5 Steps to Using A Q Factor

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I learned about the Q Factor from James Scott Bell years ago at the BRMCWC. He’s given me permission to share it here.

So what is the Q Factor?

It’s a great tool that comes from Dr. Q, in the James Bond movies. He’s the one who gives Bond his gadgets, so during the crucial scene where Bond is dangling by his ankles over a school of piranha, he manages to get his thumb on a cuff-link. That cuff-link turns into a small, rotating saw, which he uses to cut through the restraints on his hands and legs.He then reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a fountain pen. The pen holds a compressed nitrogen charge and shoots a small grappling hook and line across the piranha pond, enabling Bond to swing to safety on the other side of the pool.

Now, if we had been reading along in the story and come to this point, and Bond simply produced those items for the first time, we’d all be groaning. How convenient! What a cheat! And we’d never trust the author again.

But Dr. Q did the set-up, and because we saw these items before, we accept them when they’re used.

The Q factor in a novel

In fiction, the Protagonist should reach a point near the end when everything looks lost. In figurative terms, she is dangling over a pool of piranha. She needs courage for the final battle, to face the ultimate test.

This is where the Q Factor can help. It is something set up early in the story that will provide the necessary inspiration or instruction for the character when she needs it most.

In Chapel Springs Revival, my Q Factor is Claire’s late Great-aunt Lola. The first time her husband went to work without kissing her goodbye, she left, went to Hollywood and became a big star in silent films. Claire remembers that when her hubby leaves for work without kissing her goodbye. This sets up the story question: will Claire leave her husband?

In the middle the story, Claire thinks about what Aunt Lola would have done. Now we cut to the black moment, when Claire’s husband walks out of the house in anger, after he learns something she did. At the appropriate time, Claire goes to the attic and reads Aunt Lola’s journals. In them, what she learns helps her make a decision.

Another way to look at it is this: so many stories are about overcoming fear. The fear manifests itself most when all the forces are marshaled against the Protagonist. Fear and common sense tell her to give up, run away.She knows she can’t. So give her a Q Factor, an emotional element that comes in when she needs it.

To do that:

  1. Select the element (item, mentor, moral sentiment, negative character, etc.)
  2. Write a scene early in the story that ties this element emotionally to the Protagonist.
  3. Refer to the Q Factor subtly in the middle section, as a reminder.
  4. Find a trigger point in yourProtagonist’sblack moment where the Q Factor can be reintroduced.
  5. Show your Protagonist taking new action based on the Q Factor. If you’ve embedded the Q well enough up front, the readers will pick up what’s happening without you having to explain it to them. Just let it happen naturally.

The Q Factor is just another tool to add to your technique box. I like collecting these and finding new ways to incorporate them.

Now, it’s your turn. Share a favorite writing tool from your technique box.


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.