Monday, October 24, 2011

The Psychological Thread, Part III by Nancy Rue

Hey writers, Annette here for another Mixing-it-Up Monday. Nancy Rue has returned today to continue her series on including a psychological thread in your novel. I love her tip on following a thread through the ms. Read on!

The Psychological Thread, Part III
by Nancy Rue

We authors tend to enjoy the psychological research part we talked about last time because it’s like procrastinating without the guilt. Eventually, though, we have to stop gathering and start plotting. Our question for today is: how do you weave the psychology into the story?

I’ve always been a planner – of everything from my outfits to the amount of chocolate I can consume. Naturally I plan my novels in detail before I start the second draft. Calling the outline the first draft has staved off many a nervous breakdown. Even if you’re a seat-of-the-pants writer (though I’m not sure such a person exists), some form of the following is essential in the psychological development of a protagonist. These are not linear and will overlap, but they’re all necessary.

Know things about your character that may never appear on the page. Whether you discover this by journaling or having your protagonist fill out an application to appear in your book or determine it as you go along, you need to know that character’s background, formative childhood experiences, basic personality traits (which sometimes serve her well and sometimes don’t), adult traumas, and relationship history. Know the fun stuff, too: How does he take his coffee and how many cups does he have to consume before anyone can talk to him? Does she like theme park rides or do they make her puke? Whatever you do in your daily round, consider how your protagonist would do it. Then you’ll never have to wonder, “How would she react to that?”

Establish your protagonist’s goal. This usually happens at the end of that first act, about a quarter of the way into the story. A change has taken place in his ordinary world that causes the character to set a goal. That’s the spine of the plot. What that objective is and how he’ll pursue it depends on the protagonist’s inner world that you now know so well. That thread will remain strong, even as it weaves its way through the subplots and the supporting characters.

Understand how your protagonist has to change. This is where it gets tricky. It’s one thing to know that character down to the nose hairs, and another to allow her to grow. If the character doesn’t transform in some way as a result of what happens to him, you’re writing a Hardy Boys mystery. The skill comes in keeping that change consistent with the character’s God-given traitsthe true self. Early on, I look at the plot skeleton and determine specific turning points where the protagonist has to make a decision, has a realization, changes direction or moves on with greater intensity. I mark those with a TP in the outline and read them through one after the other to make sure that thread hasn’t frayed or tied itself into a square knot.

This is not the easy part, especially if you freak out about how you’re going to actually write it. We’ll talk about that next time. For now, just sit down with your protagonist over a couple of lattes (you can drink hers, too) and say, “I’d like to get to know you.” It will be time well spent.


Nancy Rue is the author of one hundred and ten books, including nine novels for adults, seventeen for teens, and sixty for tween readers, as well as two parenting books, thirty-two non-fiction books for tweens and teens, and the features for the FaithGirlz Bible. Her Lily Series, published by Zondervan, has sold well over one million copies. Her ability to relate to a wide audience has made her a popular radio and television guest and an in-demand speaker and teacher for writer’s conferences across the country. Her latest titles include The Reluctant Prophet and Unexpected Dismounts for adult readers (David C. Cook) Limos, Lattes, and My Life On the Fringe (Zondervan) for teens, and That Is SO Me (Zondervan), a year-long devotional for tweens, in addition to a book written with her husband entitled What Happened To My Little Girl: A Dad’s Guide to His Tween Daughter. A student of the Academy for Spiritual Formation, sponsored by the Upper Room, Nancy continues her own spiritual journey even as she writes and speaks for mothers, daughters, and would-be writers about theirs. For more information, visit her website at