Who doesn’t want to write the irresistible? How many books do you own on writing fiction? I have shelf-after-shelf, stack-after-stack, and a bulging category on my iPad. I started my collection waaaay back, when my plan was to learn, not ‘collect.’ I have carted them along to three different homes and wouldn’t think of parting with even one –– for now. All this without writing a single piece of fiction until the past twelve months.
I have an idea for a book that’s been stewing for three years, and a few short stories on my hard drive. So I have a beginning, and a new how-to book, six chapters and exercises if you choose to do them, that has me turning back to the highlights I made while reading William Bernhardt’s Powerful Premise: Writing the Irresistible. This small book is a treasure trove of focused thought on developing “engaging premise.”
I like Bernhardt’s Table of Contents, and who likes a Table of Contents, right? Among the six chapters, two stood out because of their titles: “If You Only Believe,” and the one I discuss here, “Readily Recognizable Conflict.”
Aspiring fiction writers know he/she must create conflict, and we create it, but can can we keep it conflicting in ever greater measure as the manuscript moves forward. The pot must boil, eventually boil over and make a mess before it gets cleaned up. The mess is a clever and beautiful thing –– breathtaking (and aren’t we proud?). The clean-up makes our protagonist look grand, while broken-hearted, beaten-up, bloodied, and sometimes dead, if we managed to keep the reader reading to the end.
Chapter Five, “Readily Recognizable Conflict” offered a path away from my current ‘pantser’ mindset. I have a premise. I have characters, location, and history. I have pieces of an outline, every word painfully placed on a Word doc. But now those pieces are becoming more comfortable, beginning to excite me as I’ve forced the ratcheting-up of surprises and unthought-of-trouble (working toward jaw-dropping).
Three quotes below from Powerful Premise: Writing the Irresistible.
Agenda conflict recognizes that people can have opposing views without one of them being evil. They simply want different things. And that creates inherent, inescapable conflict.
An “inherent” conflict has to be a good thing, and “inescapable conflict?” Even better. Keeping the word “inherent” present as I try to build strong characters –– authentic characters with his/her own, unique “inescapable conflict,” has been immensely helpful. Just those few words gave me direction.
I am a political person. I love to talk and write about government, so to further emphasize “inherent conflict,” this one was purely stated:
Political stories, like my novel Capitol Threat, typically involve conflicts between branches of the government. Executive branch vs legislative. Legislative vs. judicial. These stories involve inherent conflict because, after all, why do these different branches exist except to interfere with one another?
Inherently, the branches of government exist to provide conflict between those believing they are protectors of our country’s historic founding of a free society, and those who see a tarnished history, unfair and needing improvement. Can there be a more ideal explanation of an inherent conflict, affecting everyone of us from sea to shining sea, Hawaii and our territories.
To be clear, I see no agent pitch on my foreseeable calendar or agenda anytime soon, but I’ve long understood the need to sum up my book in a couple of sentences. I have tried. Tried again, and again with no success.
Think how much simpler our agent pitch will be if you don’t have to spend much time explaining the conflict. As soon as you describe the protagonist and antagonist, or the protagonist and his sidekick, the agent’s eyes light, a grin spreads over her face, and she says, Oh My. I can see the problem.
“The protagonist and his sidekick?” That’s another thought for this rookie.
By first defining my character’s inherent, inescapable thoughts, actions, desires and deeds, or as Dictionary.com puts it, the “permanent and inseparable” qualities making the character who he is deep inside, maybe invisible on the outside, the stage is set to reveal what the reader knows she should have seen, but missed until I wanted her to see it.
While trying to “write the irresistible” (and isn’t that a delicious goal?), maybe I have kept my protagonist, her sidekick and the antagonist from wandering into unconvincing territory by more fully understanding the inherent, inescapable life experiences that drive them.
Powerful Premise: Writing the Irrestible is one of several books in William Bernhardt’s Red Sneakers series. In full disclosure, Mr. Bernhardt lives in my state of Oklahoma. I do not know him, have never had a conversation with him, or taken his highly-regarded seminars. Visit his Amazon author page here and his website here.
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