Recently my CP group and I have been reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron, and wow, is that book insightful!
This novel on writing craft takes you through the steps of drafting a killer novel. However, the focus isn’t on the external plot, but on your main character and their internal struggle which drives what she describes as the novel’s “third rail”. Essentially she makes the argument that a stellar plot is not enough to make a novel great. What really does that is the internal journey of the character and how the external plot changes them and forces them to address the misbeliefs that are holding them back from their ultimate goal/wish.
Y’all, she’s right.
If I had read this book before I began writing I don’t think it would have helped me the way it has. Most likely I would have gotten overwhelmed and given up. However, now that I’ve written and edited two novels, and am well into a third, Lisa’s advice struck a deep cord with me. Two chapters in she’d already helped me to realize why my first novel initially just didn’t work. It did not have a strong third rail. I’d focused so much on the external conflict, that I hadn’t spent near enough time on my MC’s internal struggle and how the external conflict affected that. No wonder people struggled to connect to her!
My second novel, Ashara, Deathbringer, really drove this point home for me. I love that novel (ok, I love the first one too), and the main thing I love about it is the characters internal struggles. My favorite scenes? Not the action scenes, or the love scenes, but the deeply emotional ones where that third rail is shinning like the sun. I loved how that novel turned out because of the third rail I’d somehow unknowingly strung throughout the story.
Realizing why I loved novel number two so much has helped me to go back and refine novel one. Further, it’s helped me polished the third rail in my third novel and bring it to the forefront of the story.
The one thing I’ve found slightly missing from Story Genius is examples of the third rail in popular novels, movies, etc. Let’s face it, I’m an example girl. I need examples to really help something sink in.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to do a series of blog posts on examples of the third rail in novels and movies. I plan to dive in to popular characters, explore their goals and misbeliefs, and then show how the story helps the MC change and grow. Hopefully these examples with help others put this concept into practice within their own work.
Look for the first example later this week or this weekend!