If you start paying attention, most novels (and memoirs) employ the But…When principle. Think about it, If you don’t have some sort of conflict or obstacle in a book, it quickly becomes a journal. This is where a lot of adventure stories fall flat (e.g. I got up and ate some cereal. Then I hiked 20 miles. Interesting to a segment of the population, but after awhile, not so interesting). You need to capture the But When in order to be successful.

Let’s take a look at some well known stories.

“Cinderella lives a life of drudgery, waiting on her mean stepsisters. But when a fairy godmother appears with an outrageous proposition, her life is forever changed. Can she ever go back to being a galley wench?”

“Sleeping Beauty just wants to get along with her evil stepmother and fly under the radar. But when the stepmother realizes she is not the fairest in the land, she takes drastic measures to ensure that she will be. Can the curse of the poisoned apple be reversed, or will the narcoleptic beauty snooze forever?”

“Hansel and Gretel, free range kids, explore the woods. But when they come upon a mysterious hut, are they saved, or are they about to turn into souffle?” 

Red Riding Hood, not known for her good eyesight, decides to visit her grandmother. But when a cross dressing wolf has his own ideas, she must use logic, which always works on wolves, to outwit her adversary. Will she make it home alive?

And so on. If you can’t summarize your But…When… you don’t have enough of a plot. For Geography, it is something like this: “Winnie manages to escape the isolated bay where she grew up, finding shelter with two war veterans who take her in. But when her mother vanishes in the wilderness, she must decide whether to face her past or leave it behind forever.”

I’m struggling with my novel, and it’s a direct result of not knowing the But When. So far I have: “A bad decision on a wilderness ridge resulted in tragedy for Lina and her trail crew. Since then, she has lived a reclusive life in the mountains with a man who has his own secrets, and she believes she has put that day behind her. But when…”

Feel free to fill in the blanks! I haven’t been able to yet!