Compelling Characters Technique: Establish Clear Motivation

Compelling Characters Technique: Establish Clear Motivation
Stock image downloaded from Pixabay.

Greetings all,

As an instructor, I find myself sometimes watching interactions between students and/or instructors. I think people should always work to assume the best motivation. Like most humans, I fail to do this more often than I’d like to admit, but it also brings to mind something authors must do.

If you want a character to be compelling, you have to make that character’s motivation clear. This is exponentially more important when the character is very different than the reader. The more a reader can relate to a character, the more forgiveness a reader might have. I think some people might debate this, but I stand by the comment.

Establishing believability and connecting to readers is critical. I’ve read plenty of books that weren’t exactly wonderful, but I could stick with it because I was invested in the character. I’ve read books that were honestly well crafted, but I couldn’t stand them because the characters weren’t interesting at all.

For me, that all starts with a clear idea on what that character wants.

Now how does one demonstrate that? We’re supposed to show and not tell. Sure, it might work for Naruto to keep saying, “I’m going to be the greatest Hokage one day!” But while that was a dream, and there were times that motivation helped, his real motivation was bonds. The role of Hokage was a means to an end. So say it as he might, watch how Naruto reacts when someone is treated unfairly or disrespected. Watch how he reacts to any threat to those he loves.

So the technique I’m going to share with you today is establishing motivation by conflict or complication. Try taking something tat is desirable to the normal person, then set it as an obstacle to your character’s main goal. Maybe your character wants to be a millionaire. He wants the associate position and the paycheck that comes with it. One might establish the conflict as that of his wife and family who miss him. It’d be a horrid sinful thing to do, but if that guy were to divorce his wife to keep the job, you’d know his priorities in an instant. Yes, you’d hate him, but you’d understand him better and form expectations for him.

On a happier note, take that same situation, only this time, the guy walks into his office to learn he’s earned the big promotion. They’ll need extra time from him. They have plans to send him to an exotic country with a massive expense account to bring in new clients. The sky’s the limit. One day, he might make full partner. In that moment, all he can think about is how much he’ll miss his wife. He turns to promotion down, even getting fired because he won’t back down. Again, you see his priorities clearly.

So the trick is to take the character’s main goal and set it against another goal most average people would value. We do this in life. I talk about it all the time. People tell me they want to be a writer, but they can’t find the time. I can appreciate the ambition, but there’s probably something else they’re doing. It’s more important than writing if they won’t set it aside to get writing done. Again, I’m not advocating cruelty to loved ones, but maybe not so many video games. Maybe give up a single hour of sleep a night.

When you see a person sacrificing for what they love, you see the love.

Try this out with your characters and see how it affects your story.

Thanks for reading,


The Anime Formula

The Anime Formula

Greetings all,

So I wanted to do a case study today, and I’ve been thinking a lot about anime and how it works. To be fair, I probably haven’t seen as much anime as a lot of other people. What anime I watch, I watch all of, but I’ve seen about ten anime series, and they’re just about the same, but in a good way. How is it anime can be so formulaic and still be entertaining? Sure, the magic system or fighting system is unique. The characters are sort of unique. But if you’ve watched Dragonball Z, you’ve seen Naruto, Bleach, and a host of others. Again, I don’t mean that as an insult. I love all of those shows, but they all follow a pretty basic formula, and I’m going to go over that today.

Step 1: Isolated hero seeks to be accepted/respected/befriended or the rogue hero who stands up because “someone must.”

Ichigo and Naruto are isolated people who either form small groups or seek small groups of friends. They either earn those friendships quickly or must fight doggedly to earn them. In either case, they’ll risk everything to save their friends. This is where they’ll risk their lives to protect others.

In either case, these bonds are the catalysts for the first arc. The bulk of the first arc is all about the development of the friendships or the establishment of the lengths the hero will go to in order to protect those friendships.

Step 2: Enter powerful antagonist 1.

When this person arrives, there is immediate dislike. There is rivalry. This new arrival has (at the very least) a leg up on our hero.

Step 3: The fight.

This fight either ends with one winning, and therefore winning over the antagonist, creating a new friendship or ends with a more frightening opponent arriving, forcing the original combatants to join forces.

Step 4: Enter even more powerful antagonist.

This villain walks in and wipes out pretty much the entirety of the original cast, and they do it with ease. This butt whoop’n either establishes the larger arc or teases it before the next phase (or both). The heroes somehow survive (or die and maintain the ability to do the next phase).

Step 5: The training arc.

This is where our heroes get down to business. They usually meet a mysterious mentor around here who beats them until they reach the next stage of their abilities. Our heroes are often given some sort of “uber level” attack or state of being they must reach within a deadline that is impossible. But somehow, they pull it off. Sometimes the writer makes us wait to see if the move works or not, but the training is the bulk of this stage.

Step 6: The underling or main event.

Our hero either takes on the current big bad or starts his way up the chain. The fight is close, but our hero reveals his/her new ability and wipes out the current challenger. But then an even stronger foe arises, who beats up our heroes, who barely survive and find somewhere to train.

That’s right folks. Hero wins. Go back to step 4. Rinse repeat until the ultimate of ultimate level 80 villain is vanquished.

All the while the previously defeated foes become fast friends and members of the metaphorical Scooby Gang.

To be honest, I don’t know why it works (on me every time), but it does. I love Dragonball Z. I love Naruto. I love Bleach. I love Jujutsu Kaisen. I love Demon Slayer. All of those shows follow the same template. The moves have to be cool. The fight scenes have to be epic.

This image was taken from for review and study purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Most importantly, even though everyone who’s been watching anime since Goku was a baby knows the hero is going to win (at least in the end), the writer has to make the fight seem impossible. The hero must get beaten and battered to such a degree that the reader says, “Wait, is he really gonna lose?” That’s the magic part.

Some anime throws in a twist.

Twist angle: Hero has some indwelling creature who offers great power at a great cost. This indwelling creature is another antagonist, but the relationship is literally symbolic. In this case, the hero reaches his Epic Tier when the hero converts his indwelling pest into a true ally. Then the hero does that last step mentioned above.

So there it is. This is the only genre I’ve ever seen that never gets old for some reason. Interestingly, I haven’t seen it used that much in books, which is why I want to give it a try at some point.

Did I miss a step? I will say I understand that there are other anime that don’t remotely follow this formula. There may even be the great majority of anime that don’t. But if the hero is a plucky fighter of some kind, I promise I know what’s going to happen. The excitement for me is to see what the “next level” ability or move looks like.

Thanks for reading,


I’m Pretty Sure Naruto Took A Bunch From Hunter X Hunter

The family and I started watching Hunter X Hunter specifically because the television told us it was similar to Naruto.

Similar? I am utterly convinced Naruto’s creator was a huge fan of Hunter X Hunter, and took a great deal of inspiration from the show. How much?

So the main character (the names in Hunter X Hunter are very confusing) wants to be a hunter (ninja in Naruto) because his father (yep) left to be a hunter. His father, a mysterious, famous, and legendary hunter (or Hokage) seems to have impacted the whole group of Hunters (ninjas).

The series picks up when the main character has to take a test, which is almost plot-point for plot-point the same as the Chunin Exams.

I’m not going to dive into a point-for-point review, and I’m not trying to say Naruto is nothing more than a trumped up rip off of Hunter.

What I actually want to say is that Naruto clearly respects Hunter, and shows it in using material from that predecessor and adding something new and refreshing to it.

Naruto has a ton of original angles in comparison to Hunter. I’m only about one season into Hunter, and for all I know everything changes after that season. But it was cool to see so many pieces that matched.

I actually vectored this image from an original source, so it’s pretty much my own fan art.

For instance, the main character of Hunter takes on a master, who simply wants him to take away a set of bells. Wait? No, that was Naruto. With Hunter it was a sort of dodge ball. You get the point though.

After doing a bit of research, I’m not quite sure what ran when, but the anime style of Hunter indicates an early release date, and I found one date as 1999, which is easy to believe. However, what may be surprising is they are contemporaries.

The Mangas for each title only came out about a year apart.

So I guess I’m just wondering what you all think? Is one a rip off of the other? I don’t think so. Yes, they are very similar. However, I like to think of it more as similar tropes done in equally entertaining ways.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading,


My Top Five Naruto Characters!

My Top Five Naruto Characters!


Since COVID still has things slowed down, I need to dig into my bag of ideas.  Since I’m still on a Naruto kick, I figured now’s the time for my five favorite Naruto characters.  This isn’t ranked by power, but instead only the ones I liked.

This image of Itachi was taken from FanPop.

#5) Itachi: Honestly, this is one of the best characters to study to begin with. Itachi has a fantastic arc. His story is heartbreakingly beautiful. He’s amazingly powerful. I like his personality. That personality really matches his story to. He’s figured things out, and he’s acting on those realizations. The only time he acts on hope is when he’s thinking about his brother, and even in that case, he’s planned for the worst.

#4) Shikamaru: For the same reason I like Itachi, I like Shikamaru more. He’s hilarious in that he can do anything, but he’d prefer to do nothing. I’ve already told you how much I loved his role in the Asuma arc.  I like characters who are thoughtful. I love watching them to see how everything will inevitably come into fruition. I spent every arc watching him and thinking, “somehow, this is a part of his plan.” It usually was.

I vectored this image.

#3) Naruto: I don’t think I’ve ever had a title character as my favorite. But Naruto is pretty close for me. He’s everything I want a character to be. He’s sympathetic and proactive. His numbskull antics get him into trouble and it sort of makes him comedic relief when he’s not supposed to be so. Still, he is a brilliant title character who always makes me cheer for him.

#2 Gaara: I LOVE a redemption arc. Honestly Gaara would be my favorite if I did this tomorrow, but he might fall to number three next week. That’s why I’m doing the top five: because they are all my favorite at one point or another. I just love that Gaara was as low as one could be and then became one of the most loved characters in the show. His sand power is what initially caught my interest. I just thought it was cool. He’s also got that cool-but-passionate personality.

This image of Rock was taken from MyAnimeList.

#1 Rock Lee: Yeah, that’s right. Look, it’s pretty simple why I love him most. I see a lot of myself in him. He’s probably in the worst position to be a ninja, but he’s earned his right to be there because of that hard work and determination. Honestly, anyone who wants to know me better, just watch Rock. His single-minded determination is pretty much how I’ve worked for as long as I can remember, and the pain he feels when his dreams are put at risk or the people he loves are in danger resonate with me as well. Don’t even get me started on drunken fist and his love for his mentor!

So that’s my list. Do you have a top five you’d like to share? Why?

Thanks for reading,


My Top 5 Naruto Arcs

My Top 5 Naruto Arcs

Greetings all,

A slow news week on the writing front allows me to play a bit for my Saturday post. I’m watching Naruto with my sons, which is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. That got me to thinking, “What were my five favorite arcs?”

By arc, I mean a storyline from beginning to end. Maybe one day I’ll do “episodes” or “fights,” but since we just recently finished my number one, I wanted to do this list.


This spans the entire Naruto Saga, both Shippuden and the original. You might be shocked by some I leave out. How did I make the list. I just sat there for a few minutes and wondered which five would come to mind. The first five that came up won. That doesn’t mean there weren’t great arcs, but these arcs jumped out at me.

Number 5: The Quest to Save Gaara: I don’t know about you all, but I cry every time Gaara wakes up and sees all those people surrounding him. I have a soft spot for redemption stories, and to see how far Gaara had come was just a great way to really kick off the Shippuden ark. Sure, there was a lot of waiting and way more exposition than I wanted, but we also get Kakashi’s magekyo and the cool puppet fight. It falls short because of the exposition, but it’s definitely worthy of the top five for me.



Number 4:  The Chunin Exams:  The first reason I love this arc is the sheer number of great fights. If you consider the exams to be from the test of confidence to the end of the Gaara fight, you have a lot of action to go with. I’d rank this in the top five alone just for Gaara, but his fight with Rock Lee and the saga with the third is more emotional to me than I suppose others. The action of each fight and Gaara’s story puts this in the top five, but the lag (how long did that monkey hold that stupid sword for?) it doesn’t get any farther than number four. This is the saga where you learn about the rookie nine and Guy’s team. We meet Lee, who I love. We see Naruto grow and Sasuke’s arc truly begin.



Number 3: The Naruto Bridge:  I don’t know if anyone else would put this on their top five, but I don’t think I fall in love with this show if I don’t watch that arc. This is the story where we first see the power of the fox. This is where Naruto chooses his ninja way. This is where Sasuke and Naruto begin their rivalry and start to grow together. I also have a soft spot for mentors and students or adopted father roles. As far as a true introduction to the show, I really thought this was a nice launching point for the series. I put this above the Chunin Exams because those exams made us wait an awful long time for the cool stuff. Sure, it was cool when things happened, but man I we every bit as frustrated with the lag of the backstories and that third fight. The Naruto Bridge story was complete and concise, and I give it higher marks for that.



Number 2: The Asuma Ark: The Rasenshuriken alone would have been enough to get on the list, but man, Shikamaru shines! The way he plotted out that whole fight before even leaving the village is just masterful! The fights are great. Asuma’s death was so tragic (though not the most tragic). Seeing all this come together made for such a rewarding end and a beautiful set up for future arcs.



Number 1: The Pain Arc: Now, I consider this to be from Jiraiya’s entrance to the hidden rain to Nagato’s Rebirth, you have what I feel is unquestionably the saddest death, the greatest hero moment (Naruto’s return), the best fight amid a host of cool fights, and Konohamaru uses the Rasengan! I haven’t even stopped to talk about Minato’s appearance and reveal. Most fans had this theory pegged, but that didn’t make it any less satisfying.



I’m sure there are at least two arcs you all feel should go on this list that aren’t here, and I’m not saying they were bad. They’d definitely be on a top ten list, but these always pop right into my head when I think about Naruto. But feel free to give me your list.

Thanks for watching,



Working To Improve Skills

Working To Improve Skills

Greetings all,

A while back, I did a post about using other skills to reduce overhead costs. The idea is whatever you know how to do (as in you’ve received training or instruction), is one more thing you can do that you don’t have to pay others to do.  I still affirm that even if you are a paid editor, you should have another editor look at your work. Editing is a funny thing. A person can be pretty blind to his own work. I know I am.

Anyway, one area I wanted to improve on was my digital illustration, and I had a few pieces I wanted to share to show how I’ve been doing.



This image of Grimm is one I’ve recently done. I took the cover Collin Fogel did for Bob’s Greatest Mistake, and made a few changes. This is all digital art done with Adobe Illustrator. In my own opinion, this is fairly novice work. It doesn’t look like a kindergartner did it, but I wouldn’t’ expect anyone to commission me as a digital artist.  I was reasonably satisfied with it, but it was missing something. Then I realized my biggest complaint with it is the clothing. I’m not very good with digitally illustrating cloth. So I mean to work with this more and improve my overall skill.


I’m much happier with Naruto, but when I step back and look at it in comparison to Grimm, I realized a few things. First, this is a portrait. I don’t have that many clothes to deal with, and the style of this picture is different. I think I have a pretty good grasp of gradients and faces.

So what do I do with this? Well, I’m still practicing. Any skill is honestly just a matter of time and practice. Talent helps reduce the time, but there’s no level of skill that practice can’t attain.

The idea is to increase the options I have when I go to shows. I anticipate a world in which I offer convention goers digital anime-style portraits of themselves. I won’t ever sell licensed material, because that’s frankly copyright violation. Sure, people do it, but the copyright owners can always come collect whenever they get in the mood, and I don’t want to be in the blast radius when that bomb drops. But, I CAN do portraits of people and my own characters.

I aspire to do art from my own work along with the portraits to increase what I can offer potential customers. I’m nowhere near a place where my books alone can profit me in a convention. I’ve even mentioned in previous blogs that I measure my success on books sold, not money made. Adding products and services to my table can shift that metric.

So what do you think?  What would you like to see me try next? Is there a character from one of my books you’d like to see me try and illustrate? I will do fan art (because I’m not ever going to sell it), so if you have another character you’d like me to try, let me know.

Thanks for reading,


What Anime gets right: Characters

What Anime gets right: Characters

Note: (Featured image from Anime Planet.)

Greetings all,

I Heart Anime
Image from RPGWatch.

It’s been a few weeks since I had a good ‘ol fashioned writing-based post, and since I’m in the middle of a few projects, and I don’t have any official news yet, I have the chance to take a look at what I feel is the most important part of any story …


If anyone interested in writing wants my humble advice, watch anime. It’s awesome for one. The other reason is that they always deliver a multitude of characters viewers love. Now I could go in a lot of directions, and I might actually do more than one post on this robust topic, but for now, I’m just going to focus on the general idea of what anime does with characters.

  1. Deep, complex backgrounds: When I watch anime, I genuinely feel like the creators sat down for every character and wrote a story just for them. Any one of them could be the main character if they just got a bit more screen time. As if that’s not enough, the episodes use those complicated backgrounds to advance their MCs. This allows fans to grow closer to an

    Image taken from Fear-World.

    other cast member while still being connected to the hero. It’s honestly brilliant. Naruto does this best. Some may argue they go to this well too many times, and I’d have to agree, but inevitably, as Naruto interacts with characters, we learn more about both of them. This happens both in fights (Naruto VS Neji Hyuga and with team-ups (Sai’s arc). As they fight or work together, we learn more about the side characters, and as Naruto works with them he learns more, and we grow closer to him.

  2. Clear motivations: Every character in anime has motivations and obstructions to those motivations. Good or evil, those characters strive for something. Sometimes they build conflict and suspense. Sometimes the motivations build sympathy. Both are essential.  Let’s take a look at Mikasa Ackerman. She’s a fascinating character. She could want any number of things, but all she truly cares about is protecting Eren. This motivation is clear. So when Eren is in danger or pain, we know this causes Mikasa stress (sympathy). When people seek to harm or even just belittle Eren, we know this will create conflict.
  3. Ryuk
    Image taken from Star City Tees.

    Sympathy: One of my favorite things to do when talking anime with anyone is to talk about their favorite characters. My favorite books have that same feeling, but I can’t always do that with books. I can always do it with anime. The main reason for this is how sympathetic anime characters are. Anime does a fantastic job of making viewers feel for them. They do it through humor. (Ryuk. Sure, he’s evil, but people like him because he amuses them. Why else do people always think of him and apples?) They do it through conflict (Ichigo). They do it through relationships (Ed Elric). The writers use a variety of situationally dramatic settings to allow the viewer to grow sympathetic toward the characters.

So I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic, and I’m probably going to harp on a lot of this when I don’t have any news about my writing to offer. However, this is a good place to start.

When developing your characters, look for opportunities to consider these topics and how anime uses them to get those fans cosplaying. If you do, you might just see a few cosplay people pick one of your characters? (I’d love to see a Grimm or a Caden cosplay!)

Thanks for reading,


Animorecon: A Weekend of Cool Cosplay

Animorecon: A Weekend of Cool Cosplay

Greetings all,

Last week, I had the chance to attend the first convention on my 2018 tour. I just wanted to share the pictures I grabbed of some of the amazing cosplay I saw. It was a fun event. It was far smaller, and events in DC and Baltimore at the time added a challenge. I did manage to sell a few books. One reader (Hi Sierra!), bought The Journals of Bob Drifter on Saturday. Sunday afternoon she approached me to playfully berate me for certain sad things that happened in the book. She’d already gotten halfway through it in a single day. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of feeling.

So the weekend became more about talking to cool people and getting some nice pictures.  So, without further delay, check them out!


This was probably the most detailed and elaborate cosplay I found.  Well, maybe not the MOST in the convention, but it was one of my favorites.


  1. Naruto is awesome.
  2. Hinata was always underrated.



Red hair is one of the most attractive qualities I can think of, so I’m partial to Brave and The Little Mermaid.  So when I saw this excellent cosplay, I asked for a picture and behaved myself.



I was a fan of the Hercules and Zena series. I honestly kind of miss them. So any time I see the cosplay, I feel a ton of nostalgia.



This was actually an original, custom made outfit. I was so impressed, I asked for a photo.  She was also kind enough to buy a copy of my book!



This was the first all-out cosplay I saw. The detail was amazing.



There are those who feel Boba Fett was overplayed. I am not among them. So any Mandalorian is cool in my book.



  1. Naruto is awesome!
  2. I knew who Tobi was right away, I can can identify a witness to that prediction.



I might go so far as to say The Last Airbender was the best cartoon I’ve ever seen. Such a wonderful, complete, concise story.


It was absolutely fun.  I want to thank everyone I met, every one who stopped to take a photo with me, and everyone who gave a little-known indie author a chance.  Please, if you purchased and read either of my books, no matter what you thought of it, leave  review on Amazon, Goodreads or both. Feedback is invaluable.  Whatever you do, know that I appreciate you. I enjoy meeting you all.

Thanks for reading,


Character Qualities: How to Analyze Characters and Use Their Qualities to Your Advantage

Character Qualities:  How to Analyze Characters and Use Their Qualities to Your Advantage

So I read a blog from Quintessential Editor a few days ago in which we discussed character or conflict.  He and I may (I’m actually not sure) disagree on what makes a book great.  I’ll vote character every time, and I have my reasons, but the blog inspired me to offer my view on what turns out to be how I evaluate characters.

wx-wordpressbanner-wdtrophy2016I love Writing Excuses.  It’s a great podcast, and they did a podcast a few years ago (back when I had the luxury of listening every week) that helped me understand why I like books.  I’ve said it a few times.  I like sympathetic, proactive characters.  The podcast to which I’m referring is the one on character sliders.  In it, they discuss how to evaluate characters by Sympathy, Competency, and Proactivity.

I’ll let you listen to the podcast for the explanation because they’re awesome, hugely successful authors, and I’m an Indie guy trying to find my way in the world.  I will make one argument.

Sanderson explains that Sympathy is the “how likable a character is.”  He’s my Yoda in every regard, but I don’t know that’s true.  I think Sympathy (at least to me) is how strongly I feel about the character.  Whatever the emotion, if I feel it strongly, I’m drawn to the character.  The formula works regardless, but I see sympathy as “strength of emotional reaction” and not strictly “likable.”

Caught CoverWhat I thought I could add or build from this wonderful tool was how to use it when writing a book.  I don’t see this as a character development tool myself.  Rather, I try to anticipate how readers will see the character.  I’m editing Caught still, so I’d like to use Sal.  In the previous draft, he was proactive and sympathetic.

My editor and I disagreed on his arc.  What I wish I’d argued then is that he wasn’t actually very competent.  He tried several times and several ways to do something before he gained more power.  His argument, in the interest of being fair, was that Sal struggled and failed so many times, and never reacted to those failures.

I kept this in mind while revising.  I kept in in mind while writing for the other characters as well.  I want my readers to say two things when they read my books.  “I (feel strongly) about his characters” and “they’re always moving.”  I hope they hate the characters I want them to hate, and I hope they love the characters I mean for them to love, but as long as they feel strongly, I feel I’ve succeeded.

So how do you do this?  Well, I’m sure there’s a lot of ways, but this is my own spin.  At each major plot point (for me, this is when I check my outline), look at your character and see how the plot point might have effected each of these traits.  Every time a character fails, he or she seems less competent.  Some fans hate incompetent characters.  I’m actually not one of them.

newsletter-naruto3Case study:  Naruto is a moron.  He’s a goof, who’s just winging it.  He can’t do a single normal jutsu and really only has the one major trick.  But look at how hard he works!  Look at how much he cares about his comrades?  Look at how he struggles to maintain his bonds.  In fact, each time he wins, it’s usually DESPITE his competence.  Still, if he NEVER learned anything, he’d eventually get boring.  So at certain points, he becomes ever so much less stupid.  This is how we see his progression as a character. Don’t mistake progression as moving forward.


Art by Seamas Gallagher.  Image used as a character study.

Case study:  Rand al’Thor is one of my favorite characters ever.  In fact, I’d like to compare him to Ichigo from Bleach.  I feel Rand works more because there’s more progression.  Ichigo gets more powerful.  He’s competent, proactive and sympathetic, and he never really changes.  Rand becomes all the more compelling because as he becomes more powerful (and we’ll have to discuss something soon), he becomes more isolated and less sympathetic.  So you see, he devolves in sympathy as he evolves in power.

Is power a slider?  For me it is.  Because competence, to me, is the character’s success rate.  But there are several characters who win a lot, but still don’t feel very powerful.  The first that comes to mind is Ender Wiggin.  He’s incredibly sympathetic, competent, and proactive.  But none of that matters because he’s supposed to fight an alien race that the human race has feared for generations.     Power is a factor in a lot of things, and conflict can be the gauge by which you measure it.  So why do I consider it a slider? Because it can be used as a source of conflict in itself, not just a resolution to conflict.

CoverRevealNow that I’ve done a few case studies, let’s turn that microscope on myself.  While writing Bob, I was very concerned about the first act because the conflict is subtle.  Most reviews regard the first act as the best, which makes me feel good I didn’t cut it from the book.  In the first act, Bob is sympathetic and proactive.  His proactivity is what causes the conflict.  Police notice him, and now he has to evade them.  He’s not very competent.  He doesn’t know anything about his job.  He doesn’t know how to avoid police.  He’s not even very good at covering his tracks.   This leads to the climax of part one.

When I got to Part 2, I checked up on Bob’s sliders.  Sympathy 100%  Proactivity 100%  Competence: 30% (I’m probably being nice).  Power 50%.  This might surprise people.  While Bob talks about how “useless” his powers are, he’s still comparatively more powerful than most of the characters in Part 1.  In Part 2, I introduce Grimm.  Now he’s very competent, very proactive.  How sympathetic is he?  I HOPE readers say they hate him, but I can’t pretend to know.   There’s hardly any feedback on him though, so that leads me to believe I miscalculated here.  So he’s not sympathetic at all.  (otherwise, readers would have said something about him by now).  I can learn from this.  But what he DOES do, is make Bob seem LESS powerful.  That also makes him seem LESS competent.  So the progress for Bob is actually devolving and not evolving.

grimIn Part 3, I make Bob more competent.  I do this by showing him learn.  I had to bring in the “mentor” archetype.  I had to give Bob a few wins.  This made it so when he got to the final conflict, he looked like he stood a chance.

That’s how I use the sliders.  If I ever felt like my sympathy or proactivity values were slipping, I adjusted for it.  I encourage authors to do these checks. When you hand the book to beta readers, ask them to send a chapter by chapter evaluation using whatever sliders you use to evaluate the character, then compare those to your own assessment.  If they’re the same, I’d say you’re doing it right.  If they’re different, that’s when it’s time to find out what you’re missing.

I’ve never really cared much for competent characters.  They bore me.  Oh there are a lot of characters that I love that are ALSO competent, but for my money, if a character doesn’t make me feel and isn’t doing anything, I hate the story.  That doesn’t mean EVERYONE will.  Know your genre.

woman-1428067_960_720That leads me to my last point.  The Mary Sue character.  Corey would be awesome and tell you where that term came from, I just learned it an moved on.  (The difference between a gardner and an architect if I’ve ever seen one).    A Mary Sue is a character that is the most compelling, most powerful, most proactive, most competent character ever.  Dear God, do I hate those characters.  I argue that if a character is too powerful and too competent, the sympathy bar naturally slides down for me.  It’s a risk writers take.  But here’s my twist:

Mary Sues don’t happen when all the bars are maxed; they happen when all the bars are equal.

I get this from photography. I picked up that wonderful skill in the Navy, and I’ll love it for the rest of my life.  In terms of light, if you have equal values of red, blue, and green, you get gray.  You can have 20% of each, or 100% of each.  (Zero..well..then you don’t have any color, so that’s black, which, according to Batman is a very, very, very, dark gray).    I find characters feel like Mary Sues when all values are equal, no matter those values.

Image pulled from a Forbes article.  Oddly enough, it disputes that she is a Mary Sue.  Image and article used for case study with accompanying alternative opinion.

Character study:  Rey.  She’s not that sympathetic.  Really.  She’s just out there in the desert chilling.  You LEARN to care for her, but that’s not the first hour of the movie I saw.  She’s competent, but everyone but me remembers how she got captured (like a chump) and messed up the doors (like a fool) when they were first aboard the Falcon.  If I evaluate Rey right after meeting Han, I’d say she’d measure out at: Sympathy 10% Competence 10% Power 10% and Proactivity 10%.  Remember, Finn is the one who gets her to move.  She wanted to go home through the first half of the movie.

Her arc SEEMS Suish (trademark M.L.S. Weech) because she processes equally across all sliders throughout the movie.  She gains more power and competence.  This makes her more proactive and sympathetic.  I love the movie. I don’t mind Rey, but I don’t love her either, because she essentially sat around the desert until someone forced her to move, and even then she didn’t do much until she got captured.  Watch the movie, let me know if you think I’m wrong.

So that’s it.  Try it on your book.  Toss me a few character studies.  Let’s make a game of it.  Until then, thanks for reading.