I had a think on the mythical question I posed yesterday, and on doing some reading around I’ve started to refine. I still don’t think I have ‘it’ yet, but I’m much closer than I was, and I’m going to do much the same today to get closer. I’ve got a busy work day but a lot of the tasks don’t need my full brainpower, so this is a topic I’ll ponder in some detail.
Based on my research, I’ve identified six key factors in three sets of pairs. The pairs are ‘character’s goal’, ‘obstacle’, and ‘outcome’. You can almost imagine it like a strange machine. The goal goes in on a tray, comes up against the obstacles inside, then emerges as something else. That latter ‘else’ is close to certain to be different from the initial goal because obstacles do that. Nothing I’ve written above is news at all to me. When you face any obstacle to what you “want”, the outcome is always skewered a bit.
So what is in each of these three pairs? Well one is the “expected” item, or the one that as a reader based on the information we have we assume is true. The other is the “actual” item. So this is easiest for the outcome, as the “actual outcome” vs “expected outcome” has a name. This is a literal “twist”. We expected this to end up at A, it ends up at B instead. This is one of my stronger areas, as I try to be sparing with these and make them count.
But what of the expected obstacle vs the actual obstacle? This is where a character is either braced for a barrier or with us expecting one, and a different one appears. Say, a character rocks up for a battle to pass a foe, and the foe won’t let them through, but refuses the battle. Instead the hero has to negotiate passage. This ends up with a twist ending to the section, but even further from the expected outcome. I do use these, but I could try to work this kind of twist in more.
The third is the trickiest one. We ‘think’ we know what motivates the character in the scene. Their interaction with the obstacle or how the react to the outcome though show us we have it all wrong. I should stress I don’t mean an “AHA, I WAS THE BADDIE ALL THE TIME” moment, one to use like vanilla extract. By that I mean a single drop can be so sweet, but it gets sickly once you use even a tiny bit too much of it. But people are complex. Was the character motivated by love? Turns out, no, our delusion came from a protaginst who wanted that, told us it was true, and now faces actual truth.
So what I’ve distilled from that is a proto question.
“Where in the goal, obstacle or outcome is my assumption wrong?”
This is good, because this allows me to insert more subtle twists along the way. But we are not done, because as useful as this is, twists do not equal conflict. Twists are the result of conflict resolution, and the can cause conflict. They themselves are not conflicts though. I think it would be fair to call them “symptoms” though. We can use the above question to find our twists, and then we can use those to find our conflicts. This does raise further questions: should every conflict have a twist? Which of the three twist types I’ve identified should I use more/less often? Am I talking out of where the sun doesn’t shine?
On that last point, right now I can say yes, 100%. But we’re getting closer, or seem to be anyway. I may make myself a worksheet on the above to figure out G(oal), Ob(stacle), Ou(tcome) or the like to pick this apart. That feels like a weekend job to me, though “weekends” aren’t what they were a week ago. I’m glad at least I have today’s chapter and the six after of VOL good to go so that I don’t have that to worry about too. You know, until this new model I’m talking about means I have to make radical edits to the whole thing. And TUS. That’s a sobering thought. But gotta do what you gotta do I guess. Yaaaaaaay…