Lou Anders is the Editorial Director of Pyr Books. He is super smart and has Pyr into a fantastic publisher of wonderful speculative fiction. I am a huge podcast fan and Mr. Anders is frequently popping up as a guest on shows like Adventures In SciFi Publishing, Functional Nerds, and, for purposes of this blog post, The Roundtable Podcast.
I was listening to The Roundtable Podcast episode 36 wherein Mr. Anders said the following about what, for him, makes a good story.
A sympathetic protagonist overcomes a series of increasingly difficult obstacles in pursuit of a compelling goal.
He also gave an easy to understand MadLib for putting together your story.
When a ______ ______ encounters a _______ ______ they are forced to ______ in order to ______.
I am near the end of third draft revisions on my novel which is either the best or worse time to get this kind of formula. I listened to the episode last night and lay away trying to plug my characters into this.
My first dilemma is that I have always thought of the three sisters at the heart of the story as being co-leads, and while they are all important, lovely people, there can be only one. Let’s face it, my protagonist is Victoria. So, let’s see if I can do this.
When a frustrated inventor (banned from practicing science due to her gender) encounters a series of devastating crises (zombie plague, dueling mad scientists, invading confederate soldiers) she is forced to break the law (building illegal scientific devices) in order to save her city and free herself from oppressive scientific regulations.
Man, that took 15 minutes of staring at the screen to finish. Can I do this with the other two sisters?
-20 minutes later-
No, I can’t.
The other two sisters have personalities and goals and arcs but their actions do not drive the story. How about that? I do not think that this means that I should cut down on the scenes with the other two, nor does it mean that they are less important. Perhaps it does mean that I should do a polish that makes some of Victoria’s actions and choices a bit crisper. Perhaps she is the one who articulates the overall goals and determines how and where the novel ends. I’ve been thinking of this book as the first of three so perhaps in book 2 it is sister 2 who is the protagonist and in book 3 it is sister 3. Victoria is no less important but, the others may need time to shine.
Lou Anders is a smart guy. Every time I hear him speak I learn something about story. Luckily for me, he is one of my best friends that I’ve never met.