Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Building Better Plots" by Robert Kernen, part 11

Choosing a suitable obstacle (several, actually) completes my conflict and defines the core drama in the story, according to the book.  Kernen’s right: the story of David vs. Goliath is timeless because the odds were stacked against David but he won.  It’s not a boring tale.  Questions to help make the best of obstacles:

1) “What would make the attainment of my character’s goal the most difficult?”
Back to my idea of chasing characters up a tree, throwing stones at them, then setting the tree on fire.  Neal has several things thrown at him:
  • his ex-gang tries to off him more than once;
  • they murder his kids and their mothers;
  • he comes this close to giving up on rehab;
  • he completes rehab but relapses;
  • he faces prejudice from some of the people he has to work with;
  • he’s drawn back to the barrio he grew up in despite trying to forget about his background;
  • he fights against Sandy’s attempts to control him;
  • he meets up with his mother who abandoned him at age ten;
  • he confronts his previously unknown biological father, who knew he wound up in a gang and did nothing to help;
  • he has to revert to gangbanger tactics to keep his friends safe;
  • he feels responsible for his girlfriend’s death.
And those are just the things I can remember! I got a bit of a sadistic streak.  I think most writers do.

For Sandy, the answer is, again, more subtle.  He finds that clearing his conscience isn’t as simple as he thought, and that he can’t go back to life as he knew it because Neal has irrevocably changed it.  Helping somebody sometimes means giving up: your hold on them, some comfort in your own life.

2) “What is my character’s greatest weakness?”
I think that changes.  Early on, I’d say Neal’s greatest weakness is his lack of self-confidence.  Because he doesn’t think, deep down, that he’s worth all the attention he’s now getting, he sabotages his efforts at improving his life.  Later, he can’t let go of a need for revenge that takes him to the brink of murder.

Sandy’s weakness is his fear of losing people he cares the most about.  It leads him to almost strangle his friendship with Neal; it causes a rift with two girlfriends, the second rift being bigger.

Tune in next time for the last two questions, and conflict types.

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