Every Author Should Answer This ONE QUESTION Before Writing // Write a Book With Me Episode Two
Happy Friday, TWNers! I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I last posted! But one of my new year’s resolutions
you know, the kind that people say they’re gonna follow to help improve their life but usually forget by Valentine’s Day is to be better consistent in posting, email replies, and comment replies, so hopefully those long absences will be either gone or mostly eliminated.
*disclaimer* I make these efforts all the time to improve my blogging schedule, but it’s probably still going to take a couple of months before I find that perfect schedule that allows me to balance my school life, blogging life, writing life, and life life, so please bear with me as I am sure to make many mistakes until we’re there. But once I get more consistent, I know it will help improve Teen Writers’ Nook and make it that much better and helpful for you and your writing life!
So in the last post in my Write a Book with me series, we covered my best tips for researching. Today, I want to cover what was my next step. (Note: I am actually much further along in Project: Believer than we are with this series as I got some things done over the Christmas break and haven’t gotten to post since Dec., but I am making notes as I cross each step so I can share with you what I did for this project and my tips to help you as you write that book of your dreams!) Before I get into serious brainstorming or outlining or whatever pre-writing steps I like to do, there is one question I am now making an important part of my process to answer. It’s a question all writers should be able to answer, but few actually can!
And guess what?! We’re covering that today! Welcome, readers, to Write a Book with Me Episode Two!
Welcome, readers, to Write a Book with Me Episode Two!
Often times when people say they want to write a novel, they might have an idea or two. Maybe you have this epic world you’ve built. Maybe you want to cover this specific event in history. Maybe you just have this wacky protagonist you KNOW everyone’s going to love.
And then you think… now what?
Now you need to figure out the two things that will drive your story forward. Your character and your plot. While there are books that are strictly character-driven (as in, when the character is pushing the story forward) or plot-driven (as in, when the plot is pushing the story forward), the best stories are when you have both working in harmony together. It doesn’t mean you can’t have the story leaning to be more character-driven or plot-driven, but if it’s solely one way, it’s going to make for some either a boring story or one you aren’t connecting too! These are the two biggest things in your story, and it’s hard to figure out where do you even start?
I’m going to assume you already have some idea for your book as this post is not about coming up with story plots. It’s about taking that idea, that “what if” question, that possibility you have to explore and turn into a full-length novel, and developing it. When writers come to me asking for help with characters or plot, I usually hit them with one question. And 98% of the time, they can’t answer it. That’s okay! When thinking about this post, I asked myself the same question about my own WIP, and I couldn’t answer it either. But that’s the point, because this question is supposed to make the wheels of your brain start turning. It’s supposed to take an idea and make it a possible story to write!
I want to add, that I am not the originator of this question. I remember some author teaching it once in a webinar I watched or a book I read or something like that. I don’t know if I even have the question worded exactly how she said it nor do I remember who the author was. But I just wanted to put that out there to give credit where credit is due. Now the question:
What does your character want more than anything else, and what’s stopping him from getting it?
Why is this question important?
Before we break down the question, let’s discuss why this is such an important question to begin with! I like to think of it this way. Just as Jesus discussed in His sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7 where He describes the house built on the sand will be destroyed by the storm, but the house built on the rock shall withstand the pressure, I like to use this same analogy. Think of this question as the foundation that you will build your story upon. If your story doesn’t have a good foundation, like the house built on the sand, it will not stand under the critical eyes of readers, editors, or literary agents. But if you give your story a solid and firm foundation, it will make it through the storm like the house on the rock! You see the thing about the houses in Jesus’ parable had nothing to do with the house themselves. It didn’t matter if they were shining and fancy mansions or rickety old shacks. What mattered was the foundation upon which they were built. This was an analogy for His message that Christians should focus on the foundation of their lives and build it upon the Rock.
But for storywise, I want you to focus on making sure you have a good solid place to start crafting your story. It doesn’t matter the concept or how good or poorly you will write it. Right now, you need to make sure that what you’re investing time into, what you’re building upon, will be able to last through the ages of time. And to do that, it begins with finding the answer to the question. But let’s break it down into two parts, shall we?
Finding your character’s goal
You must be able to answer the first half of this question, before you answer the second half.
What does your character want more than anything else?
This is also more commonly termed as the character’s goal. This is what will push your character forward, the reason they accept the call to adventure or the “inciting incident.” The reason they make every single choice that they do to bring them to the very end. Without this, your character is just wandering aimlessly throughout the story, events happening but no real connection for why the character must persevere, why we, as the reader, want them to get through each difficulty. We want it, because we must be invested into the goal and desire nothing else but to see them succeed. If we’re not, the story will have no meaning to us.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when creating your character’s goal. It must be: relatable/connectable, personable, important enough to the character to push them onto the story, & big enough that failing is NOT an option.
A book I read that has one of the BEST examples I’ve ever seen of a strong character’s goal in direct relation to the plot was in Dust by Kara Swanson. Claire, the main protagonist, has a clear goal at the beginning of Dust: she wants to find her twin brother who was taken away when they were children. No one has ever found him since, but she hasn’t given up hope yet and still, after all these years looking for her brother. This is what makes the inciting incident of the story so strong: she must go to London (where *ahem* Peter Pan is) where she thinks she will be able to find some clue that will lead her to her brother! This sets into motion everything else that is to follow and is the very heartbeat, you could say, behind the story. Notice, the goal is instantly relatable. Even if you don’t have a twin brother, you probably have either a sibling or just someone else who is very special in your life. You feel for Claire because you couldn’t imagine not being able to find your twin brother, and want her to succeed. This goal is personable to Claire. It’s not just something random, like oh I must save the entire world, which has very little PERSONABLE connection to the protagonist. No, it’s personal. It’s specific. And it’s highly important to the character that she must take risks to meet her goal, AND it’s big enough that failing cannot and will not be an option.
Now it’s YOUR turn! What does your character want more than anything else? And don’t just settle with the first thing that comes to mind. Keep challenging this goal and see if it meets the four points I mentioned above. If you can’t find a way to make the goal personable, then ask yourself why does this goal matter to your character. What’s the reason why this character would even have it as a goal?
For Project: Believer, the goal was already obvious for me at the start because I was building off of a character who had appeared in Project: Defender. It was his goal, actually, that began as the creation of the story. However, when I brought this question to my story, I found ways I could add to it. Ways to make it stronger and more important to the character, and in turn, to the reader. If you already have a character goal, but feel it might be too weak, you don’t always have to just throw it out the window. Spend a session of brainstorming ways you can deepen it, and you can also make a list of perhaps five other options. Not only will this help you find the perfect goal, it can also be a time to understand what are the main driving points in your character.
What’s driving the story?
Now that you’ve nailed your character’s goal, let’s take a look at the second half of the question! What’s stopping your character from getting what they want most? This question is SO important to answer because now that we know what is driving the character forward, this question will help you identify what is driving the plot forward. Remember what I said in the opening? The best stories are when the plot and characters are working together!
The book I’m currently reading, The Blackout Book Club by Amy Lynn Green, holds another fantastic example of a strong character’s goal and its direct impact on the plot. We start off with Avis. Her brother was the head librarian of a library right before America entered World War II. When he chooses to enlist and join the army, he asks Avis to run the library, and she only accepts because this library is so important to her brother. Her character goal now is to be able to manage the library (easier said than done when you don’t even care for reading yourself!) and keep it running for when her brother comes back from the war. Easy enough, right? Except the owner of the library has plans to shut it down and remodeled it to help with other wartime needs. Avis can’t let this happen. (This is what is stopping the character from getting what she wants!) So she forms a blackout book club, convincing the library’s owner that this is a good thing the library can do to help the war. Now she just needs it to be a success so the library won’t close.
Boom! You have a story.
Homework challenge: Take a look at your own story and ask yourself this question. See if there are ways you can build your character goal or the force working against them. Whatever it is, just make sure it is strong enough to pull the character through the entire novel. Consider getting a notebook that will be for just this story where you can work through all your brainstorming ideas and also use it for future things you will need with this story. I’m doing this for the first time with Project: Believer and it has allowed me to be more organized with my story (resulting in a MUCH neater first draft!)
Even if your novel is already written, and you’re about to jump into edits, this is still a great question to ask yourself before you start those edits. It can help you locate areas that need to be worked on in the plot and character development.
That’s all for this episode of Write a Book with Me. Join us next week for an exciting new post from *drumroll* Alana!!!!! Her first original post for the year!
Let’s chat! What’s YOUR character’s goal? Do you carry a notebook for your novel? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? How’s the new year going for you? I want to hear all about it in the comments below!
YES!!! This was so good, Issabelle!!!! That is a challenging question to answer, but it’s SO important – it’s what drives the entire story forward! (And the examples you gave were fantastic!!! I’ve been wanting to read Dust for such a long time XD) I’m going to be brainstorming ways to make my character’s goal even stronger and more clear now, lol.
EEEEEK THANK YOU SOOO MUCH SARAINA!!!!!!!! Yes, it really is!!! And honestly, it’s surprising how many published authors you could ask this question to, and they wouldn’t have a clue how to answer it!! YES it IS!!! Exactly!! And what I love about this question is that it’s not a very difficult one to find the answer to, and that if you just take the time to answer it, you can strengthen your writing THAT much more!!! (Awww THANK YOU!!!!! <333 Yessss!!!! I think Dust is a book you would really enjoy!!) YAAAY YOU GO SISTER!!!!! YOU'VE GOT THIS!!!!! *sends motivating chocolate*
Grace A. Johnson
OOOOOOH!! Yet another AMAZING post from my bestest friend!!!! I absolutely LOVED this, girl!!! SO excited for the next installment! :DDD
(And, okay, but YOU HAD ONE OF THOSE POT-HOLDER MAKING SETS TOO? LIKE WTHECK?! I dunno why I’m surprised. We are twins, after all.)
AWWWW GRACE THANK YOU SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It just makes me SO happy to hear that!!! *hugs* EEEK THANKS!!!!! *suddenly realizes I have no idea what to talk about next* heheh…
(Haha yes we ARE twins, sister, you shouldn’t doubt the similarities. XD But I must make a confession: my oldest sister had a kit, but that pot-holder we actually bought from an Amish store in Pennsylvania. But honestly it’s so cool that you actually HAVE the same type of pot-holders cuz I thought that was just something my family had. XD #TWINSFOREVER)
Grace A. Johnson
YOU ARE SOOOOOOOOOOOO WELCOME!!!!!!!!!!!!! Awww, haha!! XD
(Ahhh, I gotcha, but STILL. SO COOL. XD #TWINSFORTHEWIN)
(YESSSSS I KNOW RIGHT!!!!! #TWINSFORTHEWINFOREVER)
Grace A. Johnson
Ooh, this was sooo helpful! In the WIP I’m currently about to start the second draft on, my main character doesn’t have a specific goal before she returns to the land of her childhood, otherwise from a vague hope to be reunited with her old friends. However, after she returns to that land, she wants to preserve relationships with her old friends and guard this haven from the invading darkness. It needs some work.(and I keep a giant binder with sections for all my stories, and a notebook for brainstorming)
I totally get trying to balance everything- it can get crazy! I found a planner system that works for me and still struggle to balance everything!
EEEEEK I AM SO GLAD TO HEAR THAT!!!!! Thank you soooo much Ellie!!!! Ooooooo I must admit I am intrigued with this land of her childhood. This sounds SO interesting!! And what I love about what you’re doing with your WIP is that even if you don’t introduce the specific goal right away and wait a bit longer than some stories do, you’re still conscious that there needs to be something driving the story forward and you give her something she wants, even if it is vague, to keep the readers turning pages until we get to the main plot of the story. Good job, Ellie!!! Aw, well, I think you’re in a good starting place!! And good luck with the second draft!!! (Aaaahh I tell you, I’m becoming more of a plotter by the second, that pretty soon, you’re probably gonna see me showing my giant binders of notes and info. XD)
Aaah YES!!! It IS crazy!! Phew. Ooooo that is awesome!!! I’m glad you found something that works! If you have any tips, I’d totally love to hear it!!! Ah IT IS SISTER!!! Thank you SO much for stopping by!
This is SO important! Internal conflict can really drive your story, and you kinda have to know your character’s desire before you can really amp that up. Thank you for this post, Issabelle!
YES!!!! It IS!!! I don’t think most authors really realize just HOW important it is! Yep, you’ve got that right sister!! Especially if the external conflict is taking a bit longer to really get going, internal conflict is something you can set up really early in the story and try to use it to hook readers right away!! Yep, again, you’re 100% right!!! Aw you’re so welcome! Thank YOU for reading!!