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Introduction to Pre-event Assignments 

Algonkian Conferences The below seven assignments are vital to reaching an understanding of specific and critical core elements that go into the creation of a commercially viable genre novel or narrative non-fiction. Of course, there is more to it than this, as you will see, but here we have a good primer that assures we're literally all on the same page before the event begins.

You may return here as many times as you need to edit your topic post (login and click "edit"). Pay special attention to antagonists, setting, conflict and core wound hooks.

And btw, quiet novels do not sell. Keep that in mind and be aggressive with your work.

Michael Neff

Algonkian Conference Director


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Before you begin to consider or rewrite your story premise, you must develop a simple "story statement." In other words, what's the mission of your protagonist? The goal? What must be done?

What must this person create? Save? Restore? Accomplish? Defeat?... Defy the dictator of the city and her bury brother’s body (ANTIGONE)? Struggle for control over the asylum (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST)? Do whatever it takes to recover lost love (THE GREAT GATSBY)? Save the farm and live to tell the story (COLD MOUNTAIN)? Find the wizard and a way home to Kansas (WIZARD OF OZ)? Note that all of these are books with strong antagonists who drive the plot line (see also "Core Wounds and Conflict Lines" below).

att.jpg FIRST ASSIGNMENT: write your story statement. 



Antagonist (Photo Javert from "Les Misérables")

What are the odds of you having your manuscript published if the overall story and narrative fail to meet publisher demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict? Answer: none. You might therefore ask, what major factor makes for a quiet and dull manuscript brimming with insipid characters and a story that cascades from chapter to chapter with tens of thousands of words, all of them combining irresistibly to produce an audible thudding sound in the mind like a mallet hitting a side of cold beef? Answer: the unwillingness or inability of the writer to create a suitable antagonist who stirs and spices the plot hash.

Let's make it clear what we're talking about.

By "antagonist" we specifically refer to an actual fictional character, an embodiment of certain traits and motivations who plays a significant role in catalyzing and energizing plot line(s), or at bare minimum, in assisting to evolve the protagonist's character arc (and by default the story itself) by igniting complication(s) the protagonist, and possibly other characters, must face and solve (or fail to solve).


att.jpg SECOND ASSIGNMENT: in 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them.



What is your breakout title? How important is a great title before you even become published? Very important! Quite often, agents and editors will get a feel for a work and even sense the marketing potential just from a title. A title has the ability to attract and condition the reader's attention. It can be magical or thud like a bag of wet chalk, so choose carefully. A poor title sends the clear message that what comes after will also be of poor quality.

Go to Amazon.Com and research a good share of titles in your genre, come up with options, write them down and let them simmer for at least 24 hours. Consider character or place names, settings, or a "label" that describes a major character, like THE ENGLISH PATIENT or THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST. Consider also images, objects, or metaphors in the novel that might help create a title, or perhaps a quotation from another source (poetry, the Bible, etc.) that thematically represents your story. Or how about a title that summarizes the whole story: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, etc.

Keep in mind that the difference between a mediocre title and a great title is the difference between THE DEAD GIRL'S SKELETON and THE LOVELY BONES, between TIME TO LOVE THAT CHOLERA and LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA between STRANGERS FROM WITHIN (Golding's original title) and LORD OF THE FLIES, between BEING LIGHT AND UNBEARABLE and THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING.

att.jpg THIRD ASSIGNMENT: create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).



Did you know that a high percentage of new novel writers don't fully understand their genre, much less comprehend comparables? When informing professionals about the nuances of your novel, whether by query letter or oral pitch, you must know your genre first, and provide smart comparables second. In other words, you need to transcend just a simple statement of genre (literary, mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, etc.) by identifying and relating your novel more specifically to each publisher's or agent's area of expertise, and you accomplish this by wisely comparing your novel to contemporary published novels they will most likely recognize and appreciate--and it usually doesn't take more than two good comps to make your point.

Agents and publishing house editors always want to know the comps. There is more than one reason for this. First, it helps them understand your readership, and thus how to position your work for the market. Secondly, it demonstrates up front that you are a professional who understands your contemporary market, not just the classics. Very important! And finally, it serves as a tool to enable them to pitch your novel to the decision-makers in the business.

Most likely you will need to research your comps. If you're not sure how to begin, go to Amazon.Com, type in the title of a novel you believe very similar to yours, choose it, then scroll down the page to see Amazon's list of "Readers Also Bought This" and begin your search that way. Keep in mind that before you begin, you should know enough about your own novel to make the comparison in the first place!

By the way, beware of using comparables by overly popular and classic authors. If you compare your work to classic authors like H.G. Wells and Gabriel Marquez in the same breath you will risk being declared insane. If you compare your work to huge contemporary authors like Nick Hornby or Jodi Picoult or Nora Ephron or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, and so forth, you will not be laughed at, but you will also not be taken seriously since thousands of others compare their work to the same writers. Best to use two rising stars in your genre. If you can't do this, use only one classic or popular author and combine with a rising star. Choose carefully!

att.jpg FOURTH ASSIGNMENT: - Read this NWOE article on comparables then return here.

- Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?



Conflict, tension, complication, drama--all basically related, and all going a long way to keeping the reader's eyes fixated on your story. These days, serving up a big manuscript of quiet is a sure path to damnation. You need tension on the page at all times, and the best way to accomplish this is to create conflict and complications in the plot and narrative. Consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you MUST have present in the novel. First part, the primary dramatic conflict which drives through the work from beginning to end, from first major plot point to final reversal, and finally resolving with an important climax. Next, secondary conflicts or complications that take various social forms - anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters. Finally, those various inner conflicts and core wounds all important characters must endure and resolve as the story moves forward.

But now, back to the PRIMARY DRAMATIC CONFLICT. If you've taken care to consider your story description and your hook line, you should be able to identify your main conflict(s). Let's look at some basic information regarding the history of conflict in storytelling. Conflict was first described in ancient Greek literature as the agon, or central contest in tragedy. According to Aristotle, in order to hold the interest, the hero must have a single conflict. The agon, or act of conflict, involves the protagonist (the "first fighter" or "hero") and the antagonist corresponding to the villain (whatever form that takes). The outcome of the contest cannot be known in advance, and, according to later drama critics such as Plutarch, the hero's struggle should be ennobling. Is that always true these days? Not always, but let's move on.

Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her. The above defines classic drama that creates conflict with real stakes. You see it everywhere, to one degree or another, from classic contemporary westerns like THE SAVAGE BREED to a time-tested novel as literary as THE GREAT GATSBY. And of course, you need to have conflict or complications in nonfiction also, in some form, or you have a story that is too quiet.

For examples let's return to the story descriptions and create some HOOK LINES. Let's don't forget to consider the "core wound" of the protagonist. Please read this article at NWOE then return here.

  • The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones
  • A young Moor torn between Islam and Christianity, scorned and tormented by both, struggles to bridge the two faiths by seeking common ground in the very nature of God.
  • Summer's Sisters by Judy Blume
  • After sharing a magical summer with a friend, a young woman must confront her friend's betrayal of her with the man she loved.
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  • As an apprentice mage seeks revenge on an elder magician who humiliated him, he unleashes a powerful Djinn who joins the mage to confront a danger that threatens their entire world.

Note that it is fairly easy to ascertain the stakes in each case above: a young woman's love and friendship, the entire world, and harmony between opposed religions. If you cannot make the stakes clear, the odds are you don't have any. Also, is the core wound obvious or implied?

att.jpg FIFTH ASSIGNMENT: write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.



As noted above, consider "conflict" divided into three parts, all of which you should ideally have present. First, the primary conflict which drives through the core of the work from beginning to end and which zeniths with an important climax (falling action and denouement to follow). Next, secondary conflicts or complications which can take various social forms (anything from a vigorous love subplot to family issues to turmoil with fellow characters). Finally, those inner conflicts the major characters must endure and resolve. You must note the inner personal conflicts elsewhere in this profile, but make certain to note any important interpersonal conflicts within this particular category."

att.jpg SIXTH ASSIGNMENT: sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.

att.jpg Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?



When considering your novel, whether taking place in a contemporary urban world or on a distant magical planet in Andromeda, you must first sketch the best overall setting and sub-settings for your story. Consider: the more unique and intriguing (or quirky) your setting, the more easily you're able to create energetic scenes, narrative, and overall story. A great setting maximizes opportunities for interesting characters, circumstances, and complications, and therefore makes your writing life so much easier. Imagination is truly your best friend when it comes to writing competitive fiction, and nothing provides a stronger foundation than a great setting. One of the best selling contemporary novels, THE HUNGER GAMES, is driven by the circumstances of the setting, and the characters are a product of that unique environment, the plot also.

But even if you're not writing SF/F, the choice of setting is just as important, perhaps even more so. If you must place your upmarket story in a sleepy little town in Maine winter, then choose a setting within that town that maximizes opportunities for verve and conflict, for example, a bed and breakfast stocked to the ceiling with odd characters who combine to create comical, suspenseful, dangerous or difficult complications or subplot reversals that the bewildered and sympathetic protagonist must endure and resolve while he or she is perhaps engaged in a bigger plot line: restarting an old love affair, reuniting with a family member, starting a new business, etc. And don't forget that non-gratuitous sex goes a long way, especially for American readers.


att.jpg FINAL ASSIGNMENT: sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.


Below are several links to part of an article or whole articles that we feel are the most valuable for memoir writers.

We have reviewed these and agree 110%.



Are you thinking of writing a memoir but you're stuck? We've got the remedy. Check out our beginner's guide on writing an epic and engaging memoir.



MEMOIR REQUIRES TRANSCENDENCE. Something has to happen. Or shift. Someone has to change a little. Or grow. It’s the bare hack minimum of memoir.



When it comes to writing a memoir, there are 5 things you need to focus on. If you do, your powerful story will have the best chance of impacting others.



Knowing how to write an anecdote lets you utilize the power of story with your nonfiction and engage your reader from the first page.


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Assignment 1:

A notorious thief must find and steal the heart of the princess’s late betrothed while navigating a debt to a fire-breathing dragon and the vicious politics of the black-market trade.

Assignment 2:


The dragon, Arnevir, is a red herring antagonist.  He burns the protagonist, Odel, for pilfering his hoard and seals him to a debt that will end in Odel giving up the heart of his deceased beloved or falling slave to the dragon’s command.  But the dragon is testing him, for he knows Odel is more than a thief, but the heir to the Old Kings before imperialism destroyed the throne.

The true antagonists are Baron Vein and the Empress.  The Baron is the cruel leader of the heart peddling guild who manipulates Odel into stealing the most valuable heart in the Empire and trading it for the heart of his love.  Baron Vein is a womanizer, a crime boss, and motivated by his lust for flesh and coin.  He is but a puppet to his chief benefactor, the Empress.  She hoards the hearts the Baron collects and enslaves an army of half elves for their magic, which is fueled by said hearts.  She herself is secretly half elf and is determined to reclaim the immortality generations of human oppression have taken from her race.  But she wants all that power for herself, the rest of the half elves be damned.

Assignment 3:

The Heart Peddler

Thief of Hearts

The Heart Thief

Assignment 4:

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty is my first comparison title.  This fantasy is set around a talented thief who has magical abilities she does not understand.  The thief embarks on a lengthy quest with someone of her ancestry who teaches her about the power she wields.  The setting for the first half of my novel is quite similar to Chakraborty’s – a land of desert sand where religion and magic intertwine. 

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is my second comparable.  It is a thieving fantasy centering around an impossible heist, morally grey protagonist, and multiple antagonistic forces at play.  The utilization of flashbacks for character development is key to the storytelling.  Also, those with magic are feared, hunted, and enslaved, treated as second-class citizens or worse.  At the very end, there is a twist; a big reveal which unveils the true antagonist with a cliffhanger ending.

Assignment 5:


A desperate thief has been slave to the black-market heart trade for his entire life and seizes one final job which could grant him freedom.

Assignment 6:

Odel has a few drops of elven blood running through his veins.  He is still considered a half elf and identifies as such with his pointed ears and dark hair.  But he denies this part of his identity, hiding his ears like other half elves and disbelieving in the magical abilities his kind is rumored to possess.  His circumstances are grim, having been plucked off the streets as a wayward orphan and forced into a life of crime, he is constantly chasing freedom in the form of “just one more job.”  He must learn that chasing freedom is equivalent to running from it.

Hypothetical Scenario: Inner Conflict

Odel has taken “one more job” for the Imperial Princess and embarks on a journey with her to find and steal the heart of her late betrothed.  The Princess reveals to him that the Imperial line is not purely human as mandated, but tainted with elven blood and the magical abilities which come with it.  She is fully accepting of her identity as a half elf and attempts to teach Odel how to wield magic conjured from the memories held within the hearts he peddles.  In the hope of buying himself the freedom he so desperately desires, Odel tries to conjure coins from the heart, but the spell goes terribly wrong as he never truly believed in magic, only the power of gold.  He burns himself with the coins which turn to molten metal in his hand and must conjure another spell to heal himself.  The emotional toll of conjuring a memory of his own hand from the heart of his deceased love is overwhelming.  He angrily promises to never use heart magic ever again, the anxiety of coming face to face with the power he had denied his entire life and the shame of causing his true love’s death far too much to bear.  It is easier to continue chasing a life of freedom and deny his ancestral powers.

Hypothetical Scenario: Secondary Conflict

Odel’s lifelong love was killed by Baron Vein, the leader of his black-market heart peddling syndicate, and he subconsciously takes responsibility for gambling her safety on a risky heist.  Now he carries her preserved heart and is preparing to deliver it to the dragon to pay off his debt.  But he was again enticed by a job offered by the Imperial Princess to steal back the golden heart of her late betrothed – the same heart he peddled to the Baron to get his true love’s heart back in the first place.  He keeps this secret from the Princess and takes the job anyway.  Now he must return his love’s heart to the dragon and re-steal the heart of the prince-to-be for the Princess.

But Odel is falling in love… and of course denying it.  When the Princess sits up with him at night after an arduous day of battling their enemies, Odel holds her hand.  But in his pocket, he’s squeezing the heart of his love in the other.  He is feeling guilty for loving the Princess not only because he is in mourning for his deceased partner, but because the Princess is enduring the same loss.

Assignment 7:

The Empire of Gladius is rich in history.  Naervin, the continent to the North, is the ancestral land of the humans, who formed the Old Kingdom.  A greedy king stretched the Old Kingdom to the Southern continent, Sorros, the ancestral land of the elves.  With this imperial expansion, the Gladian Empire was born, and the power of the Old Kings lost to an undiscovered twin of the final King and first Emperor.  Humans slaughtered elves for fear of their magical abilities, but stole their anatomical religion and the practice of embalming the heart after death.  The Empress (or Emperor) rules Naervin and Sorros from Isle Meridi between the two continents, and the Imperial Princess lives in the Palace of Marion, Goddess of Women, in the farthest reaches of the South.  The heart of the prince-to-be, who met an untimely demise before his marriage to the Princess, went missing on its guarded pilgrimage to the Tower of Trell, God of Men, in the farthest reaches of the North. 

The embalming of hearts makes them particularly valuable for collectors, jewelers, and criminals alike for the precious metals and gems which decorate them.  The Hepatic Portal is the black-market heart peddling guild which controls the trade of these precious organs.  Heart peddlers are skilled thieves who make it their occupation to hunt hearts, uncover details of their former masters in life, and trade them for ample amounts of coin. 

The Imperial Princess is abandoning her duties to employ and accompany Odel on a quest to recover the heart of her prince-to-be, the heart Odel had just peddled away.  At every turn, Odel and the Princess are at risk of discovery not only by Imperial forces who would return the Princess to the shelter of her palace and execute Odel, but also from hired brutes enforcing The Hepatic Portal’s specific “no double dipping” policy.  Odel could get in serious trouble if he is caught trying to peddle the same heart twice, not to mention that he is keeping this fact a secret from the very intelligent, but naïve, Princess.

Odel is a Northern man with Northern customs, Naervin having been inspired by Anglo Saxon and Norse lands.  But he is thrown into the mysterious sands of the South, where the Princess is most comfortable, but he is not, forcing him to adapt to a culture completely alien to him.  It is a land inspired by Arabian myth and civilizations lost to war and time. 

Throughout their journey North through both continents, Odel and the Princess must challenge their cultural norms.  All the while, an all-powerful dragon is breathing down Odel’s neck for fulfillment of a debt and the nomadic descendants of the Old Kings are rampaging lost adventurers for their supplies in the remote reaches of the Empire.

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