Tag Archives: character building

The Hero’s Journey: How to Leverage the World’s Most Powerful Story Structure

From Moses to Star Wars, the Hero’s Journey is the foundation of millennia of storytelling. How can you leverage it in your own writing?

Do you want your stories to “work?”

Writers work hard at their craft. They struggle to build a story that makes sense and delivers the goods on emotion and thrills.

And so often, even after months and years of labor, a writer can’t get their story to “work.”

There are a lot of reasons why a story might not work — why it confuses readers or fails to engage them emotionally — but one major reason a story doesn’t work is structure.

Thankfully there’s a structure you can use that has a proven track record of success. This successful record is so long, in fact, that we don’t know when it started.

That structure is called the Hero’s Journey, and it’s going to transform your writing.

What Is the “Hero’s Journey”?

Our understanding of this classic structure begins with American literature professor Joseph Campbell. Campbell was interested in the way mythology affects our lives today and began digging into myths — lots of myths.

In 1949 he published The Hero With a Thousand Faces outlining what has come to be known as his “monomyth,” a theory that all stories are, in fact, the same. That “same story” is the Hero’s Journey.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

A girl from the middle of nowhere wakes up one day to find that things are horrible, and someone has to do something about it. But she’s scared, and can’t bring herself to stand up and fight back . . . until the village elder arrives and teaches our young protagonist the ropes.

The girl sets out to find the source of her society’s problems, forcing her to leave. Along the way she encounters new faces, some of whom join her as companions, others of whom try to kill her or steal her valuables. She suffers some loses along the way, learning some truly difficult lessons.

Then, she and her companions find the source of evil: some kind of mighty fortress. The heroes storm the fortress and come face-to-face with the villain. The hero and the villain square off and the hero is killed or mortally wounded . . . only to use her resources to recover and vanquish the bad guy for good.

The hero and her surviving companions return home triumphant and bestow some kind of blessing, like food, rain, or peace, on the community.

If you’ve heard a story like that, then you know the Hero’s Journey.

Here are some examples.

“I Know This Story . . .”

Have you heard the story of the orphan boy living in the cupboard under the stairs?

Or perhaps the story of the girl in District 12 (the crappiest District) who would not only survive an unwinnable deathmatch, but become a symbol of liberty?

Maybe you’ve heard of the baby boy who was going to die in a mass genocide, but whose mother put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile River . . .

If you didn’t catch those, here they are in order: Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), and . . . Moses.

There are also variations of it, like the Anti-Hero’s Journey, a story arc for characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White. Either way, it’s still based off Joseph Campbell’s foundational research in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. 

So here’s the big question: Now that you know what it is, what do you do with it?

Hero’s Journey Step #1: Start Ordinary

We have Hollywood screenwriter and executive Christopher Vogler to thank for our condensed version of the Hero’s Journey. If you’re curious, his most notable credit is a film that makes explicit use of the Hero’s Journey: The Lion King. 

Fun sidebar: The Lion King and the story of Moses in Exodus have the exact same structure. Attempted rise to power, failure and flight, return and victory.

In Vogler’s simplification of Campbell’s theory, there are twelve steps to the Hero’s Journey (and I’m going to cover each one in-depth in this series, of which this post is the first).

The first step of the Hero’s Journey: The Ordinary World.

6 Common Features of the Ordinary World

Let’s take a look at the elements of the Ordinary World. Some of these are essentials, while others aren’t necessarily essential, but are common in the vast majority of Hero’s Journey stories you’ll encounter.

1. The Average Joe

Every story begins with an “Average Joe.” He or she is someone you could be, or could be near to.

Think about how simple or average Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are, at least at first. Yes, they both have something interesting about them (Harry’s scar, Katniss’s hunting skill), but neither of these things are earth-shattering . . . yet.

2. No Parents

Another notable trope of this step is a lack of proper parents. Think about it: How many heroes do you know of whose parents are either missing, dead, or nonexistent? Orphans abound in heroic journeys.

Harry Potter’s an orphan, and Katniss has to play the mother role. Moses’s father is a mystery and he is given up as an orphan. Luke Skywalker’s parents are . . . well, you know. And Rey, in the newer Star Wars movies, is obsessed with finding out the truth of her family. More on that to come in December 2020.

3. A Disadvantageous Beginning

This has a powerful effect of bringing these heroes low. They begin at a disadvantage. How many heroes do you know of with a rock-solid family and support structure in place? There are some, but they are few and far between.

Take Peter Parker/Spider-Man, another classic orphan. He’s been adopted by his aunt and uncle (RIP Uncle Ben) because his parents are dead/missing/who knows. Even Superman, with his adopted Earth parents, feels like a stranger because his true parents died during the explosion of his home planet, Krypton. Even these mighty superheroes suffer from a trauma that human beings know all too well: the destruction of family and community.

4. A Simple, Mundane, Boring Life

Many elements of the Ordinary World are obvious. Your hero’s life is simple, mundane, even boring. He or she is often from the countryside, or lives as a stranger in the crowded, soulless metropolitan bustle.

5. Low Expectations

Other elements are less obvious. One is that no one expects anything of the hero. He is assumed to probably amount to nothing. That is, by everyone except the Mentor character (coming soon in Step #4!). It will be the Mentor who recognizes the hero’s potential heroism and talent and coaches him into that role.

6. A False Sense of Security

Another element of the Ordinary World is a false sense of security. Everything should seem, at least on the surface, peaceful and well. But in the underbelly of this world — or lingering outside its boundaries — conflict and injustice rages.

I’m reminded of the tranquil peace of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, embodied by the jovial mood at Bilbo’s birthday party. Yet that mirthful spirit is erased once Bilbo uses his magic ring — the One Ring of Evil, we soon learn — to play a trick on everyone. From that point forward, the Shire is no longer peaceful and safe, but a fragile domain whose borders are penetrated by wraiths and wild creatures in search of Sauron’s Ring.

This, of course, is the Inciting Incident, the step where you SHOULD begin your story (for the sake of hooking your reader). But that Inciting Incident, or “Call to Adventure,” must happen in the context of a quiet, seemingly peaceful world where your hero is a nobody who isn’t expected to do much at all.

3 Ways to Create Your Ordinary World

How does this apply to the stories you’re telling? Here are elements of the Ordinary World you can use to bring your hero low before they begin the climb to greatness.

1. Upset the parent structure

To keep things fresh, don’t just “kill them off.” Maybe one is missing. Maybe the parents are divorced and mom/dad remarried, while the other is off on some adventure.

A great example of innovation within this element is Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, where Peter Quill’s journey (as an orphan, mind you) takes him back to his father with plenty of twists along the way.

2. Lower the expectations

In the beginning, no one can know how heroic your protagonist will be. Don’t fall victim to cheesy irony or heavy-handed foreshadowing. Keep your hero low, and bury him/her in the judgment of the community.

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The same can be said for the community, or “World,” itself. Often a community will expect nothing of itself because no one expects anything of it.

Think about that town you grew up near that was “trash.” Maybe it was your town. What effect does that have on its people?

3. Create a false sense of security

As the writer, you know conflict is coming. It has to come, either from within or without.

But the community, and possibly your hero, can’t know it yet. Everything needs to seem happy and fine. Remember that the effect of this false sense of security is suspense, a priceless effect you want to provide your readers whenever possible.

Let’s Get Ordinary

It’s time to start spicing and seasoning your storytelling with elements of this timeless and beloved story structure.

What are you working on now that could benefit from some of these archetypal elements? Why not try adding some elements to your current work-in-progress, or to a finished draft you’re struggling to revise?

And be sure to keep an eye out for my next article on Step Two of the Hero’s Journey!

What Ordinary Worlds can you think of in stories you’ve read and watched? Let us know in the comments.

By David Safford

Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How Characters Change in Stories (And How to Write Believable Change)

You’ve probably heard this one before: Your character must change throughout the course of your story.

I see a lot of confusion over this concept. Writers can normally nail the change (weak to strong; bad to good; cynical to optimistic) but it often comes from a weird place that doesn’t sit quite right with what we know about the protagonist. Or it’s too big of a change (or too much of a “fairy tale ending”) to be believable.

Let’s take a look at how writers should deal with character change.

No one likes change

In real life, people change in small ways, but they’re resistant to that change. Change happens slowly, in a sort of cocooned metamorphosis, like a caterpillar to a butterfly. It doesn’t happen overnight, it rarely happens without lapses into previous behavior, and there better be a good reason for it to happen to begin with.

The thing that makes change in stories so fascinating for people is that, despite loathing change, humans want to believe we’re capable of changing, preferably for the better.

So your characters must change in order for the story to be worth reading. But they don’t have to like it.

Think of this: Your character changes because of the things happening around him/her. Not because they want to. Your character is forced to change by circumstances they can’t control. To survive and/or thrive, they must change to combat those circumstances.

Events trigger change

Character change is triggered by an event. A big one. It doesn’t have to be “big” as in a death or massive explosion (but it definitely can be!). It can be something smaller, like hearing your friend’s parents are getting divorced or your oldest child graduating from preschool.

Note that your character doesn’t choose this event. It’s an outside force that’s thrust upon them.

Then more events happen throughout the second act that force your character forward in a struggle toward transformation.

The triggering event is proportional to your character’s change. Something small shouldn’t send your character completely overboard. Something large shouldn’t have them shrugging and going back to normal.

Change should be believable

Do I really believe Scrooge woke up with a personality completely opposite from the one he had when he went to sleep? Not quite. I tend to think ole Scrooge went back to his miserly ways right after the shock of the ghosts wore off. Maybe not quite as miserly, but still.

That’s why aiming for a more subtle change often makes more sense within the confines of your character’s personality.

If a timid man is forced to defend his friends and family, that doesn’t mean he’s going to start playing a superhero all over town. That means he now knows he’s capable of stepping up with the going gets tough.

A grumpy teen might change her attitude and treat people with a little more respect, but that doesn’t mean she’ll suddenly become a do-good saint. It most likely means she’ll just stop snapping at her parents.

Of course, maybe the opposite is true. Maybe your timid man becomes the new Batman. Maybe your surly teen goes off to build houses in Haiti. It’s possible. But remember, the more massive the change in your character, the more important and life-altering the triggering event must be to them.

You should know your character better than anyone, so make sure their change happens in a way that’s realistic for them and proportional to the size of the trigger.

Realistic is better than drastic

You know your character has to change, but your readers aren’t going to empathize with that change if you step outside of bounds. Keep your change realistic and in line with your protagonist’s personality. And be sure to check out this article for details on moving your character through each step of change throughout your story.

What’s the protagonist’s change in the story you’re currently working on? Let me know in the comments!

By Sarah Gribble

Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Limiting the Number of Characters

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig 

This is the second post in a short series about making our lives easier as writers. One thing that I’ve tried to be more conscious of as the years have gone by is limiting the number of characters I introduce in a story or series.

With a cozy mystery series, for example, the field of characters is already going to be pretty crowded. You have a sleuth and a sidekick and around five suspects. And then you have recurring characters: friends and family of the sleuth and  some sort of police presence.

The more characters we add, the harder it is for readers to keep up.  And we run the risk of not having the space to make the characters more than one-dimensional.

One bit of advice is not to name every single character in your book.  The waitress at the diner can just be the waitress.  If we name her, we may be making her role in the story seem more important than it is…and leave readers trying to remember another name.

Another tip is to evaluate the number of characters you’re introducing. For my new series, I took a look to see if it was possible to combine roles.  In one instance I could, which just meant that a character needed to help out with a cat rescue at the beginning of the book.

More reading about combining character roles can be found here:

Clare Langley-Hawthorne’s “A Cast of Thousands

If you do have a large cast of characters even after combining roles, there are ways to help readers keep track of them. It’s a good idea to make characters distinguishable from each other by using quirks, diction, and recurring details about their physical appearance as reminders.

You can also tag supporting characters who haven’t been on stage for a while (Jane’s hairdresser, Sheri, opened the door). Or: Sheri walked in. “Long day at the beauty parlor, y’all. Three customers didn’t show up!”

More information on working with large casts of characters can be found here:

September C. Fawkes’ “Working With a Large Cast of Characters

As a reader, do you ever have trouble keeping up with a lot of characters?  As a writer, how do you try to help readers keep up (I’ve seen some books with a ‘cast of characters’ list at the front)?

Source: elizabethspanncraig.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Seven Common Problems Writers Have With Characters

Most writers love creating characters and writing about them – but it can be a struggle to get characters right.

If you’re normally quite plot-focused, you might find yourself creating characters who are lifeless “pegs” that fit into the right-shaped spaces in your plot.

If you’re much more character-focused, you might struggle with the size of your cast (more isn’t always better!) … or you might find it really difficult to let your characters suffer and struggle.

In today’s post, we’re going to look at seven common problems that writers struggle with … and some ways to get past them.

Problem #1: Creating Characters Who Are Three-Dimensional

If you’ve been writing fiction for a while, you’ve probably come across the advice to avoid writing “flat” or “two-dimensional” characters. These are characters who don’t really seem to come alive. They might seem a bit boring, thin, or shallow to the reader: there’s no real depth to them.

This can be a tricky issue to spot in your own writing – but if you’ve been told that your characters seem “flat” or unengaging, or if you suspect that characterisation isn’t your strong point, you might want to:

  • Spend some time really thinking about your characters. Who are they, deep down? What’s happened in their past that’s shaped them? How have the events of your novel impacted them?
  • Let your characters have moments when they act in ways the reader doesn’t expect. Maybe your sweet, nice protagonist gets pushed too far and shouts at someone; maybe your grumpy mentor figure shows their kindly side.
  • Show your character changing throughout your story. Perhaps your protagonist really is shallow and boring at the start of your novel – but the things that happen to them, and their reactions, lead them to grow as a person.

Not all characters need to be well-rounded, of course. Characters who only appear briefly and aren’t important to the plot shouldn’t be too fleshed-out (or your reader will start to think that the taxi driver or waitress or bank manager are more important to the plot than they actually are). In some genres, too, flat characters make sense: comic characters might be known for one or two funny or exaggerated characteristics, and don’t necessarily need to be rounded out.

Further Reading: Three-Dimensional Characters: 3 Ways to Create One, Writes With Tools

Problem #2: Juggling a Cast of Multiple Characters

Some stories have a tight, focused cast of characters – but others are sprawling epics. (Game of Thrones, anyone?)

If you’ve got lots of characters – particularly lots of main or viewpoint characters – then it can get tricky for your reader to keep track of everyone. It can also create problems with the reader’s engagement: perhaps they really enjoy reading about two of your characters, but they’re not very interested in the other six that you keep bringing in.

To thin down your cast a little, it’s worth asking yourself whether you really need so many characters. Do you have to bring in two brothers for your protagonist, or would one be enough? Does that grumpy woman who lives down the hall have any real impact on the plot?

Walk-on parts don’t count here. No-one’s going to be bothered by you having a taxi driver to get your characters from A to B, or a bartender to serve them, or a cashier at the bank to tell them they’re overdrawn. Avoid naming these characters, and readers will assume they won’t recur (and thus won’t need keeping track of).

If you do need to stick with lots of characters, it helps to:

  • Introduce them in small batches. Don’t open your novel with a huge party scene where you introduce all ten of your key characters – the reader’s going to end up confused and overwhelmed.
  • Group them together in some way. It can be easier for readers to remember and keep track of characters if they’re partnered up or in small groups (e.g. perhaps a married couple, a family unit, colleagues, and so on).
  • Give a bit more information when characters reappear than you normally would – e.g. you might need to remind us that Jason is Sarah’s colleague, for instance, or have characters referring back to the incident that was taking place in the last scene in which we saw them.

Further reading: The 10 Rules of Writing Large Casts of Characters, K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

Problem #3: Letting Characters Solve Their Own Problems

This is can be more of a plot issue than a character one, in terms of your writing. If your plot involves your characters being rescued by coincidence, an outside force, or someone who isn’t in your main cast, then your readers will feel frustrated or even cheated.

This is particularly true at the ending of your story. We want characters to earn their happy ending: we don’t want the hero to succeed simply because the (normally competent) villain makes a blindingly stupid mistake.

If your characters are constantly being rescued by other people, or if their successes rely on a change of coincidences, look for ways to let them solve their problems through their own strength or wit.

This problem might be related to the next one, too, if you hate to let your characters struggle.

Further reading: How to correctly use a “Deus-Ex-Machina” and not die trying, Duilio Giordano Faillaci, Medium

Problem #4: Making Bad Things Happen to Your Characters

Without your characters facing problems … there’s not much of a story. Your main characters, particularly your protagonist, need to go through some difficult, sad, or downright painful events.

Depending on your genre, this could mean a lot of different things. The heroine in a romance might not suffer any physical injuries – but she might well be upset or hurt by a love interest, or might be distressed by a broken-off engagement.

In many genres, there’ll be all sorts of bad things that happen to your characters. They might be hunted by a serial killer (crime), they might be haunted by something strange and inexplicable that’s happening to them (mystery), or they might be running for their life or trying to save the world (adventure).

As a writer, it can be difficult to allow anything bad to happen to your characters. Remember, though, that if your characters effortlessly sail through the story without any sort of upset or harm, readers aren’t going to find it particularly engaging.

Let your characters get hurt, let them be miserable, and especially let them face up to the consequences of their actions.

Further reading: Making Bad Things Happen to Good Characters, Ali Luke, Aliventures

Problem #5: Giving Characters Realistic Flaws

I hinted at this in the last section: your characters, even the good ones, should have flaws that cause them to do things that complicate the story for them. This can often be a core part of your character’s growth.

If you have an irritable protagonist with a hair-trigger temper, perhaps they snap at their best friend one too many times … and their friend stops speaking to them.

If you have a character who’s a daring adrenalin-seeker, perhaps something goes wrong with their motorcycle stunt – and they get hurt. (Or worse, someone else does.)

Flaws also make your characters more realistic, and they help us empathise with them. Characters who are too perfect are usually two-dimensional (see #1) and they can be annoying or just hard to engage with.

Further reading: How to Craft Brilliant Flawed Characters (a #StorySocial recap), Kreisten Kieffer, Well-Storied

Problem #6: Allowing Characters to Strive for a Goal

Your characters, particularly your protagonist, should have a goal that they’re trying to achieve. This might be something fairly small – and, if something bad has happened right at the start of the novel, it might simply involve returning to the status quo.

Often, your character’s initial goal isn’t the one they’ll end up striving toward during the rest of your novel. Perhaps they’re chasing a promotion at work, or trying to pass an exam, or preparing for a trip abroad. Their goal might be ditched or superseded by the events of the plot (e.g. the exam suddenly seems much less important when the person they love most falls mysteriously ill, and doctors are at a loss to help).

Make sure your character has something that they want to achieve (or to avoid – e.g. getting fired) right from the start of your story. This helps us to root for them – and encourages us to keep reading to see whether they get the thing they want.

Further reading: Most Common Writing Mistakes: Characters Who Lack Solid Story Goals, K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

Problem #7: Reining Characters In

Finally, this is a problem that some writers can have – particularly those who don’t tend to create an outline. (Not that I’m knocking that: my first drafts are very exploratory and I pretty much never have a full-blown outline in place.)

Some writers feel that their characters “take over” or “come alive” and send scenes spiralling off in unexpected directions. While that can be a fun way to write – and potentially a great way to come up with new ideas or plot twists – it can also end up with your scenes devolving into a bit of a meandering mess.

If you feel that your characters take over in this way, it’s worth drawing a clear distinction between bits of writing you’re doing that are intended to be exploratory, and bits that are part of the plot. Maybe you have a rough draft of a scene where your protagonist goes off in a direction you really didn’t plan – that doesn’t mean you have to stick with it!

If it becomes clear that your original plan wouldn’t be in keeping with your character’s personality, then you might need to look for ways to nudge them back onto the “right” path. This could mean throwing extra complications into the mix – either to prod them toward further action (if your characters mostly like to sit around, drink tea, and have a nice chat) or to rein them in (if your characters tend to do outlandish things that are hard to come back from).

Further reading: When Characters Go Their Own Way, Juliet Marillier, Writer Unboxed

Getting characters right can be really hard – but also very much worthwhile. I’m sure you can think of characters who’ve stuck with you for years after you read about them – characters who you loved like friends.

Source: aliventures.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Creating Believable Villains

What are the trademarks of a villain?

Do they have dark, piercing eyes, a snarly grin, crooked-yellowed teeth, knobby fingers, an evil laugh? Or is there more to it than that? The antagonist can be the hardest character to write but also the most fun. How can we be successful at it? Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.

Make them appear human – nobody likes a pure evil villain. They need to be likable or they fall flat. Give them a redeeming quality. Maybe we even want to cheer for them. Think Hannibal Lector or the Blacklist’s Raymond Reddington. Yes, they are evil but still have amiable qualities. We find ourselves applauding them.

Give them a clear motivation for their actions – we need to know why they’re doing their evil deeds. Their motives need to feel fair and just in their minds. Start with the basic reasons for their crime. Passion, greed, jealousy, but give it an added kick. Let’s place ourselves in their shoes. What makes them tick? Why do they think the way the do? In one of my stories the antagonist has a daughter who needs constant medical care for her deadly condition, so he justifies his actions to get the money to provide her with the necessary attention. This gives the reader empathy for the antagonist.

Give them flaws – we can’t make the villain’s life too easy. They need to work hard at being bad. Keep them in constant conflict, making things more difficult for them as the plot unfolds. Maybe they’re OCD and that keeps them from getting their hands dirty at a crime scene. Perhaps they’re disabled and struggle with getting around. Whatever the flaw, make it realistic.

Hide them in plain sight – don’t make the villain a klutzy moron. That robs the reader and makes them angry. We want to keep them guessing and surprised at the end of the story. Also, we can’t make the antagonist a minor character. This is cheating and doesn’t satisfy the plot. Give subtle clues as to who the criminal is, but make them the boy next door or the female everyone likes. This will give our stories plausibility.

Give your villain backstory – I like to do a full character sketch on the antagonist just like I do for my protagonist. Don’t cheat them in the development stage of your story. Get to know them. Sit down with them for coffee and ask some poignant questions. What are their dislikes? Loves? What is their deepest fear? What were they doing at the age of fifteen? We need to know them inside and out in order to make them come alive.

Fit their behavior appropriately – plant seeds along the way so when they commit a crime it doesn’t come out in left field. For example, if your villain is about to strangle someone give him big hands. Perhaps he works out to pump up his muscles. Or if he’s building a bomb, give him a military background or one in science. Remember, it needs to be realistic.

Creating villains can be fun. Study your favorite and then design yours to be believable and one that will keep your reader turning the pages!

By Darlene L. Turner

Source: almostanauthor.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Does Every Lead Character Need An Arc?

At a Bouchercon some years ago, Lee Child was part of a panel on characters in thrillers. An audience member asked him a question about character change. “Every character has to have an arc, right?”

“Why?” Child said. “There doesn’t have to be character change. We don’t need no stinkin’ arcs.”

Everybody in the room cracked up. Child went on to explain that he loves Dom Perignon champagne, and he wants it to taste the same each time. And so, too, he wants his Jack Reacher books to offer the same pleasurable experience every time out. Reacher doesn’t change. Reacher does his thing. It’s how he does it that provides the pleasure.

Later on, Michael Connelly was interviewed in a packed room. He talked about his decision at the beginning of the series to have Harry Bosch age chronologically. In each book Bosch is about a year older. And he has varying degrees of inner development. Talk about your arcs! The series is still going strong and it’s a wonder to behold.

So there you have it, a tale of two writers and two approaches, both of which work. They provide different experiences and readers can choose which they like best—or go with both, for variety.

When I teach about character work, I do say that a lead character does not have to change in a fundamental way.  For example, in the film The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble does not become a new man. He does not have to discover his “true self.” What he has to do is grow stronger as he meets extraordinary challenges.

Similarly, Marge Gunderson in Fargo does not change, but shows her inner strength by solving a horrific crime, far beyond what she’s had to deal with before.

So in this kind of thriller, the character is already who he or she needs to be, but gets tested and finds new strength to endure.

A nice wrinkle to this type of story is when the Lead’s strength inspires another character to change. That’s what happens in The Fugitive. Kimble’s relentless search for the killer of his wife turns Sam Gerard from a lawman who “doesn’t care” about the facts of a case, to caring very much indeed.

In Casablanca, you have both kinds of change. Not only does Rick Blaine change radically, from a man who wants to be left alone to one who joins the war effort, but so does the little French captain, Louis.  Rick’s act of self sacrifice at the end inspires Louis to leave Casablanca with Rick, and also fight the Nazis. It is, of course, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

One of the most important questions you can ask at the beginning of your novel is whether the main character will undergo fundamental change or not. If not, then the story is about the character growing stronger.

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Showing Character Emotions Using the Leaf Technique

Often we assume that to show a character’s emotion we have to focus on the character. We write that her fists are clenched, that he was stunned speechless by her beauty. Or we describe the feeling itself: how anger whirled inside her, looking for an outlet, how he felt a powerful attraction unfurling in his chest.

These are valid techniques, but they’re straightforward, front-door options, and too often they tend toward cliché or generic. If you have five descriptions of anger in your story and they are more or less interchangeable, you’re missing five unique emotional opportunities.

You can take advantage of those opportunities with a method I call the leaf technique: Show your character’s feelings by writing their thoughts about an object or event that is seemingly unrelated. (I use leaves in my examples, but you can choose whatever suits your character and your story.)

The leaf technique slips us in the back way, letting us feel what the character feels in context, without ever explicitly naming the emotion. It pulls the reader into the character’s unique emotional experience, letting the reader feel not just anger or love but the experience of feeling anger or love as that specific character in that specific story moment.

Character Emotion through Leaves

Let’s say it’s spring in my character’s world. The leaves are emerging from their buds. Birds are singing. My character is feeling bitter about life. What does she think about the leaves?

The leaves came out today. It breaks my heart to look at them, all new, innocent, untouched by the ravages of entropy. I think about their future, chewed by insects, spotted by disease, stripped from their twigs by a careless child who hasn’t learned what death is.

So perfect, this leaf, delicate, reaching out into the world in good faith, translucent in the sun of May. What did it ever do to deserve this life?

The character doesn’t say anything about herself here, and yet we learn a great deal about her state of mind and experience of life. She sees the leaves very differently than, say, someone who’s newly in love:

Overnight, the leaves had come out, and even though he knew they had their own schedule, it was easy to pretend they had arrived to celebrate with him, green fireworks exploding all around, flags waving, tiny hands clapping, the birds all aflutter with the news, flying back and forth joyously to relay the story: Michael kissed Johanna! Michael kissed Johanna!

The joy the character feels is explicitly mentioned in this example, but it’s projected into the leaves in a way that brings the emotion to life in the world.

Character Personality through Leaves

A character’s attitude about the leaves can show us not just their emotions but also their whole personality:

Everyone’s talking about the leaves coming out. “It’s so green!” “Look how beautiful!” “The miracle of springtime!” As if it didn’t happen every May, as if the entirety of species on this planet weren’t programmed to grow at all costs. Yes, I see that the tree in my yard has leaves again, just like it did last year and the year before and the year before. And the flowers are blooming, too! Imagine that.

The real miracle is this novel that’s growing under my fingers. It didn’t exist last year. All alone I found it and shaped it and brought it into being. It is utterly different than anything else, but it has all the best elements — risk, love, pathos, poetry.

I should title it “Springtime.” Then maybe people will give it the attention it deserves.

Here the leaves provide an opportunity for the writer to show the character’s sarcasm and also set up a tension between what the world is ooh-ing over (spring) and what the character thinks they should be ooh-ing over (his novel), which indirectly lets the reader glimpse the relationship between the character and the people around him.

Plot  through Leaves

The leaf technique can also be used to foreshadow the plot, to set up a scenario parallel to the one the character is about to go through:

The leaves were budding out, emerging after the long barren winter. Alyssa watched them from her room high in the tower. They emerged trustingly, counting on the sun to shine for them, on the earth to supply them with nutrients. They had a role to play, and they would play it, no matter what.

After a long morning sitting motionless by the window, watching them dance in the playful spring breeze, Alyssa began to pack.

Although we know nothing about Alyssa’s story, we can infer from the narrative she creates around the leaves that she, too, has a role to play, and has finally decided to emerge into the world and trust, like the leaves, that she will be able to do what she needs to do.

Leaves over Time

Once you create the tie between emotion and external object, you can use it for the rest of your story as a subtle emotional shorthand. If the newly-in-love character later gets in a fight with his lover, the leaves can hang limp, or cling desperately to their twigs in a storm, and right away we associate the change in the leaves with the change in his emotions. If the bitter character, a few months later, looks up to see the leaves silhouetted against the sky, making a beautiful pattern even with their spots and flaws, we know she’s starting to feel better about the shape of her life.

Leaves in Bullet Points

  • The leaf technique adds richness and depth to your character by drawing on their personality and life experience.
  • It immerses the reader, giving them the feeling of being in the character’s head.
  • It creates a relationship between your character and the world.
  • It doubles as setting.
  • It adds whimsy or humor by attributing unusual characteristics or experiences to inanimate objects.
  • It creates a shorthand that you can use later on, a recurring motif that can show the evolution of the character’s emotions.

The leaf technique makes the emotion you’re writing specific to the character and the scene. It brings to life the way each person experiences the world differently depending on their mood, their personality, and the moment.

The same emotions will come up again and again in our stories (and our lives), but no emotional experience is the same. Use the leaf technique to create a unique emotional experience that will resonate in your reader’s mind.

Source: refiction.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Good People Making Bad Choices: Could this be your character?

Good people making bad choices is something that many of us struggle to fathom. I mean, surely if they were ‘good’ then they would ultimately go with their better judgement. Good people uphold values such as human dignity, even when it’s tough. World War II was when this phenomenon really came into the public eye, as the world struggled to accept that all Germans were not monsters. In fact, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the person directly responsible for Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’, found that many of the war criminals standing before them were mild-mannered, courteous people.

And the moment any psychological phenomenon becomes interesting, writers tend to perk up and listen. Does this relate to my character? Maybe this is why he did what he did? Or if you’re anything like me, how could I tie this into a ‘what if’ question for a future concept? Could it be the something that my readers will mull over long after they’ve finished?

Well, let me tell you a story. Those of you that have heard of Milgram’s experiments on obedience will recognise the scenario I’m about to dramatize (I’ve taken the Milgram’s procedure and brought it to life with the help of some fictional characters), for others, you’re about to discover what the average person is capable of.

When Ben saw the ad for a learner experiment, he read it twice.

“Surely it can’t be that simple,’ he thought, ‘you’re basically getting paid to turn up!”

But that’s exactly what the typed page on the university noticeboard said. Thinking of Emily and their upcoming anniversary, the prospect of some easy cash was enticing.

When Ben turned up, he was introduced to Geoff. Geoff was middle-aged, and kind of mild-mannered looking with his glasses and round belly. The experimenter, this guy tall and serious looking with his white lab coat and clipboard, held out the tip of two straws. It seemed the person that drew the short-straw would be the learner, and the other, the teacher. Ben had never done any teaching, but he wasn’t keen on drawing the short-straw just because…well, it’s the short-straw.

His relief when his red straw drew out and was twice the length of Geoff’s had his tension easing. He gave Geoff an apologetic smile, to which Geoff responded with an affable one of his own. The experimenter, Ben couldn’t remember whether he introduced himself, took Geoff to a chair. Geoff had a few minutes to read a piece of paper before the experimenter strapped him into it.

Geoff looked down at the metal straps holding his arms down, and Ben watched as the experimenter smeared electrode paste before attaching electrodes. “The paste is to prevent burning and blistering.”

Geoff smiled in gratitude. “I have a heart condition, I thought I’d let you know.”

The experimenter continued with the paste and the electrodes. “Although the shocks may be painful, they won’t cause any permanent tissue damage.”

Ben’s shoulders felt a little tense. This was a little more…well…medical that he’d imagined. But the experimenter was calm and collected as he came took Ben to an adjacent room. Ben was confident he knew what he was doing.

Ben took a seat and the experimenter pointed to a dial and some buttons before him. “You’re going to ask Geoff some questions. We want to test his memory.”

Ben nodded. Seemed straightforward enough.

“If Geoff makes a mistake, I want you to administer progressively larger shocks to Geoff each time.”

Ben frowned at the dials. Their descriptors had words like Slight, Moderate, Strong, Intense, Extreme Intensity and Danger: Severe Shock. “Okay.”

The experimenter held an electrode to Ben’s arm. “This is 45 volts.”

The tingling buzz was a shock, but not painful. Ben mentally shook himself, he was being silly. The experimenter knew what he was doing, and this was probably important.

Geoff got the first few questions correct. But then he started making some errors. Very soon, Ben was dialling up to 75 volts and Geoff was grunting in pain. He looked at the experimenter, discomfort making him shift in his seat.

The experimenter made some notes in his clipboard. “Please continue.”

Ben pulled in a steadying breath and asked the next question. At 120 volts, Geoff shouted that the shocks were becoming painful. Uneasiness was making Ben’s hand tremble. He turned to the experimenter. “I think…I think we shouldn’t go any higher.”

“The experiment requires you to continue.”

Ben turned back to the dial. Maybe Geoff wouldn’t get too many more wrong. At 150 volts Geoff demanded to be released from the experiment. At 180 volts he cried out that he couldn’t stand it any longer. Ben was now sweating, each show of pain from Geoff had his teeth gritting and his chest constricting. “We need to stop.

The experimenter shook his head. “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”

Ben looked at Geoff, who was now panting. He looked down at his hand wrapped around the dial. It is absolutely essential that you continue.

Geoff continued to cry out at each shock. By the time the dial was at 250 volts, he was crying out in agony. At 300 volts Geoff stopped responding to the cue words. The experimenter told Ben to treat these as a wrong answer.

Ben shot up from his chair. “This is wrong,” he shouted. “We’re hurting him!”

The experimenter’s gaze was steely. “You have no other choice but continue.”

Ben hovered; half standing, wanting to run; half sitting, and hating himself for it. This was wrong. He wasn’t someone that does this to people. What would Emily think of this all?

But he had no choice. The authority figure standing beside him, unyielding and demanding, had said so.

Disgust and dread stung the back of Ben’s throat as he notched the dial up to Extreme Intensity. He pretended he didn’t hear Geoff’s scream as he pressed the button…

Now, I wonder if you’re empathising with Ben’s discomfort, but secure in the knowledge that you would be different?

What Ben didn’t know is that Geoff was a confederate, an actor and accomplice, to one of the most famous experiments into obedience to authority. There was no shock, no pain, no deadly electrical current. The experimenter knew this, as did Geoff.

Ben, on the other hand, had just shown us what the average-Joe was capable of.

When they first devised this experiment, Milgram and his researchers predicted that no more than 20% of normal, psychologically balanced human beings would comply with the direction to continue shocking the learner past 135 volts. They predicted no one would continue past 255 volts.

What they found was that 65% of participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts, and all the participants continued to at least 300 volts. Milgram’s experiment has been replicated in multiple countries, with males and females, and across different settings. Milgram felt safe to conclude that the average person could be directed to commit horrific acts if obeying an accepted authority figure.

Once you’ve processed what this means for ourselves and humanity, you’ll start considering what this could mean for a character and a story world. Did we just witness the birth of a villain? What if Ben was an apprentice, and this was his master? What if his master progressively increased the violence that Ben believed he had no choice but inflict? Ultimately, who would Ben become as he aged, and eventually became a master himself?

Or is Ben going to live with his choices for the remainder of your narrative? What if this was a single event, and Ben went home to Emily and their anniversary? If Ben internalises the decision he made to hurt another, he may not acknowledge (or know) the influence that authority has over us. That would be a tough cross to bear (and yep, a wound was just born!).

If you like the post don’t forget to share it!

By Tamar
Source: psychwriter.com.au

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Are You Riding the Horse, Or Is the Horse Riding You?

Are you in control of your life? Or do you let life control you?

You may have expected a blog on writing craft from me. But this time, I decided to use my psychological expertise to help you take charge of your writing life.

Many people let the negatives control their lives. They take their black cloud of doom with them everywhere. You know those writers. Shh… No names.

The horse is riding them—and they don’t even try to climb back on and ride that horse.

They think that due to negative circumstances, they can’t reach their goals, can’t have writing success.

Others realize they are in charge of their lives, in spite of the negatives. They ride the horse—take the reins, control where they are going.

I’m awed by Helen Keller. How many of us could face severe adversity with such courage and grace?

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Helen Keller.

One cannot consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar.

 Wow. Talk about riding the damn horse.

 How can you ride the horse?

Your life consists of what you do each day, each hour, each minute.

When you put yourself in charge of chunks of your day, you’re in charge of your writing life.

Consider my Winner and Super Star Lists.Cue the drum roll.

WINNER AND SUPER STAR LISTS

 Keep reading. No skimming!

My Winner and Super Star Lists are way cooler than To Do Lists.

Creating WINNER and SUPER STAR lists every day will boost your productivity and boost your mood.

WINNER LISTS:

WINNER LIST items are things you know you can complete in the block of time you have available that morning, afternoon, and/or evening.

They are DOABLE in the time you have allotted. Doable.

Don’t go all delusional. Don’t load your list with things that would take eight hours and expect to accomplish them in two.

You can’t put everything you need to do, or everything you want to do, on one Winner list.

For a 3-hour block, my WINNER list could have these two items:

 

But – Super Star items don’t always move to the Winner List right away. It depends on deadlines and priorities.

It’s important to keep assessing your needs. Do what needs to come next, not what you’d rather do.

If you have several chunks of writing-focused time in your day, make a WINNER list for each chunk of time. Revise as needed as you go through your day.

Did you quit your writing task to answer the phone? Make a call? Do laundry? Declutter a room? Check e-mail?

Did you waste 25 minutes supposedly fixing a cup of tea, but you really did five other housey-things or time-wasters too?

SUPER STAR LISTS

 SUPER STAR LIST items are the things you’d like to do AFTER you’ve completed your WINNER LIST.

If you complete your WINNER list in less than your allotted block of time – you have the remaining time to start a Super Star item.

You must COMPLETE THE WINNER LIST FIRST.

 NO LIST HOPPING. 

Here’s where people set themselves up to fail. They make awesome lists, then item-hop, or list-hop, or never look at the list again.

YIKES!  They do what they’d rather do instead of what they need to do to succeed.

You may make WINNER and SUPER STAR lists for your week or weekend also. I call those long ones Master Winner and Master Super Star lists.

But always make a short WINNER list for each block of time. Blocks can range from a half hour to three hours.

Winner Lists keep you accomplishing your goals. You succeed. You stay motivated.

If you create a 53-item mega-list, you may be so overwhelmed, you lose your day to NetFlicks.

Other items will try to sneak on one of those lists.

STOP. THINK.

Do not go on autopilot and slap it on a WINNER or SUPER STAR list. It may belong on one of those lists, or not.

Maybe it belongs on a third list–the MAYBE List.

MAYBE you’ll do it, MAYBE you won’t.

 No snickering.  This is an important list!

Put that item on the MAYBE List. You won’t lose the idea.

MAYBE you’ll put it on one of your real lists (Winner of Super Star) the next week.

MAYBE you’ll look at that item next week and realize it should be on a list for three months from now, after your book is completed.

Start that AFTER MY BOOK IS COMPLETED list. Don’t lose a good idea.

Creating Winner and Super Star Lists should become as automatic as buckling your seat belt.

Create those lists every day, and you’ll be in control of your life. You’ll be riding your horse, and you won’t get thrown off.

I’ll digress. But the story below is all about staying on track.

My husband’s a private pilot. Years ago on a family vacation in Florida, he broke some ribs surfing. But we had to fly out the next day. A hurricane was expected to strike the coast that afternoon.

Since my husband was in pain from his broken ribs, it was up to me, non-pilot me, to do some of the easy-breezy flying from Florida to the mid-west while he tried not to move.

I’d flown single engine planes before for hours at a time. Flying was easy and fun. I maintained speed and altitude, switched fuel tanks every 30 minutes, checked for air traffic, and followed a railroad track.

I was happy about following a railroad track. So much easier than navigating with the fancy avionics.

I told myself I could fly the plane. I enjoyed flying. It was a fun challenge. And — I didn’t have to land.

I didn’t focus on the negatives. I didn’t catastrophize.

If I needed help, I had the expert sitting next to me. He could take the controls anytime I woke him up.

I had fun flying and followed the railroad track. No problems.

A couple of hours later I read a water tower that named a town I wasn’t supposed to be near. I was 200 miles off course.

I’d followed the wrong railroad track.

Follow the right tracks. Don’t get off course.

Winner and Super Star Lists help you stay on track every day. Keep your Winner Lists doable for that block of time, and you’ll accomplish your daily goals. And weekly goals. And monthly goals.

You’ll ride that horse, you won’t let it ride you.

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Do characters work personalities shape a story?

How important is a character’s work situation when it comes to shaping an overall impression of a character.

Looking at four basic work situations where the job is an ordinary job in that it can be recognized as a normal occupation. Piloting a space ship would be considered a normal job, as it’s just another kind of vehicle that can be driven. Growing a garden in burnt out soil after a war, everything is knocked back to basics, where getting mixed results would be considered normal.

1) The job is performed in an ordinary way under normal circumstances yielding normal results.
This probably wouldn’t create an impression about the character.
2) The job is a situation dealing with ordinary or unusual situations yielding hapless results.
Might make the character appear less than desirable.
3) The job is dealing with unusual situations yielding as best as can be expected results for the circumstances, including failure.
Generates some respect for the character even if things don’t work out.
4) The job is dealing with ordinary or unusual situations constantly yielding spectacular results.
Creates a competent gets the job done type of character, one that people would appreciate reading about.

If the majority of character’s jobs in a story were sticking to one of the four types listed, how much of a driver would that be for a story. I could see option #4 setting up an action packed adventure story. Option #1 would be just a passive background, more informational about a life style rather than a working part of the plot. Option #2 might drive a comedy or a tragedy. Option #3, being less predictable creates a background for the overall story, perhaps contributes more to the style of writing.

Source: sffchronicles.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing