How a story works
Legos. Using Legos I figured out why people like some books and don’t like others (even if the quality of writing is the same), and why my agent fell in love with my first book; the reason I somehow stumbled across while writing that book.
Yesterday I was explaining to my daughter how a synopsis I wrote for my agent had been nagging me. It was missing something and it took me two days to figure it out.
“My synopsis is on rails”, I told her and then explained what “on rails” means (she’s 5) and what a good book should be like.
If you go from Point A to Point B it gets boring. But if along the way the protagonist…
Oh my God that’s crazy! Oh no! How will they ever get through it…Oh my that was unexpected, now hopefully they will get to the end resolution…Oh no! Not again! I didn’t see that coming. How?…Oh my, another thing unexpected. Hopefully she (or he) will make it just fine now. Poor them…Are you kidding me? This poor person. Nothing is going right for them…Ha! That is awesome…Now will they get to the end?…Whew! They got there.
I think a lot of authors get caught up on the “on rails” plot and simply do not recognize it. You write the outline too fast or you throw in a twist, but because you’re caught up in the “hero” coming out on top the twist is inconsequential and could be taken out of the book without effecting it. And then the book ends up with the hero getting punched twice but never getting a bloody lip and winning (those are analogies, I know not all books are about fist fights, etc).
Your hero should get their arm broken, then lose a finger, then stabbed in the eye with a long skewer, then lose a friend, then their foot chopped off, then their allies turn against them, their jaw broken, but finally winning out and learning a little bit about themselves along the way. (again an analogy for the conflict that needs to be present in a book, I know not all books will be so violent).
I don’t know why it took me so long to figure that out, but thank God for Legos and thank God infinitely more for a little girl who loves listening to her daddy talk.