It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I’m bringing you a series of blog posts on the 5 parts of a story to illustrate how a 50,000 word novel can be written in 30 days. Last week we talked about the exposition of a story or the beginning if put rather plainly. This week we’re going to get into the action of the story.
Part 2: Rising Action
If nothing happened in a story, no one would read it unless perhaps the person was having difficulty sleeping. You may have heard this before, but a story goes through an arc. To be more exact, the story goes through an arc while the character develops an arc. For example, let’s talk about Scarlett O’Hara. Would Gone with the Wind have been as poignant if Scarlett had still been the sassy, haughty southern belle she was at the beginning of the story? No. The reader would have been gone through that incredibly long journey for Scarlett to be exactly as annoying at the end as she was at the beginning. So there must be an arc. And an arc needs an upside and a downside.
In the rising action of a story, or a series of incidents that propel the character to make choices and god forbid, change!, the story begins to develop an arc. But is it just any series of events? Can just anything happen to the character?
Well, not really. Now we need to talk a little about character and why it’s important to what happens in the rising action of a story.
Characters need to have a goal. In To Save a Viscount it’s easy. Margaret literally has to save a viscount and uncover the mole in the spy network. So it can be simple, or it can be complex. But they need to want something and want it badly. Scarlett O’Hara had the same goal as all southern belles: get married. To add to that, Scarlett wanted to marry someone wealthy. That was her goal. The rising action in the beginning of the story are obstacles in the way of Scarlett reaching that goal.
Let’s go further.
Marrying a wealthy gentleman is a great goal, but there must be a reason why Scarlett wanted it. That’s where motivation comes into play. What motivates Scarlett to pursue a wealthy man in particular? The events in the rising action should explain why a character would have this motivation and what the motivation is. For Scarlett, the Civil War destroyed the glittery world she was raised in. Everything she had once taken for granted was gone. She was determined to marry wealthy to bring back the luxuries she had seen in the southern belles she had looked to as role models before the war. That was her motivation. Again, the events in the rising action of the story propels her toward her goal and exhibits her motivation.
But it’s not that easy.
Wouldn’t it be great if Scarlett found a wealthy gentleman amid the smoking ruins of Atlanta? (Oops! Foreshadowing as Rhett Butler is in Atlanta!) It would be simple, and the story would be over, right? Right. So that’s why that doesn’t happen. (And why Rhett Butler is so conveniently there in a moment when Scarlett must make a decision.) You see the goal and the motivation are great, but if we got everything we wanted in life simply by wanting it, we would never learn anything. And neither would Scarlett. That is where conflict comes in.
Characters face an internal and an external conflict.
The external conflict for Scarlett is easy to identify in her long line of husbands. The internal conflict is one the reader feels. Scarlett O’Hara wants to be loved. Being loved is not a part of marrying a wealthy gentleman, and it does not conform with the ideals she saw in her role models of southern belles before the war. And so, she will continue to push love away until she realizes that is what she wants.
And if you want to learn more about goal, motivation, and conflict (commonly referred to as GMC), check out this great book by Deb Dixon: GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.
There is your next 10,00 words (or more!). In the rising action, begin to develop your hero and heroine’s goal, motivation, and conflict (internal and external) in a series of events that will make the characters choose something to push them further toward their turning point.
Next week, we’ll talk about the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the climax. And it’s not what you’re thinking. Stay tuned!