When you really think about it, what do you really think about when you write your novel? Do you come up with your premise or your theme first? Your plot? Your characters?
Yes, you want to have an idea of your genre (big help there) what your basic plot might be.
But, it all comes down to your character’s and their goals—from which comes your story questions.
What are your character’s GOALS? Main and secondary goals.
Why do your characters want to achieve these GOALS? What MOTIVATES them?
CONFLICT: What prevents your characters from getting them? That’s what wields the suspense.
In my estimation, what drives the novel is the goal, motivation, conflict and final resolution. (or, the son-of-a-gun got what he deserved. In prison for the rest of his life. Or Auntie Em will see her beloved Dorothy again, and Dorothy will get home.) is what drives your novel.
Let’s pretend The Wizard of Oz was never written. Let’s write it.
Wizard of Oz: Who is your main character? Let’s call her Dorothy.
What is her main goal: To go HOME. Why does she want that? Let's have her take a ride on a tornado and end up in a country we'll call Oz.
Secondary goals: She has to get to the great Emerald City to see the great Wizard who has the power to get her home.
Secondary goal: To get the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the North.
Secondary goal: To kill the witch
Secondary goal: To get back to the Wizard again.
WHY DOES SHE WANT THESE GOALS:
As you’ve probably noticed, all of these goals drive the story. Will Dorothy get back home to Kansas? (if it were me, I might rather stay in Oz, but that’s me.)
But, why does she want them?
She’s been flown in a tornado into an unknown country. She wants familiar ground and her beloved Aunt Em whom she believes may be dying.
She needs to get to the Emerald City to see the Wizard because she’s been told he works miracles and can get her home.
She wants the broomstick, because the Wizard tells her he’ll bring her home if she kills the witch—therefore saving their land. (you do something for me, I’ll do something for you.)
Same motivation with killing the witch. The only way she’ll get the broomstick is to kill the witch.
CONFLICT: What is preventing her from going home—reaching those goals.
She has to find her way to the Emerald City by way of the Yellow Brick Road, but they lead in different directions. Which way to go?
The witch has found her and puts obstacles and fear in her way.
A poppy field puts her to sleep.
The Wizard won’t see her.
The witch’s henchmen (monkeys) kidnap Dorothy on the way to the witches' castle and she’s locked in with no means of escape.
What does the witch want? Another GOAL. She wants Dorothy dead because she wants those powerful, magical ruby slippers. As long as Dorothy is alive, she can’t touch them.
As each conflict is resolved, new terrors and obstacles await for Dorothy.
And then come the RESOLUTIONS. As she stumbles over each obstacle, with the help of her friends (scarecrow, tin man and lion) she breaks through.
So, Dorothy kills the witch (she liquidizes her) (resolution) gets back to the Emerald City and what happens?
She finds out the Wizard is a fraud. Another CONFLICT. Now, she’ll never get home. But what did you say? She does get home? How?
RESOLUTION: The Wizard, it seems, is a Kansas man of the fair circuit. He has an air balloon. He wants to go back to Kansas himself, so he offers to take Dorothy. Yeah. We’re home. (almost)
CONFLICT: Another one? Yep. Dorothy’s dog jumps out of the balloon to chase a cat. Dorothy jumps out after him and the balloon takes off without her. Do I smell a black moment in her future? Now she’ll never get home. Biggest conflict of all just hit the audience.
RESOLUTION: So how will Dorothy get home now? A recurring character comes in and out of the story. Glenda the Good Witch tells Dorothy she’s always had the power to get home. All she has to do is rub her magical ruby slippers (remember the ruby slippers?) and say “There’s no place like home,” three times. (So, why didn't you tell me this before? Moment)
FINAL RESOLUTION: She does and voila, she’s home. A bump on the head, intact nonetheless. A dream? Or reality?
In the Oz books, there are many follow ups to the characters in the Wizard of Oz. One hope the adventure was true.
If you analyze this wonderful children’s book and movie (silver slippers in book, ruby slippers in movie) it’s all about “there’s no place like home.” You’ve gotten your story question, “does Dorothy get home?” Will anything bad happen if she doesn’t? In most modern thrillers, the world might end or someone may die. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy would probably be made a queen of some Oz providence or other. But she would always wonder how her beloved Aunt Em is and always have a hole in her heart, because she’s not there.
So, in these twenty minutes of so, what have we accomplished? We’ve written a book (okay, okay, so it’s already been written, but you get my point.) You’ve just outlined your book in a slightly different way. Each goal reaches a conflict, each conflict provides suspense and some terror, but because of your character’s ingenuity the heroine figures out a solution or a resolution.
We had a brainstorming workshop at Writer's Rock last week. What fun it would be to present a character and a character goal. Why the character would want such a thing, what’s standing in the character’s way, and finally, how will the character resolve those issues? Maybe we could write our very own novel.
This information came from a variety of sources. The main source however were two books:
GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon and Writing the Fiction Synopsis by Pam McCutcheon, books I'd recommend for all writers.