Friday, March 11, 2011

Complementary or Opplementary

Please welcome guest blogger, Kat Duncan, who graciously has joined us today to share a writing tip from her upcoming class at Savvy Authors.

A story needs people (characters). The story people need something to do (premise). Which comes first the premise or the people?

Well, my grandfather used to say, "If we had some tea, we could have tea and toast. If we had the toast."

I like to go opposite to the crowd. Most writers start with the premise. Let's try starting with people. We need at least one main character (protagonist). Two is good, since this is probably a romance novel. By the way three is not a crowd in romance. Three is either the antagonist (villain) or a ménage.

The story people have to interact. So you have to decide: are these people complementary or opplementary? Do they complement each other the way Jack Sprat and his wife did? (y'know the you eat fat and I eat lean folks). Complementary characters get along, share common goals and generally help each other.

Or are the characters opplementary? Opplementary people don't get along. They don't see eye to eye. Like Jack and the Giant (y'know the beanstalk guys). This applies to antagonists too. Just because a character is the villain, doesn't mean he can't get along with the protagonist. The scariest villains are characters the protagonist trusts - or thinks he trusts.

Once you decide whether the characters are complementary or opplementary, then you need a premise for them to tangle with. The premise puts the characters in a stressful situation. Stress is good. No stressful situation. No story. The stress can be mild or strong. You don't need to invent wild, mystical places (though it's great if you can) or have lots of shootouts, murders and disasters (though that's fine, too). Statistical analysis of the top ten stressors in life are:

1. Spouse’s death
2. Divorce
3. Marriage separation
4. Jail term
5. Death of a close relative
6. Injury or illness
7. Marriage
8. Fired from job
9. Marriage reconciliation
10. Retirement

So you can start there if you have no other ideas. Any character exposed to these stressors will react by changing behavior. Notice that these stressors are all external happenings. Mental stress goes with the premise, but it rarely works as the premise itself.

Your next job is to decide what is making the character behave that way (the way he's reacting to the stress). Is this the usual way the character behaves, or is it different? Think about who they are and what might make them react this way. For example how would your character react to being fired from a job? Would he be angry, relieved, fearful?

Next, have a look at what the character was expecting to happen versus what did happen. Again, complementary and opplementary can help you out here. If what they were expecting was opplementary, then it was unexpected and they don't like it. If what they were expecting was complementary, then it was unexpected and they do like it.

Notice the unexpected part. We don't want predictable things happening to characters.
Now you've got the proper ingredients for a story:

Complementary or opplementary people reacting to some kind of unexpected stressful situation.

Here are the four parts you need:
1. Complementary or opplementary characters
2. Reacting to
3. an unexpected
4. Stressful Situation

Thanks for stopping by. Share your comments here today and check out my year-long novel writing course that begins in May at Savvy Authors. You can also find me on the web at

Kat Duncan obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and German from Regis College in Weston, MA. She is a Fulbright Scholar who spent a year in West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She recently obtained her Master's Degree in Special Education from Gordon College in Wenham, MA. She is a full-time tutor to students from elementary through college and beyond in reading, writing and math. An active member of the New England Chapter of RWA, and RWA-PRO, she has written a series of popular newsletter articles on grammar and style. She has presented a grammar and writing workshops for beginning writers both locally and online. With seven completed manuscripts and numerous short stories she uses a spreadsheet to keep track of her multiple submissions to agents and editors. Her debut book, a romantic suspense novella, titled Fifty-eight Faces, is due out January 12, 2011 from The Wild Rose Press.


  1. Thanks for hosting me today, Daryn. I'll be chatting about story elements at Savvy Authors on Sunday at 6pm EST.

    Also, here's the link to the Savvy Course starting in May:

  2. Wonderful tips. Extremely well-written, keyword-oriented and incredibly beneficial. their really interesting to a lot followers. I seriously get pleasure from this specific, thanks.