When it comes to creating a great protagonist, the character with the biggest, deepest problem wins. In my last blog entry–Does Your Story’s “Equation” Add Up?– I touched on the terms “story catalyst” and “deep-story problem”. I want to discuss them both in a bit more depth because they are crucial to the creation of a marketable story.
A truly effective story catalyst (also referred to as inciting incident) kicks off the narrative, hooks the reader, and sets the protagonist on a journey (dealing with the deep-story problem) that will end in a life-changing crisis and climax. Because they are connected, the story catalyst sets up the deep-story problem.
The deep-story problem emerges from the protagonist’s psyche. It is the protagonist’s inner psychological/emotional problem or dilemma translated into action. It is the weave of the psychological and the physical. It must be of enough scope and drama to force the protagonist on a perilous and challenging journey that will end in true change. At the conclusion of the story, the protagonist’s world will be transformed because she has finally faced the terrifying test of intimacy over loneliness, trust over betrayal, or growing up over eternal immaturity. She will have become more fully human. In the end, isn’t that the challenge for all of us?
As National Novel Writing Month approaches–November 2011–take care that you understand your protagonist, your story catalyst, and the deep-story problem. If you are clear on your story’s “equation”, you’ll be much more likely to complete a draft of your novel in 30 days. Or at least get off to a great start.