This chapter is going to be tricky because the hero’s weakness and need for this story don’t necessarily follow Truby’s ideas, which work well for a standalone story, but I must adapt it to support a possible series of detective novels. The hero can’t take this same arc in every book, going from weakness through action to change to personal transformation.
To this point, I have set up Jack to move past his zen philosophy to become an agent for imposing justice on a situation. Once this happens, what is the next book about? This is the point where it would be nice to ask Truby how his thoughts apply to a detective series. But I’ll work through the process for now and figure that out later.
Chapter 3: The seven steps of story structure
Weakness and need
Weakness: something missing in the hero that is so profound, it is ruining his life. The hero is aware of his weakness.
Need: what the hero must fulfill within himself to have a better life, typically involves overcoming his weakness and changing/growing. The hero is not aware of his need. Need has two levels. 1) psychological, how he is hurting himself. 2) Moral, how he is hurting others.
Jack is not aware of a weakness in his life.
Need (psychological, how he is hurting himself)
Because of a childhood trauma, Jack has adopted a zen-like philosophy of embracing the world as it is with no judgment. He doesn’t see a system of right and wrong, only varying degrees of proximity to the ultimate reality. [This sentence probably does severe injustice to actual zen beliefs.] In this view, the concept of justice has no meaning. Life is what it is. Choices are balanced by consequences, but there is no “should” to consider.
As a result, Jack is living as a hermit, devoid of meaningful relationships.
Note: I am aware that I am probably grossly distorting a zen-like philosophy. I will have to do a ton of reading to represent this fairly, as it is not my natural response to the world, or, in my view, the natural response of any human who has not consciously made the effort to divorce value judgments from life experience.
Need (moral, how he is hurting others)
This needs work. My thought is that Jack doesn’t take a side. When a friend is suffering from some injustice, Jack can’t champion their case. However, this approach doesn’t make sense to me, and will be hard for the typical reader of whodunits to embrace. A lot of work ahead for me.
Jack wants to find the person who murdered his friend, to bring justice.
At the personal level, the opponent is the person who murdered, or caused the death, of his friend. At a larger level, the opponent is the elite who orchestrate the world to their advantage and to the disadvantage of anyone in their way.
Hero and the opponent want the same thing?
- Jack wants the truth, to expose the person responsible for his friend’s death.
- What is the truth that the opponent (OP) wants the world to believe? He’s a fixer, a problem solver. In his youth, this meant connecting his peers with drugs. He must work though progressive levels until he’s in a place to get people in high places the things they want. That kind of power sustains the lifestyle he has aspired to and now seeks to maintain.
Perhaps Jack runs across OP early, while gaining access to more powerful peeps. The trick here is the trail of breadcrumbs that leads Jack to a powerful person. Maybe a note, a scrap of paper on victim’s effects, a phone number, partial name?
Need a surface motive for someone, perhaps another homeless person. When that washes out, maybe the false opponent relates something he/she saw that takes it to the next level. And so on. This is a good trail to follow.
Might be a two-level plan like Godfather, first Sollozo, then Barzini, the true power/threat behind the strawman.
OP is the muscle, but he dies or is arrested, leaving a worrying thread that Jack can’t let rest. This leads him to the true OP.
Might be a bit cliche’, but true OP could be someone Jack calls on for help early in the investigation. True David/Goliath battle. Original OP is just a pawn. This is getting better!
This is where I have to tread carefully. I don’t want this to be some big renunciation of Jack’s philosophy of detachment to get the religion of justice warrior. Must be more subtle than that, something that can maintain tension through sequels.
The new equilibrium is an uneasy balance of zen and justice. I will know more about this after I understand zen better.
As you can see, I’ve run into some serious snags right up front. I have my work cut out for me, which illustrates early on that writing a novel is a significant undertaking.
I’m a cook-or-vacate-the-kitchen kind of guy, which is why in interviews when people ask if I have advice for aspiring writers, I say:
“Quit now and avoid the rush.”
To some, that answer sounds cruel or flippant, but it’s anything but. I think most people are creative in some area of their life. If you’re one of those people, it’s important to identify the creative pursuit that works best for your disposition and ambition.
Some aspiring writers tackle a novel project and quickly become overwhelmed by the labor-intensive nature of the work. The value of this installment of Behind the Scenes with the Wunderfool is to demonstrate how you can break the work down into manageable chunks and push past the speed bumps.
If this isn’t your idea of fun, then you can avoid the quagmire of the novel and turn your attention to something more accessible, such as the haiku. Although I tend toward the long form, I enjoy writing a haiku. It takes a day or so to distill an idea into 17 syllables, but it’s very rewarding and has the added bonus of instant gratification, especially when compared to a novel.
So, what speed bumps have you hit in your project? What is your plan to divide and conquer?