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Writing Stories to Change the World

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Donald: In workshops, one of which you attended, I do push authors to take whatever problems the protagonist is facing in a novel and make those problems worse. The reason for that Rob is that many manuscripts by pre-published authors don't really have enough happening in the middle of the story. They need more events, they need more things happening and one way to do that is to make whatever problem is at hand worse, more complicated in some way. Now you mentioned Job, it would be a little hard to make Job's life harder. Poor guy had a pretty rough time, but remember that not all problems are big, not all problems are earth shaking. Some problems are personal, some problems are small, some problems are interior; those too can have profound impact on the page in a novel.

It's not about tormenting a character physically or sending them on the run or something like that. That works in commercial fiction-- that's fine-- but for other kinds of fiction, the tension can come from other kinds of problems. If it's an interior problem, a journey of self-discovery or healing or even growing up--what we call a coming of age story, you can raise the stakes. You can make the problem worse, but it entails making the problem matter more to that character. Raising the personal stakes means whatever the character has to do or discover or learn becomes more critical to that person. So it's not about blowing up the world or sun nova necessarily. It's about making a nova inside a character. So, there are many, many different ways to create tension. Not everybody needs to be Job in order for a story to be really compelling reading.

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