Part 5: Choose your conflict (Turning Point One)
Conflict is one of the fun parts of plotting because you get to exercise your “what if” muscles. You get to ask yourself what happens if such-and-such happens. Well, before you can find out what if, you have to decide on such-and-such.
Such-and-Such can be natural disasters. It can be political upheavals. It can be the zombie apocalypse or December 21, 2012. It can be alien invasion. Or it could be discovering that the person you’re marrying is already married and has locked his crazy wife in an upstairs room in his old creepy mansion. It can be anything. Anything at all. But it’s a good idea to keep the “anything at all” limited to something that can realistically happen in your genre and your world.
Let’s review what we’ve put together so far:
Message: Stealing is wrong.
Character: Confused Robin Hood.
We haven’t gotten to the world building stage yet, but by this time you know enough about what you’re writing to know if an alien invasion is going to suspend disbelief too much. This is a steampunk book about stealing. If it were going to include aliens, that should probably be brought up much sooner in your planning stages.
For our purposes and for Confused Robin Hood, our protagonist, we’d better keep the conflict to a relatively normal level. No aliens involved.
Confused Robin Hood, our well-to-do bored rich kid, gets his kicks by stealing from the poor only to return the pilfered goods under the cloak of darkness the next day.
Well . . . what would happen if Confused Robin Hood got caught stealing? That would be bad. There could be all sorts of consequences. Disowning. Jail time. Lots of troubles. . . . But to me that’s clichéd. Of course thieves always get caught stealing. And there’s nothing worse than a predictable story.
So, what would happen if Confused Robin Hood gets caught—not stealing . . . but returning?
Let’s say that he returns some item to a poor family, and they catch him in the act. And he has to make up some crazy story about how he found it and brought it back to them. And then—he is regarded as a hero! The whole town decides they were wrong about him and elevate him to the level of a champion. After all, in the world they live in, it’s unusual for the Governor’s son to care about the common people. He can be celebrated. Given parades. Maybe they name streets after him.
What would our poor Confused Robin Hood do?
Remember, this isn’t what he wanted. We already identified his wants, and this is the opposite of what he wanted. He wanted to be normal. He wanted anonymity. So being paraded around in the spotlight as a conquering hero is the last thing that’s going to make him happy. And that will wear on his moral conscience too. That he is accepting praise and adulation for something he never meant to bring him fame—for something he caused in the first place.
When you reach this point of the story, you have reached a turning point. Some people call them plot points. In either case, it is the place in the story where your main character has a choice to make. And that choice will determine the direction of the rest of the story.
In our case, Confused Robin Hood has two options: He can come clean or he can allow the lie to continue.
Here is where your back story will come in handy. Your back story will define who your main character is. It will help you understand the decisions he will make.
Yes, Confused Robin Hood has always wanted to be normal. But what if he has an ailing uncle who means the world to him, who has always held him to a high standard, who he wants to please. And what if discovering that his favorite nephew is a thief would kill this Beloved Uncle? Normalcy may be what Confused Robin Hood wants . . . but does he want it badly enough to sacrifice his Beloved Uncle’s expectations? We’re going to say no. So Confused Robin Hood will allow the lie to continue to protect Beloved Uncle from disappointment.
Turning Point One is traditionally the end of Act 1 (in the Three Act Structure). So in our story, Turning Point One is that Confused Robin Hood will accept the undeserved praise and adulation of his people for returning an object he stole from a poor family.
Now, that sounds pretty intriguing. But let’s be honest. That’s still pretty bland. At the moment, we have only Beloved Uncle’s expectations and Confused Robin Hood’s fate hanging in the balance.
If you want to really hook your readers, you have to up the ante. You have to raise the stakes. You have to make it so that your protagonist has a really moving reason why he has to make the decision he made.
This might be a copout, but it’s the only thing that’s coming to mind. And nothing can play with a guy’s head like a girl. So let’s make it a romantic issue.
Let’s say that Confused Robin Hood has an Unlikely Maid Marian. We can say that they grew up together as kids, and she was the only person who ever treated him like he was a normal person in spite of his wealth.
So let’s say that the house where Unlikely Maid Marian lives is the family that Confused Robin Hood stole the object from and then got caught returning it. By doing this, his reputation with Unlikely Maid Marian is also on the line. He will want her to think that he’s a good person because her opinion will matter to him.
Unlikely Maid Marian, as well as Beloved Uncle, will fall into the category of Supporting Characters, which we can deal with later on after your basic plot is established. Supporting Characters are also essential to a well-plotted story and to a fully rounded main character. But we’ll get there after the first round of plotting is finished.
So . . . where are we?
Message: Stealing is wrong.
Character: Confused Robin Hood.
Conflict – Turning Point One: Confused Robin Hood chooses to accept the accolades of his people even though he neither wants nor deserves them in order to preserve his relationship with his Beloved Uncle and Unlikely Maid Marian.
Part 6 will deal with choosing the next level of conflict in your story, which will lead you to Turning Point Two.