Having been told in both my 1-2-1's at York that my opening chapter lacked emotion, it was probably a good job I went to this session...I haven't got everything down as I missed the end of the session for a 1-2-1, but if you are reading this and went to the same session, feel free to add anything else important that I didn't catch in the comments...
Craig Taylor explained a technique called 'The Golden Triangle', used by screenwriters to boost the emotional power of plot. At first sight, it looks very simple and contains a lot of common sense - but it's how you USE the triangle that makes all the difference.
A = 'Hard Plot', the external plot - the world, action, what happens and what it does to us. It can be interiorized too, as in what we do to ourselves...
B & C are 'Sub-plot' - what lies underneath the plot and gives the plot its meaning.
B represents the person - everything to do with the character...their problems, inspirations. Thing is, we naturally want to influence what the world throws at us, but it's impossible. Life ain't predictable.
Until C - which is CRUCIAL. It allows us to come back to the action, anchors the individual who mediates the world through relationships, which in turn impacts against the world and what it might have laid in our way, so that our characters CAN change things. In other words, any change a character makes needs to be mediated through relationships, which meaningfully affects the change in themselves so that they have some say in the world.
With me so far? If not, here's an example we were given, using the main character, Jimmy, from The Van (written by Roddy Doyle).
A = Jimmy is unemployed. That's what the world has thrown at him. The simple solution would therefore be to get a new job, which removes the problem.
B = Jimmy is prevented from achieving this because he finds he rather likes not working, so he settles for what the world has thrown at him.
C = Jimmy breaks out of this lazyboy cycle thanks to his wife, who is practical and working and needs to renegotiate her relationship with Jimmy to restore her pride in him. Result? Jimmy sets up a kebab business with a friend.
Sorted. Except that at this point in the story a new triangle begins, because the relationship with the friend goes down the pan. In spite of this, Jimmy realises he doesn't really want to settle for the lazyboy approach, so by the end of the book his attitude and approach to life has been changed. This is an example of a 'Heroic ending', as opposed to a 'Tragic Ending', where the character stays the same as they were to begin with in spite of all that's happened.
Depending on which side of the triangle you focus on, you might find you're writing in a particular genre - more A space would be a thriller, perhaps? More B and C plot, more literary?
If you have multi-POV novels, you need to think in the same triangle terms for each character, although the main character's interaction takes precedence. These multiple characters often come together at C, especially when we change the A, B and C sides of our triangle to something a little more detailed...
You can apply the triangle to scenes too - think about what the scene needs. Does it involve something the world throws at the character (A), or does it need a relationship to move the character forward in the story (C)? Remember that A can be a person or a relationship too - but it must affect the character.
And that's about where I left...
I think what the session emphasised for me was that there has to be a constant cycle of events. In this instance, the cycle has straight sides (!) but the principle is the same. And it reinforced the fact that I really, REALLY have to focus more on changes to my character through the course of a novel - they are not puppets: they're people. In real life we don't stay the same...we learn, adapt, alter ourselves, depending on our experiences and the relationships we are part of.
Seems rather weird that something which happens so naturally in life, I have such problem in getting into my stories...