Years ago, I had an interview with a producer who was pitching a craft challenge reality TV show. I had designed knitting patterns for books and magazines, so it seemed like a good fit for me. However, I was surprised to find that the interview questions were not focused on my skills or methods, but on personal characteristics like:
"Do you go crazy if you don't win a challenge?"
"Are you the bossy one in group settings?"
"If supplies are limited, do you try to grab everything for your own project?"
It quickly became apparent to me that the producer was not looking for skilled crafters, but individuals who could cause drama with their crafting-triggered personal issues.
Of course, they were. It was a reality TV show.
While it might be easy to chalk this up to the extreme sensationalism used to sell TV programming, there is actually a psychological basis for it.
HUMANS ARE WIRED TO LEARN BEST THROUGH ADVERSITY
Few people tune in to watch shows about happy, healthy, well-adjusted people just doing their thing. Heck, Bob Ross, the beloved painted known for his wooly hair and his meditative, soft-spoken demeanor, claimed he was "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work", during his time in the Air Force. It isn't hard to imagine Bob fighting some internal demons with his 'happy little trees'.
A protagonist who simply overcomes the challenges of the plot without an internal struggle will make for a one-dimensional story. While the plot may be exciting and the scenarios thrilling, if they do not trigger an internal flaw that the protagonist must overcome to battle the external challenges, your story will be like a roller coaster ride: thrilling in the moment, but safe, mechanical, and ultimately forgettable.
START WITH THE FLAW
Many writers begin with the plot: What if a character suddenly finds themselves in __________ crazy scenario?
And this is fine! However, before you get too far into plotting, ask yourself these questions:
- What sort of character needs this particular plot to become a more actualized version of themself by the end?
- How does the plot help your character to learn and grow?
- Where do they start the story, internally, and how does experiencing the plot and coming face to face with their beginning internal flaw, help them grow and learn by the end?
Just like in reality TV, a good story isn't just about an exciting plot. It's about that internal struggle that gives depth to the characters because a flawless protagonist won't stick in your reader's memory. So, start with the flaw!
Looking for a fast and easy way to craft a broad story structure?
Love this content?
Subscribe to The Story Guide Dispatch for more!
Find Story Guide