One Character Quality Isn’t Enough

Greetings all,

 

I’m writing this post on my phone because for some reason, my computer has decided it hates WordPress. I’d rather post something as opposed to not.  I think it’s important I post on schedule, so here I am, but I do ask for some leinency for lack of pictures and any other errors.

A while back, I posted about chracter sliders. I mentioned that characters need to grow, but today I want to warn against characters who only have a high value in one category.

I don’t think charaters like this work. If you have a character who is amazingly competent, it won’t matter if he’s unsympathetic or not proactive.

Some may argue characters have to be symoasympat, and I like those characters, but sympathy alone isn’t enough.

I wanted to try and explain this with a character study, but I simply can’t think of a character who only has one high-value characteristic.  I’m honestly atill thinking, and I can’t name one.

So let’s assume you all agree with me that characters need to be sympathetic; what else should they be? Well, that’s the luxury of choice.

A proactive character would, I think, inspire characters and motivate readers to keep trying.  This would be a character like Naruto.

A competent character would challenge the reader. He would force the reader to keep up while simultaneously frustrating readers with his tendency to not act. Doctor Strange is a good example here. He’s totally motivated by selfish reasons.  By choosing to take action and help defend Earth, the reader is satisfied and excited by his involvement in the fight.

Why are two mandatory?

Well, let’s again assume most feeling characters just be proactive.

If he doesn’t do anything, the reader will lose interest, feeling as though the character won’t ever answer the call to action

If the reader is also incompetent, the reader will put the story down because even if that character decided to take action, he’d probably fail.

My point is a character can’t just be sympathetic, proactive, OR competent. There needs to be a second element to create tension during the rising action and satisfaction during the climax.

What are your thoughts? Can you name any one-dimensional characters?

 

Thanks for reading

Matt

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Greetings all,

It’s been a while since I did any character studies, so I thought this was a good time to do that. There’s a lot of demand out there these days for characters who “grow.” That term is used a lot but the better word is “change.” People like to see characters affected by their actions and evolve as a result of them. I’m still a big fan of neutral change arcs (K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs talks about this), but I have seen some character arcs that I just loved. Some I’ve already mentioned before, but I’d like to share with you some stories where you truly saw a character evolve as the story progressed.

51PNy3Gq7OL._AA300_Rand al’Thor from The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: I’d argue this is my favorite arc of all time. It probably should be as it took 14 books to evolve. I don’t know that I’ve seen any other character grow, fall, and return to grace the way Rand does. He starts as a simple farm boy (yes, the most overused trope ever). But he’s just a boy whose biggest concern is dealing with a girl he’s pretty sure he’s going to marry. We see him afraid and avoid his calling for three books. Then we see him struggle with what it means to be what he becomes. Then we see him betrayed, and what that does to him. He falls all the way to darkness, nearly willing to end his own life. Then he becomes the leader and figure he’s meant to be, but that’s not the end. I won’t go farther than that. Even with spoilers, there are some things I just won’t discuss on a blog. But for people who want to study an arc of a character, I’d recommend you start here.

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This isn’t Dorian, but I don’t want to dare some author to sue me for using his art. The cover of a graphic novel? Well, there I can try and argue fair use.

Dorian Ursuul from the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks: I’ve already spoken about his arc in terms of his fall from grace. He’s honestly a good, well-meaning man who’s put in a position that basically tempts him into becoming the monster he eventually becomes. I’m fascinated about the possibility of a story where this plot is more of a centerpiece of a novel. It’s rummaging around my head somewhere, but it’ll fall out at some point, and this character and story is why. It’s a beautiful negative change arc.

Tyrion from The Embers of Illeniel series by Michael G. Manning: The end of his arc was the best book I read last year, and that’s saying something.  He gives Rand a run for his money in terms of quality (I give Rand the advantage because I like good guys to find their grace again), but this character’s arc is so enthralling. Every single thing he does that will make him a monster is understandable. The tragedy of its necessity is second only to the sadness I felt as I saw what those horrific necessities created.

41awCCmXEKL._SY346_Artemis Fowl from the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer: I have to make it a point to pick up this series again. I thought it ended, but I’m not sure I read all of the books. Even with what I read, his arc deserves to be here. Listen folks, this kid is a little turd in book one. Watching him interact and make friends and become a protector for those he originally sought to use was a real treat. It’s funny because the way I’m identifying these characters is by looking through my Goodreads books. I scrolled around until I stumbled upon the book and thought, “Oh yeah! His arc was fantastic!”  He’s a character who starts out pretty bad (I mean it’s a young reader book), and then grows into someone truly selfless.

41SA4n8T3uLEmma from Emma by Jane Austen: I’m going to pause here to go off on a tiny tangent. Fans claim to demand great arcs, but if I’m being honest, I just don’t see many. Oh, I read a bunch of great stories. But most of the stories I read are about men who are tempted but don’t fall, men who are nice and stay nice, or men who are bad and stay bad. I’ll go over some of my favorite books where I just don’t see the arc. People can argue with me if they wish (I encourage debate), but I spent a solid hour going over all my books in my Goodreads and struggled to find five arcs where I could really point to a person who changed (even if only for a while in the book). Oh, they evolved. They learned a truth, but they didn’t actually CHANGE. There are other characters who truly change in other mediums. (Weiland does a bunch of character studies in her book.)  But for my money, it’s tough to find those sweeping evolutionary arcs. Emma represents one of the originals. She’s a selfish woman who thinks she knows best how to do things. (Clueless was one of the best modern adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen. Seriously!) Regardless, she changes from a selfish person who THINKS she’s selfless, to a person who learns how to value others as people rather than objects. It’s honestly a solid arc.

So there you go. I’d love to hear your thoughts on arcs. Please don’t misunderstand. There are a lot of books I love (I thought about putting Vin on her list, but she evolved pretty quickly in my opinion) where I didn’t really notice an arc, but I won’t deny that some of these stories are genuinely great because of the way the characters evolve (or devolve). If you think you got another good one, please post it below in the comments for discussion or study.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland
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This cover image was taken from Amazon for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

I’ve recently started eating more greens thanks to my friend the Quintessential Editor. (I’m pretty sure he recommended this book.) This book was something I read to help me with outlining more.

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, does a few things that I’m a big fan of.

The first thing I’m a fan of is the case studies. Each arc description is summarized and supported with examples to help illustrate how such a plot plays out in different movies. I should explain that this book is a bit different from what I’d call plotting.

In plotting, you’re marking the key plot points and events in a story. This is so readers see progression in the overall narrative. I’d wanted to improve my development of characters as they progress through the plot points. This novel did that. Weiland breaks down three types of arcs: The positive change arc, the neutral change arc, and the negative change arc. She breaks negative change into three more I can’t recall off the top of my head. The case studies and benchmarks she provides are things I plan to pull out while outlining my next main project and editing whatever I’m working on. I think understanding these types of character arcs is a must for writers. How you feel about them and how you apply those thoughts is as unique as the storyteller in my opinion, but understanding them matters.

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This image and the feature image were pulled from K.M. Weiland’s website for review purposes. As I’m trying to recommend her book, I’m hoping she’ll forgive the use of these images.

Another thing I’d like to highlight is the idea of “The Lie Your Character Believes.”  That resonated with me. I won’t go into it here because 1) I fear copyright and 2) I think authors, especially those who feel they struggle with outlining, should give this book a read. I actually listened to the audio edition, and that was super helpful for a guy like me.

I’m less inclined to be entirely beholden to some of the more rigid benchmarks. Weiland gives specific percentage marks for each point of the story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I completely disagree, I just don’t know that I’d be that militant about where certain shifts in the story happen. What I will say is those benchmarks are great guides, but stories need a bit of leeway.

What I intend to do with this book and information is weave some of the elements of this book’s character plot points with my plotting.  This should keep the sense of progression my stories have (which I feel are solid) and give me a way to plan the emotional journey of my characters a little more carefully.

Creating Character Arcs is a great outlining tool that provides informative case studies for each type of arc. Authors or aspiring authors should pic this up and add it to their toolbox of story building tools. I’m a fan of “how-to” books that are this simple to understand and through in presentation. I can’t say enough about those case studies!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

Growth of a Character: The Plot isn’t the Only Thing That Moves

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I’ve been starting the habit of reading more books on writing. It’s something I’ve always believed in, but didn’t really practice as much as I should. I read plenty, and I listen to video blogs and podcasts when I’m not furiously doing the other things that life has me doing.  The thing is, we have to take the time to hone our craft, and it’s not enough to simply write. Writing without learning about the craft or trying new things won’t lead to growth.

 

I’d mentioned a few times how Caught was a bit delayed because my editor didn’t think Sal’s arc was clear enough. As is always the case when I hear feedback, even if I disagree with it, I started doing some research, and the book I’m currently listening to, Creating Character Arcs  by K.M. Weiland, has at least got me thinking. See, my struggle is some characters don’t change. I like some of those characters. So I had to figure out a way of thinking that allowed me to distinguish between one arc and another.

Here’s one choice that’s important: The events your characters experience should change them, or the situation or people should change as a result of your characters.

That, to me, is the distinction that matters. I’ll post a “review” of the above book once I finish it, but I’m far enough along in that book to know I’ve pinpointed that choice as one every writer should make.

Case study:
15326549_1179426122094499_6318367043184922848_nTyrion from Betrayer’s Bane: This was the December Book Cover of the Month. I finished this book last week, and I’ll post a review on it in a few weeks, but Tyrion is a good figure to study. You have a character who’s come to believe a simple truth: Nothing is more important that the elimination of the enemy.

Without giving you too many spoilers, I will tell you what matters is he has a fundamental belief.  Each plot point serves to in one way or another test that belief. As the story progresses, he’s even tempted by other things. Then his moment of decision comes when he has to choose to let go of that belief completely or hold to it. That moment of choice must feel realistic. The temptation to change coarse must feel tempting to the reader, and the moment of decision must come at the character’s most delicate frame of mind. Michael G. Manning does an amazing job of following those threads to a satisfying conclusion.

Iron Man:
This story I feel less likely to have spoilers, so I feel a bit more ready to point out some of the specifics.  Tony Stark has a fundamental belief in the beginning of the movie. Nothing matters as long as you have wit and money. There may be other (and even better) ways to say it, but this is him in a nutshell. Sure, when he’s captured he learns the pain of irresponsibility, but he still counters this with his mind and financial power, but he’s fighting the symptoms of the problem. He’s still pretty caviler about things until the his newest weapon nearly falls into the wrong hands. Here he has the chance to let let the responsibility go, or accept it and do something. That moment of choice is when we see Stark’s growth.

But what about those other arcs I like so much? I’ve been open that I like a character who  doesn’t change. When a character doesn’t change, the world around him has to. This is the nature of a story. Something must change.

Captain America: From beginning to end, our hero is who he is. Yes, he gains power. Yes, his looks change. But those are superficial. He starts the movie a young man believing that truth and justice are worth fighting for, and ends his battle paying (or seeming to pay) the ultimate sacrifice for his belief. He doesn’t change. But every other character around him does. His belief becomes  a beacon of light for others to look upon. Characters look to him and decide to follow his example, or reject him and become his opposition.

overcoming-2127669_960_720A great plot is an equally great place to start, but events (especially those as traumatic as the ones we see in literature) test people. If those people hold tight to their beliefs (regardless of their truth or falsehoods), the characters around him should be inspired by those actions (or they should try to kill him).  If the people don’t change, the characters should. People crave companionship. If the world around us doesn’t change we’ll eventually change ourselves to fit in. Peer Pressure and Social Norming are examples of this truth.

How do you do that?  Well, part of it is to consider how your character will react to the events you’re about to put him through? Who is your character at the beginning of the story?  Who will he be at the end? Who were the other characters when they meet your main character? Who will they be at the end?

Plot shows a progression of events, but that’s just part of it. Characters should grow or help those around them grow.  I thought I’d spend a bit of time offering my thoughts and seeing what everyone else thinks.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

 

 

Ripping off the Best to be the Best

Ripping off the Best to be the Best

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On occasion, I’ll stand in front of my students and discuss the problems I’ve faced in writing or in the Navy.  I’ll tell them about challenges with how I approach a story or how I deal with something when I struggle.

I look at these young men and women, hold my head up high, and say, “I cheat.”

If one looks around enough, they tend to see the same things happen over and again.  I don’t get as angry when people say, “there are no original stories,” anymore.  Oh, those who say that have poor english skills, but that’s because that’s not what they necessarily mean.  Usually, they’re talking about plots.  The originality should be the voice and vision of the author.

When I tell my students that I cheat, I wasn’t talking about violating the UCMJ or even academic standards.  I was simply expressing that I make every effort to learn from others so I don’t make the same mistakes.  That’s one of the reasons so many of my blogs focus on my mistakes.  There are a lot of people trying to make their mark in the world, and I don’t want them falling for the same tricks I’ve fallen for.  I don’t want them making the same mistakes I make.

hobo-826057_960_720I also like to take inspiration.  One of my favorite things is to put stories in an imaginary blender and see what original concepts come out.  I’m currently doing a read-through of an upcoming book, 1,200.  The glimmer moment (idea) came from a story I was covering for the Navy.  You see, there were (at that time) 1,200 homeless veterans in the city of San Diego.  So I took that actual issue and ran with it.  Remember that blender I told you about?  One thing that always seems too convenient to me (though I do it, too) is the arrival of the Mentor or Impact Character.  (Sometimes one man fills the same role.)

A little boy makes some glass disappear, and here comes a giant to explain the boy’s a wizard.

A farm boy buys some droids, and they just happen to belong to the man who can teach him about the Force.

There’s a million of them.

For the most part in my life, I’ve been blessed.  I’ve had some amazing mentors in my life, but I’ve also had to figure a few things out on my own.  So when I was brainstorming for 1,200, thinking about how to make this more interesting, I took away the mentor.  What an original idea!

blender-297110_960_720No it isn’t.  I TOTALLY stole that from The Great American Hero.  It’s about a guy who finds a super suit, but it doesn’t have any instructions.  I’m not even going to lie.  I applied an interesting concept in a different way.  So when my main character (whose name is probably going to change) discovered his powers, he was on his own.  This book is less dark than Caught, but still much darker than Journals.  So I took a concept, and made it my own.  I do it all the time.  And even if the plot police shine a light in my face, I’ll tell them, “Yeah, I did it! And I’d do it again!”

Heck, I think about what I can steal all the time.  I even steal from my day job.  We teach our Sailors about host nation sensitivities and cultural concerns.  The Navy takes great care to make sure its Sailors understand we’re representatives of our country and how to be good guests in all of the countries we visit.  This is true even in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations we’ve operated in.  The Navy knows it’s Sailors must be better people than those we’re there to protect others from.  That means we have to train our Sailors in what to think about.  I was about half-way through preparing that lesson plan a few years back when I realized it’s no different than what an author has to think about when worldbuilding.  Academic concerns lead me to hold back the majority of the list, but a few include cultural values and religion.  I’ve even mentored a few Sailors who want to be authors on this concept.

I steal from other authors.  I do not plagiarize.  If a magic system does something interesting, I file it away in my mental file cabinet.   The concept to New Utopia was heavily inspired by Valley of the Wind.  The trick is more about how you apply it.

QUICK SHOT 2011
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Matthew Leistikow, assigned to Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific, leads Sailors in a wedge patrol formation during patrol familiarization as part of the Fleet Combat Camera Group Pacific Summer Quick Shot 2011. Quick Shot is a semi-annual field training exercise intended to train combat camera personnel to operate in a combat environment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David A. Brandenburg/Released)

As I sit and look at 1,200, there’s a LOT of work I have to do.  I’m glad the Brown Pipers are enjoying it, but I still think there are some genuine issues to work out.  (If you remember my blog on discover writing, 1,200 is one of the last two books I wrote by discovery writing. Sure, I had some idea where I was going, but I didn’t outline at all.)   But the concept is working pretty well.

There are video blogs out there who explain a lot of your all-time favorite movies and songs are, in fact, not the original tales you thought they were.

What do I steal?

Parts of a concept:  I may not take the entire premise, but I do look for an element that fascinates me.

Fantasy elements:  I was going to say I steal magic systems, and I steal those, but then I realized I steal pretty much any ONE aspect of fantasy element if the mood suits me.

Elements of characters:  I wrote about this in my blog about character development.

What don’t I steal?

Entire plot lines:  Valley of the Wind inspired New Utopia, but New Utopia is built around a few separate issues.    Though others do this (and it’s not illegal or unethical), I don’t.  I don’t because I’d be too tempted to draw more and more from the source of said inspiration.  For instance, I borrowed the concept of the magic system in New Utopia from Mistborn.  It’s different enough, but I keep a very stern hold of myself.  I only take small parts.

lego-516559_960_720Let’s talk about blending again.  I mentioned it above, and this is something I do in pretty much every stage of life and writing.  I steal all of these great things, and then I take them all apart and put them back together like a Lego hodgepodge creation of my very own.  I don’t actually know where I got the technique from, but I haven’t seen anyone who approaches it quite that way.  So maybe that’s the one original thing I bring.  I’m not saying I’m the only one who steals, I’m just saying that’s my particular twist on burglary.  If you do it the same way, let me know.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Plotting: Where the Heck is This Book Going?

Plotting:  Where the Heck is This Book Going?

Recently I posted a blog about how I develop characters.  While doing that, I talked about how in in character files, I outline each character’s progression.  This is commonly called plotting.  You use structures to develop each character’s through-line.  In the post mentioned above, I discussed the need for each character to be their own main character.  I also mentioned they need more than one plot.

The bulk of my plotting terms come from Brandon Sanderson’s online lectures.  I may have altered some terms because they make more sense for me that way, but those have the bulk of the structures I use.

As I grow, I consider other options, but this is a solid list.  Essentially what it boils down to is asking yourself, “How are my readers going to know my character is growing.”  Reminder:  Regression is a form of growth.

I always knew about the Three Act Structure and the Hero’s Journey.  The Journals of Bob Drifter follows a three act cycle.  The “Matt breakdown” of this is:  Introduce Hero.  Make life suck.  Resolve issues established in Act Two.

Rather than rehash what is already covered brilliantly in the links above, I thought I’d do what I love best, and provide you with some examples.  I call these case studies.  I learn best by looking at what others have done and seeing how it applies to what I’m trying to accomplish.

Corey Truax covered the heroes’ journey quite well, and Star Wars is a textbook example.  Corey’s breakdown and Episode 4 are more than enough to go on.

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Covers of Redshirts, Awake in the Dark, The Eye of the World, Artemis Fowl, and Dragonflight used for educational study under Fair Use doctrine.

Mystery:  If your character is trying to learn something, you’re writing a mystery.  It could be who killed John Doe or what’s wrong with the water in Ladonis.  (I made those up to give you examples, so if you find something I accidentally touched on, I didn’t mean it.)  Now, I’ve sung Sanderson’s praises a lot, so I feel talking about Elantris would be a bit unfair here.  Let’s give someone else a little credit.  Redshirts by John Scalzi is type of mystery.  It’s hilarious.  It’s obviously a parody (I’ll track down my review and post it on the new blog soon).  The point is, the main character is trying to figure out what exactly is going on.  I loved this book, but what pushed me through it was each clue the main character had to get him to realize what was happening.    One of the main plotlines for my sixth book (New Utopia) is a mystery.  Sanderson mentions Big Problem plots.  I sort of lump this in with mystery as whatever they’re trying to do, they still have to figure out how to do it.

 

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Try Fail:  I tried to make this a sub plot as well because the character is trying to achieve something.  The mystery would be how to do it, but what makes this plot stand alone better for me is the fact that you don’t actually need a large objective.  I use this more for character than plot.  Grimm is essentially a try fail plot in The Journals of Bob Drifter.  If Grimm didn’t get closer to his ultimate objective, there’d be no tension, and his conflict with Bob would feel meaningless.   My takeaway here is that the more a person fails to do something, the more surprising it is when the character succeeds.  Now I’ve peddled my book several times over, so let’s talk about another book.  Fade to Black by Tim McBain is a more “problem” based thing, but what kept me reading was the fact that I wanted to know if the main character’s new approach was going to work.

 

wot01_theeyeoftheworldTravelog:   Sanderson mentions a few in the link I gave you, and I’ll elaborate on one of those.  The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan does a lot for me as a reader, but it also teaches me a lot.  I was 90 pages into it and wanted to shout at my brother for recommending it, but he’d ordered me to read the first 100 pages, and so I did.   If I use my analytical eye, I can find out why.  Readers want to know the story is moving.  The first 100 pages of The Eye of the World is all character introduction.  Now, when I read book 13, and Sanderson tied back to that first 100 pages, it brought tears to my eyes (I’ll talk about endings in a future blog).  So why was I so frustrated?  The Eye of the World is essentially group of people trying to get somewhere.  You have a map in the book that tells you where you are as a reader.  The destinations change as well, but you always know you’re moving because the characters are striving to get somewhere.  The first 100 pages of Eye of the World might frustrate readers because the characters don’t move.  That 100 pages sets up the other 14 books (counting the prequel).  They’re important and even cherished, but as a stand-alone novel, I wouldn’t have wanted to finish it had I not been ordered too.  I’m glad I did.  But the book moves much faster as we follow the characters and where they go.

covers_af1Relationship Plot:  I was about to sing C.L. Schneider’s praises again, but I feel if I’m too heavy handed, I’m not giving you readers enough material to read.  I want to give a lot of books some credit.  I haven’t spoken about the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, and this is a good spot to do so.  Here, you’d have to read the first three books to analyze the plot I’m talking about, the relationship is between Artemis and the magical creatures.  The most used plot is “People meet and don’t like each other; then they get to know each other and fall in love.”  There are many types of love, but the story could be about the breakdown in a relationship too.  (Remember, where I say progress, change might be a better term).

dragonflight-by-anne-mccaffreyTime Bomb:  This can be quite literal or not.  Essentially this device is in effect when you put a limit on something.  Murder mysteries do it well.  Every time you pick up a murder mystery, you want the hero to find the villain before someone else dies.  It’s subtle there.   It’s a lot more literal in Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey.  Thread is going to fall any day now, and Pern doesn’t have enough dragons.  The second part of New Utopia (which will become its own book after I revise it) has one of these.

What I wanted to do with this post is show you the types of plots that are out there and give you a few examples to study up with.  I hope it helps.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Weaving Plots: A Way to Add Dimension to Characters

Weaving Plots: A Way to Add Dimension to Characters

compass-626077_960_720I’ve been reading a lot about plotting on blogs, and that always gets me thinking about characters with dimension.  I’m not honestly sure if there is a distinction in this term from depth, but I feel like there is because what I’m talking about today has more to do with plots than traits.

One day I’ll walk you all through how I develop characters.  I started one way, added a few things, twisted them around and landed at my process on character development.  I might have even touched on it here and there already, but while I’d like to give you one place to go for my method of development, I want to focus on plotting.

So let’s start with how I learn everything, utter failure.  I’ve said it a lot.  Failure is great.  It’s wonderful.  Oh, it never FEELS very good, but it’s still important.  I quite literally have scars on my body.  Each one (I promise I’m not exaggerating) was preceded by me saying, “This is gonna be AWESOME!” and then I hurt myself.

The first completed manuscript I wrote was AWESOME! (and by that I mean awful, and has since left me emotionally scared).  There are many reasons for this, but looking at this deep red line across the soul of my inner author, I think the biggest problem I had was that my characters each only had one plot, and those plots were all secondary to the overall plot.  People just don’t work that way.

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She was a freshman then (her eyes were shut in the image I took of us when I was teaching her to drive).  But this is me and The Junior on one of my vacations.  I’m so proud of the fact that she takes after her uncle.

Think about your day?  What do you do?  Even if you break your day down into “Go to work,” “Come home,” and “Go to bed,” that wouldn’t come close to describing your day.  As I write this, I’m on vacation with my family.  One of my elder nieces, (she whom I call “The Junior,” who also happens to be an awful lot like her uncle) and I had the chance to sit down.  I haven’t seen her in a year.

“So what’s been going on?”

“Not much,” she answered.

I went on to explain that I seriously doubt nothing much happened over the course of the year I’ve been unable to really sit down and talk.  Oh, social media and cell phones allow for the highlights, but I wanted the directors cut edition of The Junior’s life.

caught-finalThat got me thinking about my editor’s comments regarding my Fourth Draft of Caught.  We were discussing a lot of arcs and he told me “readers expect more in fiction.”  You see, even now, Caught is very cinematic in structure and prose.  I did that by choice, and I may pay the price when it comes to sales and reviews, but I desperately needed something faster after writing The Journals of Bob Drifter.  That doesn’t mean I ignored my editor.  In fact, I feel a lot more satisfaction with this Fifth Draft.

So how do I do it?  In short, I remember people do more than one thing a day.  Heck, sometimes people do more than one thing at a time (sort of, but don’t throw research disproving multitasking at me).

There are a lot of plots out there.  Some also call them structures.  Others call them arcs.  Quintessential Editor did a few blogs about them recently.

I didn’t really do this with Journals or Caught.  I’ve been doing it ever since.  What I do now is plot each character before I combine all of those plots into one outline.  I keep aware of what opportunities arise, and I’m not afraid to let them unfold.  This is where those dimension comes into play.  Let’s do an exercise:

smugglerThink of a character.  Need help?  Okay.  I’m going to flip a coin.  Heads for man.

*flips coin*  (I do this whenever gender isn’t a large concern.  I even did this with my main character in my seventh book).

TAILS…Woman it is.

How old is she?  More importantly, what does she want?  Well, since I’m here visiting The Junior, let’s start with what she wants.  She wants to go to college and study theater.  (See…I told you she was a lot like her uncle!) Sorry…I think VERY fast.   What just happened is a lot like my process.  I flipped a coin, determined a gender.  The gender got me thinking about someone I love.  I took that real struggle, multiplied it by the power of “Fantasy” and got this:

A Young Girl wishes to become a Mistress of Transformation.  Why?  To what end?   When I talk about character development, I’ll go into more detail, but I like showing you HOW I think.  Anyway.  I have my first plot.  Because I tend to subscribe to Sanderson’s online lectures, I call this particular plot a “travelogue.”  Why?  Because she wants to go to transformation school.   Where Frodo had to get to Mount Doom, from a macro perspective you have a character who is in one place (high school) and wants to get to another (college).

This can even be what I call the “main plot.”  However, on her way to becoming a college student, there’s more that happens.  She has to earn money.  She has to gain references.  She has friends in high school that she may leave.  She has to confront the Administer of Admissions. (I’m seriously developing a plot as I do this, I welcome you to do the same.)

Each of those other objectives are plots in and of themselves.  They’re side stories occurred on the way to the main objective.

wizard_of_ozNow let’s take an easier, better-known case study.  Wizard of Oz.  Would we care NEARLY as much for Dorothy if she told Scarecrow, “Thanks for the directions,” and moved along on her way?  She could have.  The Tin Man is an even better example.   Some subplots (at least for me) are discovered.  (Oh crap, my character wouldn’t just leave some poor tin dude sitting there frozen…well…I guess this book’s going to get a little bigger while I work this out.)  Others are plots you see coming.   (Well, the Wizard isn’t just going to jump to help her.)

My point is, you want your character to have many plots and objectives.  They may all arise as part of a single goal, but life isn’t that easy, so fiction shouldn’t be.  What sort of plots are out there?  Well, again, I put a LOT of stock in Sanderson’s online lectures, so I’ll just share that website with you here.   Brilliant teacher though I think he is, I know there’s more info out there, so please share it in the comments below.

Here are a few case studies:  (This is how I learn best, so I hope it helps you).

Wizard of Oz

Ender’s Game

I Am Not a Serial Killer

Star Wars

tatooineMost of those are best sellers or easily remembered, so forgive me if I don’t link to them.  My point is, if you watch this, do so with a pen and pad.  Write down the “events.”  When I teach my students, I teach them to break their features down into what I call the “Guy Does” test.  Break each event down into a subject-verb-object sentence.

Jawas Show Up

Uncle Buys Droids

Luke Sees Message

Droid Runs Away.

Keep going.  When you do this, you see the progression of your story.  You can reverse engineer each mini plot in what’s already been dissected to bits in terms of The Heroes’s Journey (the main plot of Star Wars).

If you dissect your character’s plot and only have one thing.  It’s not going to feel real to your reader.  Every character should be the main character in his or her own mind.  Anime does this VERY well.  Thinking about each goal and how the steps to achieve those goals will force new plots will help you create stories that have more dimension.  More dimension (in my arrogant opinion) means a better story.

Thanks for reading,

Matt