Thursday, November 17, 2011

Standing Up Straight: The Backbone of the Story

Backbone. The first image in your mind is....

Don't worry, that's the first thing that comes into my mind too. Today, we are going to fix a few things. 

First of all, when we learn about the spine or vertebral column in school, this is what it should really look like....

Yes, that is the real backbone. Or at least, to us writers it should be. Like each vertebrae in the spine, without one, the whole thing falls apart. you need all parts of a story for a story to flow, and honestly I don't think your MC will be very happy with you if you mess up your story in the manner. I give you one thing to do, and you mess it up? How in the world did do manage to do that? Well, trusty voice in my head, let me tell you.

You may be aware there are thousands of different ways including leaving out the hook, a dull introduction, lacking action, etc. Etc. Etc.

But, have any of you ever of falling flat with the backbone? It isn't a very widespread concept, I wouldn't be surprised if you don't know about it. But this isn't some one-in-a-million disease, this is as common as the cold. Backbonitis can be devastating even in a small infection, it can cause a major disruption in your plot and even affect your ability to write the story itself. No, this is not the infamous Writer's Block, this is an even more devious affliction.

Backbonitis starts in the beginning. If you go back to my diagram, it's right after the introduction and somewhere around baby's First Steps through Hell. Let's start by talking about Baby's First Steps through Hell.

Baby's First Steps through Hell is the introduction to your main problem, if not that, then a subplot right beforehand. (A good example of a subplot is in Graceling by Kristen Cashore, if anyone's read that. Love that book!) This is usually not the worst nitty-gritty things your character will go through, that comes later, but this is the part where they're introduced to the real world so to speak. When, going back to Graceling, Katsa is at her kill and doesn't actually kill him. Another way to put this is the turning part, the part where the character decides/is forced into changing his or her nature to move the plot along. This happens at the beginning.

In order to prevent backbonitis, you need a good flow here. The First Steps need to be First Steps, not something the character has done millions of times before in the same exact manner every time. No, it's called First Steps for a reason. This also needs to be something important. It can't be that this is the first time Peter has worn blue shoes, no it doesn't work that way. Unless, of course, Peter is a part of a secret society that wears red shoes every day, and Peter could be thrown out of the society by doing so. Then something about a gargoyle cat.... Nevermind, that's the voices in my head again.

The most crucial way to prevent this affliction is making your backbone out of something strong. It will need to be strong enough to carry the weight of your characters, your readers, your editors, your publishing company, and, most importantly, you during the complete cycle of your story.

To make it strong, you need a few things...

Believability - If you can make me believe that the greatest fear in Peter's life is having to wear blue shoes, go for it! If not........ (Be creative)

Interest - In you and your readers. If you don't absolutely love the subject, it'll never be written, don't waste your time!

Goal - Your characters need to achieve something. I don't care if you tell me the best story in the best way possible, if there's nothing to achieve, I'm almost guaranteed not to read it. Humans will only do something if it will benefit themselves; your characters are people too.

So the acronym is BIG. You need a BIG backbone in the plot of your story to carry all the weight you're putting on its back.

Title: Peter and the Blue Shoes
Author: Take Your Pick

A secret society hides in the sewers of downtown Manhattan, one of men and boys with a single goal in mind. Peter belongs to this society, but is lost somewhere in the middle. His father has kept him hopelessly unaware of what is going on like the other boys his age, but on his fourteenth birthday, things will change. 

His father will tell him the secrets of the society. 

The Master of All will give Peter his full name. 

And a gift will be given he will never forget. 

Only, Peter will make a mistake, one that might cost someone their entire future and maybe, if things go down hard, his own future as well. 

B - Do you believe in Peter? Does he sound like a person to you? Does his story seem like it would play out in a believable manner?

I - Do you want to know what happens next?

G - Peter wants to save himself, and, if possible, the other person he's threatening with his mistake.

It's important to prevent backbonitis because it could cause some serious damage to your story. You plot will become weak and break in some places, your characters might seem like they've been doing the same thing for a long time, you can loose your readers' attention as well as your own, and many other ways that will all eventually end up spelling our favorite word: R-E-W-R-I-T-E.

Make the world a better place. Stop backbonitis before it starts.

Any more questions about backbonitis? Any survivor stories out there that you would like to share?

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