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Convincing Arguments

There was a point in a work I was critiquing where a character completely changed her stance on the solution to the story problem without intervening scenes showing how or why. This is not the kind of plot twist you want to offer your reader. A good plot twist is set up long before it happens. 

Let’s take a stroll back to beginning composition class to figure out how to illustrate a convincing change in character motivation. 

When we first learned to write a paper, we had to come up with a thematic statement. We then came up with an outline listing key points to support or refute the thematic statement. Under each key point, we used paragraphs to expand each point. 

How can you apply this to your plot? 

Decide what the matter to be determined between two characters is. Perhaps Dick wants world peace and thinks if people worked together we could achieve it. Ted wants world destruction. He thinks the only way to achieve peace is to eliminate the majority of humankind and start over.

The scenes between Dick and Ted should reflect, in word or deed, skirmishes over this deep divide. Don't beat a dead horse. Every encounter should contribute another point to the argument. This is true whether you are writing a Romance or a Thriller. In a romance, every encounter between protagonist or love interest should reflect something that brings them together or drives them apart.

In once scene Dick makes a point. In another scene Ted makes his counter point. Each encounter they have is an attempt to sway or force each other to adopt the opposite way of thinking. A different point is driven home each time.

This does not mean they make blatant clumsy pronouncements on a soapbox. Rather, everything they do and say in those scenes is motivated by their need to prove and enforce their point. Dick may believe that Ted can be swayed. Conversely, he may know that Ted cannot be swayed but must be stopped so Ted does not sway more people to his side of the argument or take action, such as nuclear annihilation, to achieve his goal.

Ted's scenes illustrate why he wants humankind destroyed. Ted may think Dick is a hopeless dreamer. Dick may drive home a few points that make Ted reconsider.

Dick's scenes address the reasons humanity should be saved. A few scenes could show him questioning his stance. Yet, it is Dick’s belief in the innate goodness of mankind that eventually gives him the tools or the access to stop Ted’s nefarious plan.

In scenes that follow them individually engaging with secondary characters should also support or refute the thematic argument. Secondary characters should have a stance on the topic and their behavior should illustrate the goodness or evil of humankind.

Ted may be surrounded by like minds, but perhaps one or two characters are on the fence. One of these characters could end up working against him. Perhaps Sally’s shenanigans reinforce Ted’s argument that humans are innately evil. She could be his poster child for why the world needs to end.

There will be friends that fight alongside Dick to save mankind. There may be a secondary character that is on the fence. Perhaps he or she encounters Sally and wonders if Dick is fatally naive. Jane could have a perilous dilemma of her own and her self-sacrifice illustrates Dick’s point that humanity is worth saving.

A secondary character’s arc could reflect one side or the other as they interact with tertiary characters.

The audience is satisfied when the hero wins and the antagonist fails. However, an ending could come down on either side of the thematic argument, creating an up or down ending. An ambiguous ending could reflect that there are shades of gray or no correct answer to the thematic question.

Whatever the outcome, stories with underlying thematic arguments are satisfying reads. When every character has a stake in the story, the reader cares what happens next. When each scene ties in to the thematic argument, you have a tight story.

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