GMC for a character and a story.
They discuss the differences between internal and external goals and motivation as well as the development of the main character and the plot.
Chapter 10: Twenty-Five Words or Less
A query letter is simply a business letter inviting an editor to read your work.
A query letter is composed of four parts:
Salutation – use a name, make it personal and pleasant
Credentials – this should state the kind of book, honors or awards it may have won, whether the book is finished
GMC Summary – paragraph that includes a GMC summary of twenty-five words or less; characters and conflict are the most important elements (pp. 134-136)
Closing – e.g. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you
In the GMC, use an adjective and a descriptive noun to create a sense of character (pp. 93-95)
A one-sentence “handle” sets the book in the editor’s mind
Chapter 11: This and That
Here are a few parting words to keep in mind.
If you are not prepared technically or emotionally to write a particular story, put it off for now.
Is the market ready for your story? Books being published now were purchased eighteen months ago.
Keep your enthusiasm alive. Writing is hard enough without inventing excuses.The act of writing is the best way to quiet your inner editor and wake up your creativity.
Write every day, even if all you do is brainstorm for fifteen minutes.
Writing is a solitary occupation. Look at the wisdom of other writers. Use what works for you and discard the rest.
You have no control over the market or editors, but you control your writing – so, write!