Sunday, December 13, 2015

David Farland: My Story Doctor: Story Puzzle - Part 3

For those of you following along, I am deep in the process of taking an online workshop with David Farland. This is the third post of a six-post series on my thoughts and struggles as I work my way through Dave's workshop. In case you missed the first two posts, you can find them here and here.

In Part 3 of Dave's workshop, entitled Story Puzzle, we are looking at character conflicts. He discusses the traditional man versus man, man versus self, man versus nature. He also adds a couple of new ones I'd not heard or thought of before: man versus god, and man versus society. The general idea with this particular assignment is to generate conflict for each of the characters we developed in the previous assignment.

I just want to tell you right now ... this was a struggle for me, and I had to complete the assignment twice before I got it right.

You see, I'm used to outlining my stories in a certain way. I utilize a combination of the 7-Point Plot system attributed to Dan Wells (though he'll be the first to tell you he discovered it in the pages of a role playing manual) and The Snowflake Method developed by Randy Ingermanson. With this hybrid method, I typically "pants" my way into character conflicts. Usually I'll have a general idea of where the plot needs to go and discover the conflicts between characters as I develop them in conjunction with the overall plot. (This may be why my conflicts never seem that great.)

With Dave's method, however, he asked us to create all of these conflicts ahead of time. The essential gist of the assignment was to take each character, describe what happens to let the character knows he or she has a problem, and list all the ways he or she attempts to solve that problem (and all the ways the antagonistic force gets in the way) until the problem is either solved or the character fails.

For example: Suppose your character has an exciting relationship with her boyfriend. He takes her to fancy restaurants and they always stay in expensive hotels. Then she discovers he's married. What does she do? She confronts him about his wife. He tells her they are separated. She doesn't believe him and tells him she's leaving him. She doesn't want to be a homewrecker. He kidnaps her and tells her she can't leave. She tries to call for help but he ties her to a chair and tapes her mouth. Et cetera. Et cetera.

The problem I had initially was that I was looking at the minutia of my story. I set out to explain the smallest (but still relevant and important) conflicts within my story instead of focusing on the overarching story-wide conflict for each character.

For example: in my story, my main character (for now let's call her Nadia) is sent to prison for murder. She committed the crime, but it was self defense. However, she was set up to have to defend herself. Instead of focusing on discovering the treachery that sent her to prison, I looked at each of the minor events that put her there: the jealous colleague who discovered her affair, the jealous wife who had access to the tools necessary to put her in that position, the corrupt judge who was morally obligated to protect his sister (the jealous wife), and so on, ad nauseum.

It took me days to get this far in the process, and when I finally sent my work to Dave I felt I needed a break.

It was a good thing I took one, too, because he returned my work with a much needed reprimand. "Your down in the weeds on this one." He saw my focus on the minutia immediately and sent it back to me with instructions to look at the 1000-mile view of the story.

Another of hours later I resubmitted an updated assignment. This second time around was much easier. Perhaps because I already had all the little details in place, all I had to do was zoom out a bit to see the overall story as a whole.

Needless to say, Dave's response to my revised attempt was positive an I'm now off to start the fourth part of his Story Puzzle workshop: Plotting.

For anyone interested in honing their craft to its best potential, I highly recommend one of Dave's workshops. You can find access to them here, or by clicking the banner link at the top of this post. Stay tuned for the next post in this series on plotting. I'm sure it will be as much fun as conflicts were.