Greasing the Path to Getting Your First Novel Published, Part 2

Presented to Words for the Journey as an Appetizer, February 14, 2012
by Denise Miller Holmes

Here are the second round of tips to help remove obstacles to getting your first novel published.

6) Create a layered protagonist who is the main character.

 Create a realistic and interesting personality that has the main p-o-v for the story and who carries the theme (Jeff Gerke’s Plot Versus Character is a great book to learn how to do this also). Give her a fire to reach a goal. Obstruct that goal. Make her change where she is flawed and face her pain where she is wounded in order to achieve success.

  • Makes sure, even if you have an ensemble cast for your story, that there is one true main character. You can include the other p-o-views in the story, but one of them should be on stage more often than the others and carry the main conflict and theme. This gives focus to the story.

There…you have the START of an interesting character. But a Protagonist is only as exciting as her … Antagonist.

7) Create an absolutely frustrating and fascinating antagonist. The antagonist is the main obstacle of the whole story, so make sure he (or it) is almost as in-depth as your main character and has his own wounds that fuel his passion to hurt the hero. The antagonist is often a person, but it can be something else. Pick one of the following conflicts to be the main conflict of your story….

The Eight Basic Conflicts—Man versus….

  • Nature/Environment (Twister/Contagion);
  • Society (1984/Brave New World);
  • Time (Nick of Time; Out of Time; Cellular; anything with a ticking time bomb);
  • Machine/Technology (Tron/War of the Worlds);
  • God/Fate (Bruce Almighty);
  • The Supernatural (Sorcerer’s Apprentice; Any horror or ghost story you’ve ever seen);
  • Himself (Groundhog Day, which is also Man vs. God/Fate and Man vs. Time);
  • Man (Die Hard; North by Northwest; any story with a human villain that is out to get the protagonist or hurt the innocent.

8) Structure your story to increase tension, even if you have to rewrite true history.

  • Follow the 3-Act structure and know what is supposed to happen in each Act. Each Act has its own purpose. Know these purposes and follow them. (recommended: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder; The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler)
  • Rewrite and restructure true stories if the true story doesn’t keep the tension going. You can always call them “based” or “loosely based” on a true story.

9) Be cruel to your characters.

  • First, give them a past where at least one trauma occurred. This trauma has left a wound the size of the Grand Canyon and is now interfering with your character’s happiness. You should do a bit of this with the secondary characters too. Everyone should have a main issue that will rub against the other characters and throw them in a stew when the main conflict appears. THEN…
  • Make their situation just awful. It gets better for a while, then it not only gets bad again, it’s worse than ever before! Keep throwing obstacles and pain at your characters. The wounds are being stirred. How will they overcome with all the pain they’re in?

10) Avoid back story until you’re well into the book.

  • New writers love to tell the reader everything up front. A good rule is to hold back the character’s histories until the third chapter. If it’s a long book with thick chapters, you might introduce back story sooner, but remember that the reader’s brain is working hard just to learn the characters and the main situation.
  • Overwhelming your reader (and this includes an editor, publisher, or agent) makes her say “no thank you.”

Denise Miller Holmes is the director of Words for the Journey and writes blogs for her author blog

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