NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Makes a Great Story?

I was looking through photos from my hubby’s trip out to Zion National Park last weekend (I’ll post a picture at the end), then the procrastination bug hit and I wandered into other photo files. I came across this charming black and white photo of a little boy on a bench taken over thirty years ago. It was in a collection from several friends taken during a year when our spouses went to school together.

I’m not sure who the child is or even who took the photo, but it reminded me of a talk presented at a writers’ convention last week. The topic was “What is a Story?” based on the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron. One piece of wisdom she imparted that resonated with me is that the plot is the surface of the story, but what brings it to life is what is hidden under the surface. It is this underneath portion made up of the main character that is the real story. The way the character changes and moves forward is what creates the plot that will unfold.

This little boy is looking out upon the world, assessing and gathering in knowledge of all he sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells. He, like all children, will collect this endless flow of data to build a life vision, but is unable to evaluate it with the wisdom of years. His experiences will color his world as he grows. What if when your protagonist was young, he dreamed of being a soccer player and mowed lawns to earn money for a special sport camp staffed by his superstar hero? If someone in his household stole his money so he couldn't attend, he might lose trust in family and grow up stingy or distrustful of those who supposedly love him.

Intuitively, I develop a loose plot idea and have the character’s backstory fleshed out in my head, but sometimes having the obvious pointed out can save time in plotting the character’s arc. Lisa’s point hit home, when recently I had to trade out the main character of book three in a new series. I had shifted the timeline of the series and thus the place where the adventure would occur. My original politician-handling hero went from being in Washington D.C. to the jungle, and his growth arc simply didn’t fit with flailing around in humidity and thorny undergrowth. Thus, I snatched up another secondary character from book one (who turned out to be perfect for the job) and planted him in the jungle…but then the story shut down. Why? Because as Lisa noted, the character is the story and he drives the plot. I hadn’t fully fleshed out the new character’s early life and backstory. What made him into the man he is today and how can he grow through the book? Once I developed that, the story, plot, and characters were off and running, just in a slightly different direction than the first hero.

Think back through some of your favorite books and figure out how the hero or heroine changed through the story and how their experiences and beliefs from childhood affected the storyline. I bet you discover no matter how complicated the plot, it is the character’s growth that made the story stand out.

Happy reading!
Zion National Park


Sandy Parks writes action-adventure thrillers with capable women and tough heroes with some quirky sidekicks thrown in. Coming next year is the start of a new romantic thriller science-fiction series. Check out her books at sandyparksauthor.com.

7 comments:

Nico Rosso said...

Thanks for this insight, Sandy. I love seeing how all the moving parts come together to make a story, each necessary to the other.

Daryl Anderson said...

Some of your observations reminded me of Hemingway's characterization of fiction as an iceberg, where only a small portion is viewed, with the most important elements hidden beneath the surface.

And I loved the picture of the little boy--it's timeless!

Sandy Parks said...

Thanks, Daryl and Nico. I like the iceberg analogy. It fits the idea. And I love that photo, too.

Lisa Q. Mathews said...

A good case for looking into characters' pasts to understand them better. Loved the photo of the little boy also, in his Snoopy sweater. Wonder where he is now...

Sandy Parks said...

Lisa. The mom (a friend from years ago) saw it and sent me a message saying it was her son. She got a kick out of the article. She said her son (the little one in the photo) mowed lawns to earn money and he actually went to college on a soccer scholarship. He and his wife got a kick out of the blog.

Julie Moffett said...

Great post, Sis, and even better photos!! ox

Clare London said...

What a great reminder for us all that stories are all around us, all the time :).

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