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The 7 Cs
Structure, structure, structure

You have a lot of ideas but you don't know how to organize them into a linear narrative--a story. So you're looking for a way to organize your ideas so that you can arrange them more easily into a coherent, cohesive narrative. I think you need to mentally create the following folders for your story filing cabinet:


This is your beginning. Every story should start with change, something that happens to knock the protagonist off his current path. A death in the family, a new job, a new boss, a murder, a kidnapping, an illness--anything that changes the protagonists future and forces him to adjust his life to meet its challenges. The ideas that fit in this folder are some of the most basic--who is my protagonist? What does he/she want from life? What motivates his/her behavior now? What will motivate it when something changes? What's going to be standing in the way? This section of your mental filing cabinet is all about the who, the what, the why and the why not of the story.


With change comes choice. The choice is your second folder. This is the part of the story where the protagonist has to decide how to cope with the change thrust upon him. He may choose to try to delay doing anything. He may jump right in and make a mistake. Or he may do what would seem to be the right thing to solve the problem, only to discover that his choice only leads to new problems. But he has to choose to do something, even if it's to do nothing. And no matter what he does, there will be consequences. Consequences challenge the hero to make more choices, which lead to more consequences.


Consequences lead to complications. The deeper the character goes, the more complications arise from his choices and the choices of others in conflict with him. Here is the place in the book where you start adding twists. A villain shows an unexpected side. A red herring emerges to send the hero off into a new direction. Something happens to give the hero unexpected information that changes what he believed in the beginning and sends him moving in a new direction.


Now that the hero is moving forward at an increasing speed, getting more and more entangled in the consequences and complications of his choice, he has to commit himself fully to seeing the problem through to the end. He's in it until it's solved or he's dead, whichever comes first. In this part of the book, you examine why he's willing to throw himself so completely into the struggle. What are the stakes? Why can't he let go? This is a great place for character revelations and examination of the internal conflict.


Or, as I like to call it, the "Oh, crap" moment. This is the moment when everything goes wrong. When your hero meets an obstacle he can't find a way around. When he reaches the edge of the cliff and there's nowhere to go but straight down. If you've ever seen the movie Lethal Weapon, it's the moment in the desert when Murtaugh and his daughter have been captured, and Riggs is trying to figure out how to save them--and he hears that gun cocking behind him, looks up and sees the Big Bad Guy. "Oh, crap." There's a reason this is called the Black Moment. It's got to be significant. It has to look insurmountable.


This is my favorite part of the book. It's the time when your characters get to show what they're made of. They face the obstacle with their chins held high, ready to fight to the death (figurative or literal) to reach their goals. Everything they've learned over the course of the book--about trust, about courage, about love, about strength--come into play in this moment. They can face this moment now because they've changed and grown over the course of the story. If this moment had happened at the beginning of the book, there's no way they could have beaten the opponent.


This is your wrap up. By the time you reach this point, your characters will tell you exactly what they want to happen. They'll have earned their rewards--or their punishments, in the case of the bad guys--and you'll know how to give them what they deserve.

Copyright 2009 by Paula Graves