Lesson 2: How in the world does that work?

Okay, you now have firmly planted in your mind what the crap you’re trying to do– guide the reader through an experience.

You’ve defined a lot of elements in that experience.

You also have firmly planted in that brain that there is no other measurement of success. You either provide a great experience, or a middling one, or one that stinks. But you know that this is really all that matters.

Of course you have to have fun yourself. You’re the first audience. But you’re not writing to simply please yourself. You’re writing to please others.

So now it’s time to take the whole thing apart and look at how the various pieces work to affect the reader.

Your first peek under the hood

Let’s start with these three ideas. Please read:

  1. Rules vs. Objectives
  2. Emotion Process
  3. The 4 Parts

You now know the 4 main parts and the general process, but not the details. I hope you have some questions at this point. Things like what kind of problems create suspense? What creates mystery? How do you generate interest in a character?

Learn the story model

Back in 2011, I wrote a 27-part series for The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). In it I lay out the groundwork for how to use character, problem, and plot to generate:

  • Interest in your characters
  • Hope and fear for them (suspense)

There are other effects you want to learn how to create, like reader curiosity, puzzlement, and mystery. But this series will give you the foundation.

Read all 27 posts here: The key conditions for suspense.

At this point your brain is probably full. Let me suggest a learning technique to help you clarify things and retain far more. Create a mind map summary of the key ideas I presented  as well as other ideas you had while reading that series and how they connect. The time you invest in making this mind map will pay you huge dividends.

When you finish, come back because we’re not finished yet.

MOTHR & The 3 Parts

I wrote that series in 2011. I’ve made two changes I want us to use.  First, back then I said that the problem was usually a danger/threat, lack/opportunity, or a mystery. I year or so later, I changed it to a threat, hardship, opportunity, and mystery (THOM). Lately, I’ve broken out relationships. I used to lump relationship stories in with the other types, but I’m finding it more useful to break them out. So instead of three types of problems, I now use five. I started by calling it the story’s THOMR (TOM-ur), but I’ve changed it to MOTHR (mother) because I think it’s more memorable.

  • Mystery
  • Opportunity
  • Threat
  • Hardship
  • Relationship

So now the model goes like this.

  • A character the audience can get behind
  • Is faced with some type of MOTHR
  • The character sets a specific goal to neutralize the threat, remove the hardship, seize the opportunity, solve the mystery, or develop (or not develop) the potential relationship
  • But there’s a big obstacle preventing our hero from doing so. That might be some hard core antagonist, a physical obstacle in the setting, or competing desires within the character.
  • The story is about the hero getting entangled with the MOTHR, struggling against obstacles to achieve the goal, and then finally achieving or not achieving it.

A short way of remembering that is MC MOTHR CAR–main character audience can get behind, MOTHR, concrete goal, action, resolution.

Second, I’ve tweaked the names of the three parts to Trouble, Struggle, Resolution.

Now what?

What’s next is you need to be able to identify the parts working in a story.

You need to learn to see.

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