13-Week Rewrite, Week Three: The Counter-Argument

Thanks for joining me again! Last week, you started from the beginning, re-writing through the opening act of your first draft. You set a weekly and daily goal for yourself, you pumped up the tension in your opening, you laid the ground-work for the average work-a-day world of your protagonist, and you explored the primary question underlying the inciting incident: “Why is today unlike every other day?” This week, we look at the Counter-Argument.

Rewriting the Counter-Argument

The Counter-Argument is the opposite side of your story question coin, the resistance against which your heroine struggles through the rest of the story. This counter-argument should be presented to the reader roughly 2/3rds of the way through your opening act.

(I’m assuming a classic Three-Act Structure here: Beginning, Middle, and End. With other act structures, your mileage may vary, but the principle is the same; the Counter-Argument is introduced about 15% of the way into the total story.)

The Counter-Argument is the story plight as seen from its opposite perspective. It’s an opportunity to show your readers both sides of the apparent problem in order to understand the story-plight in its totality. If you only show one side, it might seem as if your hero is struggling with the problem in a vacuum, and your readers might not fully appreciate the nature of the conflict.

It’s important to note that the opportunity for this counter-argument probably exists in your manuscript already, even if you didn’t consciously set it up. Structure isn’t something you need to manufacture in a laboratory. Rather, it’s something that is grown and nurtured, and then sharpened by interrogation.

No Math, I Promise

Story structure shouldn’t feel like a math problem. If you ever feel like you’re making choices simply to meet your (or anyone else’s) expectations of your story’s structure, then it’s time to stop and explore your heroine’s impulses at this stage in the story. By listening to your character’s impulses, a more dynamic way of exploring the counter-argument will inevitably present itself.

Some Questions to Ask Your Story This Week

  1. Are you dramatizing the story plight’s counter-argument through action?
  2. Are you setting up the major characters in your first act?
  3. How are your major characters relating to each other?
  4. Are you seeing how all of your characters want the same thing?
  5. Is there conflict in every scene?
  6. Are you seeing how the scenes can be reordered, removed, or conflated to heighten tension and boost the narrative drive?
  7. Is your dialogue alive? Have you fully mined all the characters’ objectives in every scene to maximize the conflict?

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley.”

“To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns

A Merchant's Tale by Michael E. Dellert

More commonly known as “The best laid plans of mice and men often go a-stray.”



The Arc of Scenes

As you seek out ways to make your story as dynamic as possible, you’ll naturally explore the various means by which the characters attempt to get what they want. Conflict arises when your characters’ efforts are met with obstacles—antagonistic forces that cause them to alter their plans. This back and forth interplay between the hero and the villain provides your scene with an arc.

As your work gets more specific in the rewrite, you’ll make unexpected discoveries that will assist you in making the arc as dynamic as possible. Each scene is informed by the scenes that precede it. By exploring the characters’ backstory and all that leads to this particular moment, you arm yourself with vital intelligence that informs the scene and makes it as dynamic as possible.

You may want to explore the myriad possibilities through some stream-of-consciousness exercises in order to find moments that bring the energize and vitalize the scene. What are all the ways you can explore the nature of the story plight through the scene?

Take time to notice how scenes begin and end. Are they building tension? Is something about the characters’ revealed in a new light? Can the scene be made more dynamic by exploring new ways for your characters to get what they want?

Ok, get to work, and good luck! I’ll see you again next week!











Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

Posted in Editing, Process, Writing craft

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The Author
Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
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