The driving force of fiction, the engine of the story, is conflict. Whether the conflict evolves through an action -oriented plot such as kidnapping or murder or a basic human reflection such as forgiveness or coming of age, it must compel the reader to identify with the protagonist and subsequently experience the same transformation.
“This process of discovery,” as David B. Coe explains in Jack Smith’s November 2014 article “Stop to Start” of THE WRITER, “occurs incrementally over the writing of the whole novel, and it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The more pieces that are in place, the easier it is to fit in the next one, until at the end it all comes together very quickly.”
We read for entertainment and to learn and be enlightened , and to feel. The conflict is the magic that weaves all of that together through the plot. If there is no character transformation, and she is not affected by what is happening in the story, the purpose of the story falls short. While it may entertain, it will likely not teach, enlighten or engage the reader’s emotion.
Ellen Sussman asks the question “If the character isn’t substantially affected by what’s happened in a novel, then why tell the story?”. “The story, or plot,” she says “should be big enough and important enough to have the power to transform the main character.”
This transformation must not come easily. It should be accomplished only after the protagonist fought her battles, overcame obstacles, experienced hardship or defeat or whatever struggles we threw at her in the construction of our plot From the opening pages when we first drew in our readers, through the power of our story in the chapters between, to the final pages, we empowered the protagonist, enabling her to transform. And in the end, isn’t that what the audience wants from the writer? A plot that carries a struggle the reader connects with, giving the reader the power to feel.
When we write, our goal is to entertain, to teach, to enlighten or engage our reader’s emotion. By constructing a plot large and important enough to have the power to transform our character, we accomplish that goal.