Number 11 — December 10, 2004
Before I continue, I want to address the matter of subjective characters in more depth to expose their value in storytelling. In the broadest sense, we may classify story characters as those who are in command, or who control the conflict on one side or the other of the dispute—pro or anti—and those whom the conflict affects. For example, a general remote from the battlefield has a different view of warfare than a soldier in the trenches. The general's perspective is objective. What strategy must he employ to thwart his enemy's tactics, and win the war? The soldier's perspective is subjective. What caution must he exercise to obey orders, and still escape the battlefield alive to return home to his family?
Number 12 — December 17, 2004
· Previous · INDEX · Next · Note: Character role designations in this article, and referenced elsewhere in The Book Doctor Series, come from Dramatica, A New Theory of Story by Chris Huntley and Melanie Phillips. Every character in the story must have a concern about the problem. Conversely, a character unrelated to the problem should not be in the story. That's not to suggest every character type must appear in every story, but every character that does appear must have a concern related to the problem. Each is trying to bring a particular conviction to bear and each has a reason to care about the outcome. When introducing a character, the author must know the role that character will play. Also, the author must know each character's goal, motivation, critical flaw, and connection to the problem—more about these later. The corollary is the author must understand the problem from the outset.
Note: Character role designations in this article, and referenced elsewhere in The Book Doctor Series, come from Dramatica, A New Theory of Story by Chris Huntley and Melanie Phillips.
Every character in the story must have a concern about the problem. Conversely, a character unrelated to the problem should not be in the story. That's not to suggest every character type must appear in every story, but every character that does appear must have a concern related to the problem. Each is trying to bring a particular conviction to bear and each has a reason to care about the outcome. When introducing a character, the author must know the role that character will play. Also, the author must know each character's goal, motivation, critical flaw, and connection to the problem—more about these later. The corollary is the author must understand the problem from the outset.
Number 13 — December 24, 2004
Next, in the development on my story, I come to what I call Dreaming the Story. In the beginning, I envisaged a tale about my lawyer uncle. I approached the problem by selecting players who might fill the basic ten character roles. A snippet of story popped into my mind as I made my selection until at the end of the last article, an embryonic idea for a subplot developed. The next task is to assign attributes to the characters, which are name, gender, age, goal, critical flaw, motivation, and to classify them as "good" or "evil," a classification I call "type." One by one, I put the characters under my microscope. Whether sitting at my computer, driving my car, waiting for my doctor's appointment, or any other place I have a free moment, I dream the story. I think about each character's background and how that will influence his or her contribution to the story. Here is a condensed version about my misguided uncle. I don't think it makes the slightest difference which character you analyze first, but I believe it essential to examine all of them.
Number 14 — December 31, 2004
Continuing from last week, I progress with my character assignments. You will remember, I introduced Mr. Blank. I must decide who knows Mr. Blank. A good possibility might be the ward-healer. His knowledge of the association between Isaac and Mr. Blank could provide Mr. Ward-healer with all the ammunition he needs to exploit Isaac. I already cast the ward-healer as the Contagonist, which fits my plan. You remember the Contagonist allies with the Antagonist by definition. Making Mr. Blank a mole that befriends Isaac would provide an interesting plot twist.
By creating characters to fill roles—protagonist, antagonist, main and obstacles characters, etc.—I conceived a crucial event and could then write a short story because I knew my destination. Using this technique, I can write fiction on almost any subject; define the characters and dream the crucial event. You can do the same.
Number 15 — January 7, 2005
Before I leave characterization, I want to explore four character attributes—flaws, motives, good, and evil—in more depth. The terms are related in a generic sense. To use the terminology of physics, some attributes are kinetic rather than static. Kinetic implies motion whereas static is lack of movement. The specific kinetic quality I have in mind is continuous and productive energy resulting in change; in other words, the qualities that energize the characters.
Number 16 — January 14, 2005
In the previous article, I assigned the Mayor the critical flaw of selfishness that underlies his lust for power. Does that mean on Valentine's Day he puts a rose in his lapel and neglects to buy his wife a gift? Not at all! She is the mother of his children and the keeper of his house; she stands beside him on the podium with arms raised after a successful campaign. In short, his love for her motivates him towards consideration for others. But, what if a stronger motivation exists from a different source? Suppose his father lived beyond his means, incurring large debts the Mayor wants to settle. His motivation is to ensure his progeny never suffer a similar fate and to care for his destitute mother. When the opportunity of his political career arises, his critical flaw dominates his actions. Alas, he falls into the same trap as his father and drags Isaac Taber with him.
When writing a story about good versus good, share the attributes, making sure the characters are different, putting the reader in a seesaw state feeling sympathy for first one character, then another. But, don't forget the flaws. The characters cannot be so perfect as to be inhuman. They must have some qualities that are undesirable, even if you resort to such trivialities as sloppy dresser, messy quarters, slouching posture—anything that makes them real.
Number 17 — January 21, 2005
I noted previously some writers combine the Main Character and Protagonist. How does the author decide why and when to include a Main Character?
Ed becomes suspicious of Isaac's rulings and relays his concern to the DA. This gives Sydney and Ed (good guys) a story problem exploring their suspicions. Abe promises Isaac (bad guys) a payoff for helping his friend the Mayor's political ambitions that provides a story problem they want to hide. These four have objective purposes.
Through exploring these four perspectives, the author examines the real world in fictional terms. The reader experiences the first perspective through watching all the characters from a distance and associating them with a role regardless of whether the reader can name the roles the characters fulfill. Think of the reader as a spectator at a sporting event, watching the players on the arena floor. He may not be able to name the positions the players occupy, but he is able to grasp the sense of the game. In contrast, the Main Character presents the subjective argument, supporting whatever theme the author selects, while the Obstacle Character entertains the opposite view. In the sporting analogy, these characters represent individual players on opposing teams concerned about their personal involvement, which is the subjective view of the game from the arena floor. This is not far from real life. Decisions often come through consideration of an alternative view, sometimes called the devil's advocate.
Number 18 — January 28, 2005
Before I leave character roles, I want to reiterate an earlier comment. The terminology I used came from Dramatica as a convenience. The terms protagonist and antagonist are in common use, the rest are not. But, the role nomenclature does not matter. You could use terms like protagonist's helper, or aide, or friend; love interest; mole; and so on. The important point is not the name of the roles characters fulfill; it's the author's assignment of competing or conflicting attributes before beginning to write plus the fundamental decision to include or exclude two competing subjective players.
Here is an exercise to introduce yourself to the technique. Select a person you knew five or more years ago. Set a timer and freewrite for exactly five minutes about an experience you had with that person. Set your writing aside; do not reread it or correct it. Repeat the exercise for five days in a row, never looking back at your previous work. After the fifth time, did you feel a story developing? You are writing what you know.
Number 19 — February 4, 2005
I continue the topic of freewriting because I attach so much importance to it. Here is an exercise I use at the beginning of my Creative Writing Workshops I offer at public libraries.
What do you expect will happen? I'll tell you what will happen. As the story filters through your mind day after day during your normal activities, you will recall many circumstances about this person you have not thought about for years. The purpose of the untimed fifth exercise is to get all your recollections into this true story from your own life. You will write what you know.
Number 20 — February 11, 2005
After one of my workshops, a participant offered this comment: "The best part of your workshop was about freewriting." This surprised me. As time passed, I found this was not a rare comment, so I decided to do a little research. I sent the following question to several people who had made similar remarks: "Have you used freewriting in your creative work, and if so, can you describe how you do it?" Half the respondents confessed they had not used it; the other half offered a variety of answers I distilled down to three points:
I neither condone nor criticize how people vary the technique. Personally, I employ it often, but I confess I don't time myself. Every weekday morning, I go for a three-mile walk unless it's raining. I direct my thoughts to my current story problem. When I return, I take five or ten minutes to freewrite whatever ideas have arisen. The result is a foolscap book full of scribbling. Occasionally, good ideas pop up. This raises another point that writers must recognize. First drafts are terrible and freewriting is simply a first draft.