Updates and Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.12/13.13/13.14

Updates

Catch-all catch-up post today while I’ve got some mental time to focus. Warning: this is longer since I’ve got so much to catch up on.

First to announce that I have finished my line edit pass on my novel and will be posting the call for beta readers within the next few days, so if you are interested, watch for that post and the instructions for getting access.

Next up, I’ve had a lot of thoughts running around in my brain about trustworthy writers and a community supporting them, so I’ll be kicking off a series on that soon.

Third – reaction posts for Writing Excuses.

13.12 – Q/A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters

I figured for the Q/A, I’d just answer the questions.

  • How do you make planned power increases not seem like you’re making it up on the spot?
    • Foreshadowing. With sufficient foreshadowing (this could mean as much or as little as needed), pretty much any planned power increase/superpower/level up/character change can be revealed and it not feel like you’re making things up on the spot.
    • For me, the biggest way to know if I need to fix my foreshadowing is to give it to readers.
  • What do you do when your villain is more interesting/engaging than your hero?
    • I think this may be more a problem of a particular type of story. I tend to write character/relationship stories more than idea/plot stories. I think idea/plot stories can suffer from having boring heroes/main characters because the story isn’t about them, but about the problem they have to solve.
    • This is where I think Mary’s approach of using the nested MICE quotient can solve this issue – if your villain is becoming more interesting, maybe you need to work out a character story for your hero so that there is something interesting about them that doesn’t require require them solving the plot.
  • How do you know when a character is unnecessary and needs to be removed from the story, or killed off in the story?
    • Do they show up in more than one scene and do they do more that just deliver exposition/news.
    • I had this show up during my cut edit in Jan/Feb. I had a character I thought I could cut from the first scenes because I thought I only had her delivering exposition, but had forgotten she showed up later as a complication to be exploited by my antagonist against my other mains. Removing her early removed my ability to leverage her later when I needed her as a way to ratchet up the pressure.
  • What tricks do you use when you want the reader to mistakenly believe a character is a hero, rather than a villain?
    • Haven’t done this, so can’t comment.
  • Which is more fun for you: creating a villain, or creating a hero?
    • Neither – as I’ve mentioned before, I have a really had time thinking of my characters that way. I much prefer labels of protagonist and antagonist. And what is most fun for me is figuring out how those two will relate in their relationship – friends, enemies, family, etc.
  • How many side characters can you reasonably juggle in a novel?
    • Me at my current level? – 3
  • What are the drawbacks to making your villain a POV character?
    • Have only writing protag and side character POVs, so can’t comment.
  • If your villain doesn’t show up until late in the story, how do you make their eventual appearance seem justified?
    • If I reword this as “If  your secondary antagonist shows up late,” then I can answer, and the answer is the same as the first – foreshadowing. In Betrayed, I have some very big consequences affecting the world that resulted from the actions of this secondary antagonist and they show very early – second scene.
    • The main characters were aware of the results, but didn’t know anything about this character. When my secondary antag shows up at 2/3rds through and all those consequences get tied back to this person, my readers now have a name to go with all that stuff they’ve been reading about.
  • How do you get readers to like a character who is a jerk?
    • I tried this in my trunk novel The Liegiver, but I don’t think I did it well, so I don’t think I’m yet qualified to answer.

 13.13 – Character Voice

I feel like this is a topic that comes up a lot on the podcast. It isn’t something I normally think about – when writing or reading – but I can see how it can be effective. One of my level-up moments came when reading Brandon’s Wax and Wayne series – Wayne has a very defined character voice and it works to set him apart, but what I really like is Brandon uses this voice to inject humor without needing to “tell jokes”. The humor comes only from how Wayne sees others.

I want to get better as this.

13.14 – Character Nuance

This podcast goes hand-in-hand with something I learned while listening to Robert McKee’s Story. I have this from my notes I took while listening to McKee:

  • Character and Plot are one and the same
    • function of plot structure is to provide more and more choices for the character to make under pressure
    • function of character is to make choices that seem rational to their internal self within that structure.
  • Character design begins with two primary aspects: characterization and true character
    • characterization: sum of all observable qualities
    • true character is behind this mask of characterizations – who they are really
    • KEY TO TRUE CHARACTER: true character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma

What McKee said is just a restatement of what I think Amal and Mary expressed – contradiction within a character is not necessarily contradiction if you can show how that contradiction plays out within the choices that character makes within the framework of the plot.

I think a lot of what Brandon and Maurice said point towards the second main bullet – the hats we were and the way we interact are part of those characterizations. How Maurice talks with other writers versus family in Jamaica are observable characteristics. But who they actually are would come from the choices they’ve made under pressure. Example from Brandon’s life that he’s talked about on the podcast – he’d written a dozen novels before his first one sold and spent his evenings writing while working the desk at a hotel. That pressure of having failure after failure and yet choosing to continue on showed some of the true character that is Brandon Sanderson.

The other reaction I have is to the homework – and a reminder that while “personality test” are fun, Myers-Briggs/Sorting Hat/Color Code-type stuff doesn’t really hold water when studied empirically. One that does have scientific backing is the IPIP-NEO test of the Five Personality Domains. And honestly, if you could go through and at least figure out where on the spectrum in each of the five domains your character is, you’d be in good shape.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.11 – Writing Secondary Characters Charlaine Harris

First immediate reaction upon listening to the episode – THAT is a wonderful accent.

Second, I was a struck by the idea that secondary characters were mostly to be considered within the course of a series, that they gave you someone to promote or focus on in later books.

I don’t think that was the intention and I very well may be misunderstanding some of the episode. It just seemed to me that most of the conversation about writing secondary characters centered on the idea of using them else where in a story universe. Inner me reacted, What about all those stories that are stand alone? Are secondary characters not important there?

After I calmed my inner self down, I tried to go bigger picture. When I’ve worked on secondary characters, do I think of them in terms that make them bigger than just the scenes they appear in? Do they have more presence than just delivering that line or doing that action? I think part of that has to do with “backstory” and part with how much impact they have on the plot.

But for me, secondary characters are easiest to write when I think about how they interact with other characters. Unless they get their own POV, secondary characters are only going to be seen when my POV character is also present. If I were to eventually 3rd person omniscient, then this might not apply, but for all the stories I’ve done, this has been true. So, for those moments of interaction, what can I do to make that scene more engaging?

Part of that comes down to the underlying craft of making sure that scenes are always pulls double or triple duty – if you work to make the scenes impactful, I think the secondary characters benefit from this same work.

I go back to Maurice’s approach from the previous episode – if the character get’s a name, they get worked up and fleshed out. I think I do something similar. There’s something about giving a character a name that almost demands that they have a backstory, that they be thought of as characters.

Which brings us to our question of the day: What secondary characters from stand-alone works do you most remember?

Let us know below.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.09 – Quick Characterizations and 13.10 – Handling a Large Cast

Two reactions in one today as I struggle to catch up. One of the few eternal truths I’ve believe I’ve encountered is that I will always think I can’t be busier and yet, another month arrives to prove me wrong. Quick Characterizations and Handling a Large Cast.

Of the two, I gravitated more to the discussions of the Large Cast episode, not so much because I write sprawling stories with hundreds of characters, but because there was a lot of pristine talk of craft and process. I am a process nerd (as evidenced from my series on Productivity Methods) and so hearing how other people do things is great – it allows me to pick and choose from established methods that others have found and iterate to my heart’s content. Brandon opening up about how to handle a cast of thousands was delightful and I loved how eager and breathless both Mary and Amal were at hearing the numbers that he threw out. Seriously: 2400 characters in the Wheel of Time? Holy crap!

Of course that made me go back and start figuring out how many named characters I have in my novel – which, including the epilogue, is 12. Which is staggering! I had no idea it was that many. Granted, many of them are only in a few scenes and really are background characters that will get moments in future books in the series, but I really was surprised to find I had that many.

I also very much liked hearing how Maurice takes the time to give full characterizations to anyone he names. I don’t know that I’ll take that just yet, but I may need to in my next story because I want that story to be much more character driven.

Using spreadsheets to track character movements and wikis to coordinate continuity and character sheets so “roll play up” a character just confirms to me that no one approach is “right” for writing. If it works for you, use it. If not, look around to steal from others.

I find in my own work that I am more like Mary – I consciously think about how many characters I can handle with my “hands” on stage and not get too cluttered. As a reader, I hate scenes that have 5 or 10 characters all in room doing things because I can’t hold them all in my head at once. So, unconsciously, that’s how I write as well.

For the Quick Characterizations episode, I really enjoyed the idea of finding an verbal “silhouette test” to do with characters. In my current work which I’m revising again (line edits – joy!) I think I can safely say that all of my characters would pass a silhouette test with regards to word choice and personality. I think I even was able to make sure I described them as visually distinct too. But this wasn’t something that I arrived at by choice – another of those unconscious approaches because I’d seen it done in other fiction. I’m looking forward to using the silhouette exercise in combination with Maurice’s character sheets in my next book to see how that flows together.

The other point I like was Brandon’s “peekaboo” moments where he said he allows a side character to have a moment to pop out of the rest of the story and do something completely “them” in that moment. I personally can’t think of specific moments from his fiction that I remember off hand, but as I’m reading/re-reading, I’ll be watching for them to see how they affect my judgement/reaction to a character.

That’s all for now.

What do you do to quickly introduce characters and make them pop on the stage? Any particular differences in your approach to handling a cast – large or small – that differed from the podcasters? Drop a note in the comments below!

 

The Sea of Inventory and Writing

A quick random thought that I had tonight as I work thorough line edits on Betrayed. I just completed my 10% cut last month and once I started working on my synopsis document, I realized that my prose showed the scars of all the chopping I had done. Which wasn’t surprising – while I had tried to fix as I went, the priority was on killing words, not being pretty.

So, I started a rapid line level edit fixing bad words, making sure the scenes flow nicely, correcting pacing, and doing some general prettifying of words.

I’m less than four chapters in and I’ve already cut another 600 words. In the grand scope of things, at that rate, I’ll cut another 2% or more. It was murder to cut 10% and now, without almost no effort, more is flying off.

As I sat marveling at how this was happening I was reminded of a concept I learned from my Lean Implementer course. Background: Lean manufacturing/business principles grew out of the Toyota Production System that transformed them from small Japanese car producer to the largest car manufacturer in the world.

One of the principles taught in the course was the idea of the Sea of Inventory.

The Sea of Inventory posits that if you overproduce, you get so concerned with the product  you are mired in that you can’t see the wastes in your process. So one of the first goals of any production system is to eliminate overproduction and reduce the depth of your “sea”. As you do, your “rocks” of waste become more and more obvious and can be targeted easily. And the more you reduce overproduction, moving closer to just-in-time production, the more waste you expose.

sea_of_inventory
My hasty hand drawn Sea of Inventory graphic – I did say this was a quick post, right?

The reason producers tend to keep the sea high is because when we see stuff, we immediately assume that all must be fine – wastes are out of sight and therefore out of mind.

In writing, I think this idea can be a big side benefit of doing a 10% cut. Yes, there are craft reasons for doing the cut practice such as the creation of better habits which I believe almost any writer could benefit from. But a byproduct of the cut is that it reveals wastes in your writing – you lower the Sea of Words and now the weak word choices, bad pacing, redundancies, and sloppy sentences become more obvious because there is less padding around them. You expose them to your internal editor’s scalpel.

And thus the cutting continues.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.08 – Making Characters Distinctive

Flaws, quirks, attitudes, and attributes – what makes a character distinctive?

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

 

The podcasters started right off the bat talking about the thing I personally thought was the least useful for promoting character distinctiveness – flaws.

And again, I think this is because of personal preference.

When I think of my family members or friends, and I think about what makes one distinct from another, I don’t think about what I don’t like about them, or what I think they fail at doing. To me and the way I was raised, that feels overly and uselessly judgmental.

But the more the conversation on the cast went, the more I could see how flaws and associated quirks do make my characters distinct.

There was one particular comment that changed my thinking and that was where the podcasters noted the difference between a handicap and a flaw. Characters can have handicaps, and those handicaps can impact the story and cause obstacles, but the character needs to have more defining them beyond that handicap. Flaws, quirks, personalities, and attitudes are all things that extend that definition out.

This will be a good podcast to stew about as I prepare to start my next story pre-writing exercises in a couple of weeks.

Today’s reaction feels a little muted to me – maybe it’s rustiness from not doing them for a couple of weeks.

How do you make your characters distinct?

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.05 – Villain, Antagonist, Obstacle

After what felt like an episode that wasn’t for me, this one fell much more into my wheelhouse. Villains, antagonists, and obstacles.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

This topic continues the discussion that main crew had going about heros/protagonists/main characters and quite obviously was recorded at the same session.

The humor played into that fact. And with how easily they were referring to an episode from “weeks” ago. It’s not like the podcasters make any big secret about doing multiple shows in a session, but this episode it seemed especially noticable.

And I like that – I like moments when the wizard is a bit visible behind the curtain. It reminds me that people who I admire and respect aren’t perfect and let’s me be a little more gracious with myself when I don’t pull something off as smoothly as I might want to.

Self compassion aside, I loved this episode for the topic it covered.

In my reaction to the heros episode, I mentioned that I have a dislike for using that term to describe my main character. But I will admit that this episode might be changing my mind. I really like the definitions they came up with for the three “opposite” roles and it’s changed how I think of the roles of hero, protagonist, and main character.

Here are my particular paraphrases of those definitions:

  • obstacle: a person, situation, or event that blocks or opposes the desire of the hero/protagonists/main character
  • antagonist: a character who actively works against the hero/protagonist/main character and/or competes with them for their desire.
  • villain: antagonist who is actively evil

It’s the villain one that impacts me the most on my thinking about heros. I have no issues with how a villain is described in the episode, even though “evil” isn’t a hard and fast trait. We feel like we know it when we see it, but it is a difficult metric to quantify. But in my subconscious, it makes sense: that’s what a villain is.

Combine that with the hero episode where the podcasters posit the question of when should you (in storytelling) have the hero, the protagonist, and the main character all be the same, and when are they different.

Per that episode, the hero is the one who takes heroic action. Again, heroic action isn’t hard and fast – but just like I grok “evil” within the context of villain, stated this way I understand what heroic action would mean within the course of any particular story that I tell.

The other thing that I like is that I can have multiple characters take heroic action for different things, in different scenes, and in different amounts.

I’m not limited to one hero, one villain. And that may be why I have a hard time with referring to the main character as the hero. That concept just doesn’t fit for the kinds of stories I like to tell.

Example time.

Let’s break out Star Wars: A New Hope just because.

During the course of the film, no less than 4 characters take heroic action and could be considered heros in that light.

  • Leia never breaks under torture or duress, but maintains her secret knowledge of the rebel base in spite of pending death.
  • Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to ensure that Vader and company are distracted enough to let the Falcon escape.
  • Han returns to a suicide fight in an undermanned freighter, risking getting blown out of the sky to help a friend.
  • Luke stays in the trench and risks his life after all previous pilots doing the same have been killed.

Only one of these heros was also the main character of the film.

So with this same idea in play, I think it really does come down to what type of story is being told to figure out who the protagonist is and who the antagonist is and if these roles even make sense in the course of storytelling.

For me, I like my heros less iconic and I like my antagonists less villainous, but I definitely have a better feel for using these ideas in my fiction.

Incidentally, that brings me to my final thought. I think the main antagonist of Star Wars: A New Hope was Han Solo. Granted, the villains of the film are Tarkin and Vader. But I think Han is closer to the true role of antagonist.

He actively opposes the protagonist’s (Luke) desire on most every front – he mocks Luke’s desire to buy a ship, he refuses to give into Luke’s desire to rescue anybody, he doesn’t let Luke grieve (Come on, kid). He competes with Luke for Leia’s perceived affections. He confronts Luke and tries to dissuade him from going to battle against the Empire. It is only at the end that Luke overcomes Han by attacking his cowardice and convinces Han to return to the fight.

To me, that all says antagonist.

Please – argue it out in the comments below. I’d like to see what you come with.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.04 – Protagonists Who Aren’t Sympathetic

So, there is always the possibility of stumbling when you’re trying something new and for me this is the episode where things just didn’t work. I’m not sure exactly why it didn’t – perhaps for the same reason books sometimes don’t work: I’m not the target audience.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟

The discussion was lively and the new guest host Valynne Maetani was fine. But it’s possible the subject matter just wasn’t for me. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t yet tried to write, or even felt the desire to write, an unsympathetic protag. In fact, I’ve have hard time writing an antagonist or villain that isn’t sympathetic in some facet.

So, my reactions are going to focus more on what I could take away from the episode rather than riffing on anything in particular the episode itself said.

Brandon spoke again about his “sliders” or “knobs” analogy with regards to protagonists – you can make them likable, competent, and/or active, with levels of each varying from character to character. So, I’ve been trying to think of different protags that I like and seeing what levels their various sliders were set to.

In Person of Interest, John Reese starts out very much as hyper-competent, but not active (has to be pressured into doing the work) and not terribly likable. We find out his past is checkered with darkness and not nice things. As the series goes, those levels change. In the media I consume, he would be the closest to being an unsympathetic character that I personally enjoy. And in reality, he’s only partially the protag – it’s definitely a team protagonist and John is balanced by Harold who is competent in a different realm, likable, and active. If you haven’t seen the show, none of that likely makes sense, but oh well.

In the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, perhaps Sam Vimes is – to an extent – unsympathetic in his first appearance in Guards! Guards! A world-weary drunkard, Sam though is inherently honorable, as the book shows him to be – he isn’t unsympathetic through any real fault of his own except his drinking. Everything else is somewhat circumstantial – his life isn’t one of ease, so he’s had to grow hard enough to deal with it, but isn’t in himself hard. In fact, the whole point of his growth throughout the series centers on the fact that he doesn’t let his honor or basic character be compromised through eventual marriage, money, prestige, or rank. So again, not what I’d call unsympathetic.

Where have I seen unsympathetic characters work well? In making a very unlikable antagonist.

Steve (Edward Norton’s character) in the remake of The Italian Job is wonderfully awful. He manages to be unlikable, relatively un-active – it’s even a plot point as they make him re-active – and he’s not overwhelmingly competent. And every time I watch that film, I enjoy seeing him get it in the end. Ed Norton did spectacular in that role and it’s part of why I like watching him in other roles.

I think the big take-away for me would be similar to any advice about writing something new – consume it first to make sure you know how it works. If you’re going to write unsympathetic protagonists, be reading and consuming media that use them. Learn how those feel before trying to go down that path as a writer.

I’m quite convinced I would muck it up as I don’t consume media that uses unsympathetic protagonists, so I don’t know why they work. They aren’t something I particularly like and so don’t particularly care to understand.

Which is why I enjoy Writing Excuses so much – they give plenty of opportunities for writers of all stripes to find something useful for them. So, while I may not be in the target audience, perhaps you would be.

What unsympathetic protagonists have you enjoyed? Perhaps I’m just missing out on them. Share below in the comments.

Also, if you’re listening along and want to share you own reactions to the episode, feel free to drop them in!

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.03 – What Writers Get Wrong

More new hosts!

This week’s episode introduced a new type of episode for the podcast and I’m anxiously awaiting its return next month. The What Writers Get Wrong series is exactly the kind of leveling up material that I’ve been needing and didn’t ever know it.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

The concept for the series is to use these episodes as individual looks at the ways that writers fail – perhaps with writing the other or common traps that people fall into.

The approach is to use the podcast as a way of SHOWING rather than telling about craft and if it goes anything like this first venture, it will be great.

I’m loving the new host, Aliette de Bodard. I really enjoyed how quickly she seemed to fall into place with the existing crew. I think this series will be one of the most useful to me going forward.

While the exact topic of motherhood and pregnancy is not one that is currently needed for the stuff I’m writing, it did get me thinking about where I could make some changes to my research process.

Factual vs Subjective Subjects

One of the big changes I will need to make in my approach to research and beta readers is coming to a better grasp of subjective topics.

Some things that bug my in my reading are when writers get things that are factually provable wrong.

Giving external safeties to guns that don’t have them. Using the wrong type of engine on a get-away car. Having a setting of tall, rickety structures in an area of the US with 70mph straightline winds (regularly) and tornados. One or two target readers who are even reasonably familiar with the weapon/car/area would have fixed these problems. in stories that I’ve read.

But with something like the topic of the podcast, there are a multitude of ways to screw that up.

One of the items I remember from Brandon’s YouTube series on worldbuilding was the concept of the iceberg – that you have to do enough worldbuilding to show the top of the iceberg that you can convince your readers that there’s so much more under the surface – even if you haven’t actually thought of those things that are beneath the surface. Because as writers we can’t always spend the time (years – decades) creating things that intense.

With these kinds of subjective experiences, I think you’d have to do the same. You need to show enough clear, concrete details that your readers believe you’ve looked at all of it.

And as a writer I need to be cogniscent of where my personal experience with a topic won’t suffice. I have at least some experience pregnancy and motherhood as I’m married and we’ve had kids. But there is NO WAY I would try to write pregnancy and motherhood based on my VERY LIMITED experience as an outside observer. It’s just not something I would be competent to write at this time, and I know it.

And there are myriad topics that are the same way. Being willing to acknowledge that I don’t know is where that first step starts. Feedback from readers can clue you in if you’re getting enough of it.

So what things have you seen as readers that you had to just sit back and laugh because the writer got them so wrong?

Share below.

Current State Report and Writing Excuses 13.02

Things are going to be a little different this week. Between the holiday, some bad sleep, more stress at work, and bad timing, I haven’t gotten all the writing work done I wanted to. I have gotten the book work done I needed to, but not the blogging. So, you get one this week. Maybe two if I’m able to finish up some stuff.

Current State

I’m 25% complete with the current revision of my novel Betrayed. That is the part of writing that has been going well. I also got back a response from a beta reader which pumped up my enthusiasm a lot. So, I’m quite hopeful that the book will be in the right shape for querying agents when I’m all through with it this round.

Once I get to 50%, I’ll start really working on the pre-writing for my next novel. Which means between now and then, I need to do some research on pets and AIs. Fun stuff.

In physical tool updates, I ADORE my new keyboard. I’ll be trying to get some questions addressed that folks have asked, so please be patient. But my hand pain is completely gone, and I’ve been pushing pretty hard the last few days. So, it was expensive, but so far, worth it.

Last, today marks the start of a new habit forming session which I’m doing with my youth at church and with my writing group. My young men wanted to learn about how habits work and so last night was a chance to explore habits, and the result was me realizing that my recent writing approach has been killing my sleep pattern. I needed to make a change.

So the new goal is sleep early, up early, with my writing spread throughout the day, rather than all writing done in a rush at night. Day 1 feels pretty good so far.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.02 – Writing Active Characters

This week, the hosts looked at writing active characters and first reaction out of the box for me: “Holy cow! New Chicago team!”

Yes, it looks like the crew changed up this season. I’m sure if I followed the podcasters on anything more than just the podcast I would have seen this coming, but it was surprising to me. It makes a lot of sense. What a great way to keep things fresh. It’s too bad in one regard, because I really liked the old Chicago crew. Looking forward to getting to know the new folks!

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

So, perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of revisions rather than drafting, but this doesn’t feel quite as useful to me at the moment. For a passive character, Brandon gave the example of having someone who always stands around and watches important events rather than being in them.

Current project – not an issue.

Book I just finished in November ? Might be an issue. So, not as useful at the moment, but it may be something I’ll need to address in future stories. I might have that tendency.

Overall, though, a good episode, though because of the new team who haven’t answered this question previously, the answers seemed at surface level. I hope they find their legs as the season goes and give good, meaty advice. Good enough for the very early writer, but I think they can all dig a bit deeper.

Something that didn’t get covered during the episode: my personal belief is that inactive characters are a warning sign/diagnosis criteria of plot problems. If your character isn’t interacting well with the events of the story, you might be telling the wrong story.

And I don’t necessarily mean redoing the story so your main character is at the center of events.

Maybe you have a seemingly passive character observing an action/adventure story, but rather than re-plot the action story, you need to be telling the coming of age story inside that adventure, of someone wistfully longing to be bigger or better than they are.

Or you have a relationship story where the a seemingly passive character can’t talk to the object of their affections. So maybe try telling the growth story inside of that problem.

In reality, this is just another variation on Mary’s favorite tool, the MICE quotient, with a story nested inside another story. It’s great because it allows you to have layers that might not come up in a straightforward tale. And it can let you keep what you’ve already worked and tweak it rather than starting over from scratch.

So, if you do find your characters being too passive, take a look at how to fix. It may be just a change of paradigm.

K, I think I’m going to call it there for the week.

I really enjoy the comments that I’ve been getting. Many thanks to those who have been reaching out. And with how busy the week has been, I’ll be responding to a couple of previous questions later this week, so hang in there.

Drop a line below and join in.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.01 – Hero, Protagonist, Main Character

A new year, a new season of Writing Excuses. And this week’s episode got my soap box nerves tingling. Hero, protagonist, and main character – which is which and how to know which to use.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

What a great episode! And it hit on one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to craft books for fiction writing – a determination to fit all main characters into a particular label.

One of my preferred craft books on structure is John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, which I love for its many insights and approaches to developing the bones of a story. But I HATE his use of the label “hero” when talking about the the character of the story. Perhaps I should explain.

I don’t write stories about heroes, at least, that’s not how I think of them. I’m much more interested in the stories of everyday people thrust into extraordinary situations. Sometimes that lets a person’s heroic side show. And often, it doesn’t. So as Truby used the word “hero” to describe how the story theme gets built and all of the way that the structure ties back to desire and need and ghosts and all these things that tie into the character driving the story, I felt put off, like his words weren’t for my story.

Until I changed my brain to substitute protagonist every time he used hero. Then it all started to gel for me.

For the pod-casters, there is a difference between a hero, a protagonist, and a main character, and Mary described them as being in sets that overlap. Hearing it that way made me change my thinking on this a little bit. For them, the main character was the person through whose eyes we see the story unfold, the protagonist is the one making choices and actions that drive the story forward and changes through story, and the hero is the one that makes the heroic action or who we admire.  Sometimes those are all one character and sometimes they are three different characters and sometimes any mix in between.

And that’s where things really made sense for me. I’m currently working through a cut revision of my first novel and my main character is my protagonist, but he isn’t the hero. That role goes to another, and in my story, that ends up being a trope subversion, which I really like.  But being able to better separate the roles lets me see just how I can mix and match them to make very different kinds of stories.