Friday, July 14, 2006

Lesson 15: Complications

We made it to Friday...TGIF! I hope you all have a great weekend.

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel. This is a fabulous book and I encourage each of you to buy it. What I'm presenting here is by no means a full lesson and there is a wealth of insight and additional info that will help you.

In case your just joining us...What I am attempting to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. We're done with Character Development, now we're moving on to Plot Development! Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Complications.

Every protagonist has a goal. This means every one also has problems, because no goal is achieved without overcoming obstacles. Easily achieved goals are not goals at all...LOL! the obstacles to the goal are important, they are the essence of the plot!

Plot can literally be be the tally of many complications hurled at the hero. Complications can be inner, psychological, and private, or external, unprovoked, and public. Or both! Just make wherever your hero is going, difficult to get there.

The obstacles have to be believable, whether internal or external. Look at your favorite novel. Many pages are relegated to making the opposition real and credible. This is good storytelling.

The simplest way of opposition is to have an antagonist. But he/she needs to be a good villain. This is sometimes hard because most authors are not evil at heart. To be a good criminal you have to be able to justify your crime...and feel justified by it. Thus, motivating the villain is an essential breakout skill!

Step 1: What is your novel's main conflict?

Step 2: What are the main complications that deepen that conflict?

Step 3:To each complication, assign the name of the character who primarily will enact it. How will he/she do so?

Step 4: Work out the primary motives for each character who introduces a complication. Then list all the secondary motives, and underline the last ones you wrote down...Pick a scene involving that character and reverse that character's motivation, as you did back in the Reversing Motives in chapter six.

Note: Plot complications need characters to bring them about. The obvious choice of character is not always the most effective. For example: You would expect it to be the boss who tells you that you are running out of time. What if it was the janitor that told you he felt bad for the last guy who didn't complete the assignment on time.

Follow-up: For at least three complications, work out who will be hurt the most when it happens. Incorporate it in the story.

Most authors underutilize their secondary characters. Adding complications is a way to get more mileage out of your cast!

And now a funny story for the weekend!
Who knows if this is true. Just the same, it's funny!

I am told that a 98-year-old woman wrote this to her bank, and the bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the New York Times.

Dear Sir:

I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month.

By my calculations, three "nanoseconds" must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it. I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire salary, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally attend to your telephone calls and letters, when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person. My mortgage and loan payments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.

Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope. Please find attached an Application Contact Status which I require your chosen employee to complete.

I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative. Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets, and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:

1-- To make an appointment to see me.
2-- To query a missing payment.
3-- To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
4-- To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
5-- To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
6-- To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.
7-- To leave a message on my computer. (A password to access my computer is required. A password will be communicated to you at a later date to the Authorized Contact.)
8-- To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7.
9-- To make a general complaint or inquiry, the contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.
While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous, New Year.
Your Humble Client

(Remember: This was written by a 98-year-old woman.)


  1. Rulan said...
    I'm doing my best to think up more complications. Muahahahaha :D
    David Meigs said...
    I love the way secondary characters can push or pull the protag or antagonist.

    For that matter, my secondary characters are often my favorite.
    Bernita said...
    Keep up the good work, Bonnie.
    Makes us look at characters and conflicts in a fresh way.
    Sandra Ruttan said...
    Love the cartoon, Bonnie.

    And sometimes, it takes age to have guts and say what needs to be said... The banks make way too much money. For precious little sometimes too, I might add.
    M. C. Pearson said...
    That bank thing is awesome. I want to impliment the system!
    WannabeMe said...
    "uplifting music will play for the duration of the call"

    I love old people.
    M. C. Pearson said...
    I hope my sarcasm improves with age as long as that 98 year old lady's did.

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