Novel-Planning: the fourth and final part

Is anyone else ready for this Story Plan Checklist to be over? I know I am—I want to write! But one more week to go. *sigh* Hopefully my last disclaimer in awhile:  The method, steps, and ideas belong to Karen Wiesner. You can learn more by buying her book, From First Draft to Finished Novel, or the January issue of Writer’s Digest, OR by visiting their website (which includes downloadable story plans, worksheets, checklists, and more!). I cannot guarantee that the Story Plan Checklist will work for you… or even for me. Consider yourself warned.

Part 4: Internal Monologues

1. Internal Character Conflicts.  Everyday life has conflict, and fiction is brimming with it. An easy life does not make for an interesting story. We want the protagonist to struggle against all odds and miraculously succeed. Wiesner says that internal character conflicts are “emotional problems that make a character reluctant to achieve a goal because of his own roadblocks. They keep him from learning a life lesson and making the choice to act.” Maybe our hero is supposed to save the world, but he’s reluctant to accept his destiny. Maybe a guy likes a girl, but her self-esteem is too low to believe the truth. Maybe our heroine has the information or ability to solve a crime, but she’s afraid to do so. The internal and external conflicts are related and dependent on each other. External conflict:  a murderer is on the loose and threatening loved ones. Internal conflict:  protag can stop murderer and save loved ones if she has enough speed/intelligence/courage. Remember when we talked about story sparks? The very first story spark should suggest what the internal character conflicts are. From that point on, the character can’t give up until she has what she’s fighting for.

In my story, Kari has a lot of emotional problems, LOL. Her mother raised her not to trust men… but then the mother herself disappears. So Kari has a lot to learn about trusting people, but she’ll have to learn if she wants to save herself and others. 

2. Evolving Goals and Motivation.  This step is probably self-explanatory. A character has goals (wants, needs, or desires) and is motivated to achieve them. Character will suffer hardships and sacrifices, feel worried and anxious, and face tough choices. Wiesner explains that “your character’s goals and motivations will evolve every time you introduce a new story spark because he’s modifying his actions based on the course his conflicts are dictating.” As the intensity of the story increases, so will the goals and motivations become more refined.

In the beginning, Kari just wants to go to college and become an influential biologist. Her goals will shift slightly as she starts a new job and runs into all kinds of problems. 

3. External Plot Conflicts.  I mentioned this above in relation to internal character conflicts. An external plot conflict forces the character to seek his former stability, when everyone was safe and happy. The conflict is the central problem standing in the way of success. Wiesner says it best:  “A character’s internal conflicts will create an agonizing tug of war with the plot conflicts. He has to make tough choices that come down to whether or not he should face, act on, and solve the problem.” Conflicts become more urgent, focused, and inevitable as the story nears the climactic resolution. 

Explaining my plot conflicts would give too much away, but hopefully the concept makes sense. Any questions or thoughts? Notice how the earlier steps of the checklist focused mainly on characters. I often have to think about my characters for awhile before I know their goals, and even longer before I know their internal and external conflicts. What about you? Do characters or plot come first in your mind? How do you go about deciding on good conflicts to drive your story?

I’m hoping to do book reviews on Friday, if I have time to get everything done this week. If anyone has questions for me, or needs to send me an email about something, this is the week to do it! After next Tuesday, I’ll probably be spacey for about six weeks.  🙂  Have a great week, everyone!


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