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What are publishers looking for?


Publishers are looking for fiction that reveals not simply the character’s journey to the resolution of their drama, but a process of change. The resolution of the drama, in fact, depends on that change. If the character hasn’t changed in a significant way by the end of the novel, the drama feels hollow and disappointing.

So what kind of change are publishers after? What do they mean by change? They mean the character begins the story with an internal antagonist or flaw. The circumstances of the plot challenge this internal antagonist again and again. This internal antagonist keeps getting in the protagonists way, keeps preventing them from getting what they want, because the protagonist doesn’t know they’ve got this flaw. They’re in denial, if you like. Other characters might tell them about this flaw or internal antagonist, but the protagonist will dismiss them.

In Pride and Prejudice, people try to tell Elizabeth that she is blinded by prejudice into believing Mr Wickham’s lies about Darcy.

Her sister, Jane, tries to tell her. So does Charlotte Lucas, her best friend. So does Caroline Bingley and Mr Bennet, her own father. Elizabeth finds a reason in each instance to dismiss what these characters tell her. It isn’t until she has rejected Mr Darcy’s offer of marriage and he writes her a letter, revealing the truth about his dealings with Wickham, that she realises how blinded she has been by prejudice. 

Its an uncomfortable realisation to make. When a protagonist finally realises they’ve been led astray by their internal antagonist, it is always uncomfortable. It must be. The discomfort they feel is the catalyst to change. By the end of the novel, the protagonist has recognised their flaw or internal antagonist, and they have taken steps to correct it. The proof that they have succeeded is the substance of the resolution.

Or at least, it is in fiction with a happy ending. If the ending is bitter-sweet or sad, then while they might have recognised their flaw, they have been unable to correct it. Again, their inability to correct the flaw will form the substance of the resolution. Read any of Shakespeare’s tragedies and you will see the main character recognising their flaw and being unable to correct it. 

But in most fiction, the happy ending is a triumph because the protagonist has come to terms with their internal antagonist and corrected it. We love it when that happens!

The Architecture of Narrative deals specifically with plotting and structure as it relates to this internal antagonist.

Writing Course

In June, 2015, Sydney Smith will hold a writing course. Bring your manuscripts along. The course will focus on characters and the principles of plotting and structure. By the end of the course, those attending will have a much greater understanding of how novels (movies and TV dramas) use the techniques described, and how they can be applied to your writing. 

Every person will receive a free one-to-one session with Sydney Smith to discuss their manuscript.  If anyone would like to do this course, but would prefer private, one-on-one meetings, this can be arranged. 

Bonus: A free copy of The Architecture of Narrative.

The course will run on the following dates: 6 June, 1pm – 4pm; 4 July, 1pm – 4pm; 1 Aug, 1pm – 4pm; 5 Sept, 1pm – 4pm; 3 Oct,  1pm – 4pm.

Venue: Naughton’s Parkville Hotel, 43 Royal Parade, Parkville.

Cost: Full price $205. Early bird: $185. 

For further details, email 



Comments (1 Comment)

Attending Sydney’s plot and structure course three years ago, I discovered a warm human being who passionately argued for writers to observe the architecture of stories that are compelling to read. I have always longed for my writing to have that effect, but it has been a hard road bending my imagination to the demands of effective plot and characterisation. My wilful ego has blurred Sydney’s arguments, in order to assert my instinctive drive to include scenes and personalities that entertain me regardless of their capacities to drive my plot. I don’t realise I’m doing this until I complete my first draft, and reading it, feel the drag of pacing gone awry with characters meandering rather than pursuing their goals. I’m excited that Sydney has put her critical insights into a book that interrogates fiction writers, giving us no excuse for running away on flights of fancy. I want to write a compelling fiction. I need to have Sydney’s book at my bedside. I need to read it first thing in the morning and last thing at night until I have internalised its teachings and I can bend my capricious imagination to its teachings.

Posted by Thea Calzoni on May 02, 2015

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