by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Larry Brooks of StoryFix frequently offers helpful posts for writers. He wrote a post recently for the Kill Zone blog called “Three Quick and Easy Tips that Will Make Your Novel Better.” One of the tips he listed was to “give your hero a distracting personal relationship.”
This is one element that can be used in a lot of different helpful ways in your story. It helps make your protagonist seem real and helps create reader empathy for the protagonist. It also can make for a nice subplot to weave through the course of the story to help keep readers reading to see how it will resolve (sometimes as a reader, I’ve found myself more interested in the subplot of a book than the main plot).
It’s especially helpful as a continuing arc in your series, if your series is to be read in order. It can be one thing that remains a constant in the series as crises and supporting characters and settings change.
The distraction could be a lot of different things. I think it makes it especially good if it’s something that resonates with readers because it’s a typical problem: helping aging parents, being a single mom or dad, struggling with an addiction, trying to balance work and a relationship, dealing with a difficult manager, handling a health issue for yourself or a family member.
Is your distraction any good? You can test it by asking yourself a series of questions: writer Janice Hardy has created a nice list to check your subplot (which is what your distraction is) against. They include “does it explore a new problem and raise the stakes?”
You can even take this distraction a step farther. One of the posts I’ve got saved on my Evernote is Allen Palmer’s post on Cracking Yarn: “The One Subplot You Really Need.” He’s a screenwriter, but his advice works well for novelists. He points out that:
“Emotionally powerful movies tend to have those 3 narrative elements:
- The want that’s about external achievement
- Subplots that complicate the quest for the want
- A need subplot that’s at odds with the want ”
Your protagonist’s distraction could both complicate his quest (and I think most distractions would do this…some more than most) and provide the ‘need’ that conflicts with the ‘want.’
Palmer offers concrete examples of how to pull this off well.
What distractions do your protagonists have in their lives while they’re saving the world?Why distractions are important for our protagonist: Click To Tweet
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