#NaNoWriMo2015–Get to the Heart of Your Story (writing tip #5)

It’s National Novel Writing Month and many writers around the world are in gear and cranking out pages! Yesterday, my tip was about writing in drafts–and the quick (and shitty) first draft aligns with getting your novel done in 30 days (although even when I’m fast, I’m not that fast!).

Today my tip is for those moments when you feel you might be veering off track, stumbling into deep water, and all the other cliches that basically mean you feel lost and disconnected from your story.  Don’t panic, this counts as a normal part of first-drafting.

When you feel you are losing touch, reach out to catch the hand of your hero! Remember: whether she is a quiet bank clerk about to become a hostage in a robbery, or a lonely researcher who meets a possible romantic “interest” while searching for her lost cat, or a superhero–she has something she wants and yearns for, a goal to attain, something visible and measurable in the world. It might be foiling the robbers and keeping the money for herself, it might be finding her beloved kitty, and it might be saving the world from cataclysm. So if you’re beginning to doubt your story, ground yourself and your hero by letting her pursue her goals, (pro)actively, with determination (even quiet determination is fine) and drive! Don’t forget that what is at stake for her and her world should be meaningful to her and to the reader!

PS: Mare sure you understand the inner meaning she attaches to attaining her worldly goal: she wants to prove to others that she has courage; she believes her coworkers will stop seeing her as a pathetic “mouse”; she has to keep proving to herself and her mentor that she is super-extraordinary.

Trouble comes when she begins to realize that attaining her goal will not give her inner peace or feed her ego or make her happy or avenge wrongs done to her and those she loves. With this inner conflict comes the dilemma–if she can’t truly get what she wants (at least the inner meaning that comes with getting what she wants), then ask her what she truly needs to become a more whole human being?

What she needs will have to do with her growth as a person. The stories we love include this arc of transformation, from wounded to more fully realized as a human being. To get what she needs she will have to sacrifice her old way of seeing the world. (Remember this is a symbolic death.) There is a cost to transformation and that is true for everyone, fictional characters and authors and readers alike.

PS: Don’t forget that your antagonist will be going through her own drive to reach a goal in search of validation and she is filled with secrets and complex layers, just like your protagonist–so get to know her well!

Happy writing~


  1. Deborah Rice says:

    Thanks, Sarah, for an excellent reminder of the central pillars of story I learned in your workshop: staying in touch with your protagonist's and antagonist's goals and how they must adjust to the setbacks they encounter over time.

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