Three Legs of Fiction Writing

imagesWhether you’re revising a draft or just trying to clean up a mess of a nanowrimo effort, the Three Legs of Fiction can help you turn a wobbly effort into a sturdy stool of a story.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are three important concepts to identify in your novel:

The First Leg

In any story, readers are propelled forward by the question of what happens to the Main Character. In order to write a satisfying story, think of this first and foremost leg of the stool as the one where your character must face him or herself. James Scott Bell, in his excellent new book Write Your Novel from the Middle calls this the “Mirror Moment,” and this moment almost always occurs almost exactly midway through the story.  If the story is more genre or plot-oriented, this crucible might involve a more physical or exterior threat. The character wrestles with the truth that he or she might actually die if the fight is kept up. Character-driven fiction often relies more on an interior or psychological moment, where the character soul-searches the person he is, the person he’s always been and the person he needs to become. According to Bell, this place in the story is more of a moment within a scene rather than an entire scene. The MC must undergo examination or testing by outer forces, himself or a combination of inner and outer aspects.

Second Leg

While some writers do extensive background and character sketches, others, like me, usually just keep all that stuff in mind. Bell argues for writing up what has created the MC to be who she is in the beginning of the story. What sort of losses make her resistant or unable to change? We writers love back story, so here’s our chance to let it fly. Of course little if any of it will stay in the final novel, but readers must understand why the character is like she is. Some call this Motivation, for the present actions/attitudes are dictated by the past. The big story question becomes: Will the character be able/willing to overcome these past handicaps and find redemption?

Third Leg

As readers follow your character and story, they are asking themselves if the character will rise above or defeat the things he’s battling against. You’ve probably heard of the “Darkest Moment,” the place where your MC admits there’s no hope. In order to get to the third leg, readers must be convinced that Transformation is worth it. In all but a few stories, this transformation (of the body, mind or spirit) can only occur by the MC’s learning experience of trial by fire. A transformative character is the one who helps give all of us hope that our own troubles can be surmounted. Transformation ensures that redemption is attainable. But without the first two legs of the stool, this transformation will seem hollow and too easy for readers to care about. Be sure you include all three of these “legs” or the stool that is your novel will topple. A story with these three solid concepts encourages readers to sit and read another chapter.

I highly recommend Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell.


About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

6 comments on “Three Legs of Fiction Writing

  1. Eve,
    Sorry to be so long in reply–my daughter has a new baby and I’ve been helping out. I’m glad the post was useful to you. Keep writing and let me know how it goes.

  2. Is the idea of redemption and resolution no more than a mechanical trap of a plot, something that confines it. Speculatively: are our readership more urbane and sophisticated? Good post though. Best wishes

    • GH,
      No I don’t believe it’s a trap. We all want resolution to the story question–and if the answer is apathy it’s usually dissatisfying in all except a master’s hands. Redemption doesn’t have to be religious–only supplying hope to the character and to readers. Thanks for your comment.
      Keep Writing,

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