5 Steps to Using A “Q Factor”

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by Ane Mulligan

I learned about the Q Factor from James Scott Bell years ago. 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 cufflink. That cufflink 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.

If we’d 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.

Look at it like this: 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 your Protagonist’s black 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.

Award-winning author Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet tea. She’s a multi-published novelist and playwright. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and lives in Sugar Hill, GA. You can find Ane at www.anemulligan.com or Amazon author page.



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