Monday, January 4, 2010

First Things First: Part III by Patti Lacy

This Manuscript Monday, please welcome Patti Lacy as she concludes her First Things First series.

Discovering Your Message
by Patti Lacy

“Write for me,” a Still, Small Voice whispers. “Tell my stories.”

You label a file "Great American Novel." Memorize a snapshot of your target victim—I mean reader—like it’s a Post Office poster. Now what?

Decide what you want to say. I’m not talking plot or scripture, though to survive the publishing journey, you’ll need narrative and spiritual life jackets.

What in the deep blue sea do I mean?

Moral premise. Williams declares in The Moral Premise: “…the desperate desire of the audience for entertainment that embodies some moral principles, some guidelines for ethical living, some prescription for a healthier world and a saner life” (xv).

Need oars to row that boat?

Before you write anything, determine your character’s want.

Example: What does Sheila, a preacher's wife protagonist, want?

To help the son she gave up for adoption.

Who wouldn’t help their son? So what’s the conflict?

Example: If Sheila helps her son, she risks destroying her husband and their ministry.

Wow. A woman, choosing between son and husband. Conflict. But not a moral premise.

To create moral premise, think algebraic equations. If “A” happens, “B” results. If “C” happens, “D” will result.

As Williams explains: “[Vice] leads to [defeat], but [Virtue] leads to [success.]” (61).

Determine character’s reaction to greater moral good AND lesser moral good.

Example: If Sheila withholds the truth, she faces rejection by son and possibly her husband.

If Sheila tells the truth, she may begin a relationship with her only child and heal a marriage based on secrets.

Build a solid vessel to weather market storms and reach the shore of a well-written story.

What’s next?

Development of Character. As conflict tears at your characters, how do they change? Jean Valjean of Les Miserables steals to save his nephew from starvation. Then a priest provides an alibi and dedicates Valjean to God. Valjean must now answer to God. When he adopts a Cossette or wields a sword with student protestors, he does so at God’s behest. By the deathbed tear-jerker, Valjean has been transformed into a saint. And we followed it every compelling word of the way!

Sociocultural Values expand readership and layer your story. Scan headlines and thread issues into plot. Bulging budgets? Protagonist has a purse strings problem. Euthanasia? Protagonist’s parent has cancer. The plight of 143 million orphans? Your character considers adoption or is an orphan.

Satisfactory Ending. All good stories must end. Leave your target reader satisfied and zippings to with a five-star review.

I said “satisfied,” not necessarily “happy.” The difference? If your character doesn’t CHOOSE events that produce greater moral good, let him or her suffer the consequences. Readers crave structure and justice. 1 + 1=2 and not 5. Readers want orderly things, especially when they grapple with life situations far from these ideals.

Whether you outline or SOP, plan what you want to say before you hoist the sails and explore distant shores. Your readers will thank you!

Patti Lacy thanks her parents for planting the love of stories in her heart and for laying a foundation for a career in teaching. At age 50, she entered the world of writing and has published two novels, An Irishwoman’s Tale and What the Bayou Saw. Patti and her husband live in Normal, Illinois and love to take long walks with their dog named Laura.