Gaining Ground: Driving the Protagonist's Story Forward

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Does your protagonist gain ground in your story without making it too easy?

My post last week, Make It Worse: Driving Your Story Forward, focused on increasing the conflicts for your main character in order to drive the story and keep it from being boring.

This week, I want to address a point that came up in the comments. You should make it a lot worse before it gets better, but you do need to let your protagonist gain some ground. Give them the scars? Yes. Never give them a breath of air or reprieve? No.

I had this point in my original post last week, but in the interest of keeping the post short, it didn't survive my edits.

Gaining Ground

Even though the conflicts need to increase for your protagonist, he needs to see some forward momentum.

Your story development becomes problematic when the barriers present little to no obstacle to solving the conflict. The same can be said of your story if you don't give your character a few successes. Think of it as a two steps forward, one step back approach.

Complications make your reader wonder how in the world she's going to get out of this. Opportunities to gain ground gives her a reason to push forward and not give up. Extra bonus, your reader doesn't become too frustrated by too little or too much.

A Familiar Example

I used The Wizard of Oz as an example last time, so let's look at some of Dorothy's wins in spite of the obstacles.

  • Toto escapes the clutches of her teacher, Miss Gultch
  • Dorothy meets the wizard (in Kansas when she first runs away)
  • The Munchkins honor her for saving them from the Wicked Witch of the East
  • Glinda the Good Witch gives her the ruby slippers (this represents a complication that becomes a win for Dorothy)
  • She meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, and all three accompany her on her journey
  • They gain access to the Emerald City (they were first denied entry)
  • They get makeovers (as a kid I loved this part)
  • The Wizard of Oz agrees to see them
  • The Winkie Guards are thankful when Dorothy melts the witch
  • Toto reveals the Wizard of Oz's secret

Find the Balance

Get the picture? Take a look at last week's complications and compare them to this week's list of forward momentum. You'll find checks and balances if you take the time to compare them.

The key is to complicate the issue while providing some reprieve. Finding the balance is just as important as creating tough obstacles and finding ways to let your character gain some ground and tear down those obstacles.


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