Monday, June 1, 2009

Writing The Status Quo

Every novel begins with the status quo. It sounds boring, doesn’t it? It had better not be or we’ll lose our readers. Actually, the status quo is just what your protagonist’s life is like before he reaches the crisis of the inciting incident. If your protagonist happens to be James Bond, the status quo might include blowing things up and kissing a few girls.

In many romances, the status quo shows a woman who has it all together, running her own business, doing well for herself, certainly not in need of a man. Or does she? She goes home to her cat and cooks a microwave dinner. There are these little hints that her life isn’t what she would like for it to be or needs it to be. This part of the novel is where we define the problems that must be solved. She is coping, but for how much longer?

There’s no way around it, the status quo is not good enough. Something has to change or we won’t have a story, but for argument, let’s suppose nothing changes. The status quo keeps going. Though it will eventually kill our protagonist, she keeps doing what she is doing. Things happen and she keeps responding the same way. An attractive man comes into town, but he isn’t her man. He doesn’t offer to help her and she doesn’t ask. He leaves town and she doesn’t care. She just keeps on kicking her cat off the bed in the morning, going to her store, taking care of customers and returning home to feed the cat. It’s the status quo.

Throw in an inciting incident and things change. That new man in town walks into her store. He says something about looking for a place to stay and amid the fast flutter of her heart she offers him the apartment above her store. Things have just changed. But change is unimportant without the status quo to show us why we need it.