Whenever I start a new story or book I begin with a spark of an idea toward the plot and then begin to ask questions in order to create that world in which the story will unfold. The first question I ask is: What does the antagonist want? And why is it a matter of life and death that the protagonist keep him from his goal? Most of the time these two questions tell me the motivations and to some extent dictate the actions on each side of the conflict.
I came across another intriguing question in Janet Burroway’s book Writing Fiction. What does my character win by losing or lose by winning? This is a question that the characters might not have asked themselves. Or they might fully know the price that would be paid by winning and still be driven to succeed.
In my PI novel, Vendetta: A Deadly Win, my MC needs to stop a killer before he murders her lifelong friend. And as the story unfolds she finds that the killer has turned his attentions toward her and she is put into a position of fighting for her very own life. That is the driving focus of the story. And the win should be a positive all around.
But there are all kinds of ways of “stopping” the killer and that’s where choices come into play. My MC loses something by winning and her decision to take down the killer by herself changes her in ways that both frighten and empower her. And a similar action in her past causes her to question her own character.
The question of winning by losing, or losing by winning can also create the arc of a story and further develop the character by what choice she makes. As that choice will change her and the consequences of her actions will be with her forever.
What have your characters won by losing or lost by winning? What situations have you found in life where this question applies? Do you enjoy this kind of irony in a story?
Nancy A. Niles is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Win, a mystery novel to be released by Second Wind Publising Company.