Monday, May 23, 2011
Develop A Spine
Jose Cela, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, describes plot as the 'spine' of your story. “Once you get a character with a problem, a serious problem, 'plotting' is just a fancy name for how he or she tries to get out of the predicament. Plot is the solution to the problem.”
Cela continues by stating, “Plot is generally character, and character is generally plot. The tendency for the beginner is to think up a plot and then tailor a character to fit it. . . Most great stories and books stem from character, no matter how convoluted the plot may become.”
With that in mind, let's consider the plots or 'spines' of several memorable classic stories. The spine of Moby Dick is the quest for the white whale. In Romeo and Juliet it is the feud between the families. In Gone With The Wind the spine is Scarlett's love for Tara. To me, the plot or spine of the story is the foundation. The plot seems, in most cases, to become the question, 'what does the main character want more than anything?' Once you have the answer, you have the plot. The story then is how the main character goes about getting what he or she desires desperately.
What about the plot or 'spine' of your novel? In my first novel, The Devil's Pawn, the spine of the story is Robin's longing to forgive herself for her son's death. In my second novel, The Palmetto Connection, it is Anne's desire to be free of her enemies and remain in Patriot. The spine of my third novel, A Cruel Legacy is Caressa's desire to free herself from her father's oppressive control and become her own person. In each of these novels, the spine is what causes the characters to do what they do and respond they way they respond, creating more conflict in their lives.
What sort of conflict has your protagonist created for her or himself? What is keeping her or him from acquiring what she or he wants? Is the spine: man vs man; man vs nature; man vs another person; or man vs herself or himself?
In The Devil's Pawn, the conflict is man vs man and man vs herself. Robin is not only dealing with someone threatening her life, she realizes that the perpetrator is threatening her because of her inability to forgive herself. In The Palmetto Connection, Anne's conflict is man vs man as she fights to stay in Patriot and avoid her enemies. In A Cruel Legacy, the conflict is man vs man as Caressa struggles to free herself from her father's control and live her own life.
I look forward to reading your responses.