Tag Archives: major dramatic question

Exercises in Conflict

13 Questions/Thoughts/Exercises to Help the Conflict in your Novel

  1. What IS the conflict in your novel?
  2. What does your main character want?
  3. What five ways do you keep your character from getting what he wants?
  4. Do you start the story in the right place? Is it the day something new happens? Is a conflict hinted at on page one? Is the major conflict revealed as the main character moves forward into the beginning of the middle of the novel?
  5. What is the part of your story that creates the most tension? Why?
  6. Write your main plot as a yes or no question. In film, this is the major dramatic question (MDQ).
  7. What is the definition of “inciting incident?” Joseph Campbell says it’s a call to action for the main character. What does this mean?
  8. What is the inciting incident, or that first point of no return, for your main character?
  9. Write the inciting incident from several (at least three) points of view. How does each character view this event? Is your main character the most interesting?
  10. Remember these? What is your book and why?
    1. Man against man
    2. Man against society
    3. Man against self
    4. Man again nature
    5. Man against technology
  11. Make sure you have only ONE main plot or you will wrestle trying to control and write plots of equal weight. While you should have subplots, none should be more important than that problem you reveal in the MDQ.
  12. I think some of the best conflicts result from relationships. What are you finding in your book?
  13. Our good friend Richard Peck said, “You are no better than your first line.” And that’s the truth with everything. Make sure each thing you write, is your best. Always.

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What Can Cat Videos Do For Your Writing?

I am going to ignore Carol’s suggestion that I call my weekly posts “Whining Wednesdays.”  And I am not even going to bring up the fact that I unjustifiably remain the token male junior apprentice co-blogger of Throwing Up Words, Inc., despite the firestorm of protest on my behalf.  I thank both of my blog readers for petitioning Carol, Andy, and Kira to end their repressive hegemonic regime that has confined me to the lowest ranks of the blogosphere.

So instead of pointing out the the violent inequities in play at Throwing Up Words, Inc., I want to kick around some stuff about plot.  As an English teacher, I know all about plot.  It’s the ‘sequence of events’ in a story, and we often use a simple diagram, Freytag’s Pyramid, as a way of looking at the plot in a short story.

I know all about plot, but it’s the most difficult part of novel writing for me.  I’m interested in history and in character and in all kinds of stuff that populates novels, but for the life of me I have a hard time hanging history, character, and all kinds of stuff into a decent plot frame.

Knowing, you see, doesn’t always lead to doing.

A good writer friend of mine, Michael O. Tunnell, helped me out last year by reminding me of a basic writing principle that led me consider my plotless stories in a way that leads to revision that adds plot (and life) to the manuscript.  The principle is called “major dramatic question,” MDQ for short, and it has helped me and my students refocus story drafts into something much more readable.  A major dramatic question must be answered with either a yes or a no, and it’s a general question that applies to a story.  For example, the MDQ for Romeo and Juliet might be, “Will they get married?”  For Harry Potter, it could be, “Will Harry defeat Voldemort?”  For The Hunger Games it might be “Will Catniss survive?”

A big, general question like the MDQ can help writers recognize the pulse of their story, and after recognizing it, work to make sure the story elements keep the story’s heart beating.

Finally, here’s a video, “Catvertising,” that answers a question that I’m sure all of you have wondered about at one time or another.  No, it’s not, “Is there an effective way to remove cats from ceiling fans?,” it’s something much more central to the survival of American capitalism as we know it.  Use the video for writing inspiration.  Come up with a good cat story that has a powerful MDQ.

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