Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Key to a Great Story – Characters: The Bare Bone Basics of Who to Include

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The guidelines to starting to populate your story...

The guidelines to starting to populate your story…

My series ‘The Key to a Great Story’, based on the ‘who, what, where, why and how’ is my guide for an absolute beginner looking to write fantasy fiction. I start today with the bare bone basics of characters.

Who is in your story, is a fundamental part of your writing. There are many types of characters in a story. Major characters, minor characters, and background people.

Major characters generally fall into two categories. The protagonist, who is usually the main character in the story, and the antagonist who the protagonist works against. On the most simple of levels, the first is good and the latter is evil; this is particularly true of fantasy writing. The hero of the story works to try and defeat the villain.

However, they are not alone, both sides are normally accompanied by a series of minor characters. There are two main reasons for this; one it is more plausible that the hero and the villain wouldn’t be alone and two both of them need other people to talk to besides each other. While I’m not averse to some inner monologue and some action description, fiction is best told in the conversations that characters have with one another.

Unless you’re writing a short story or at a push a novella you can’t write a story with just two characters, especially in novels. If you want to try to at any length, you really need to have a very tight hold over your plot. You also need to make damn sure you don’t go down the route of the antagonist having a boastful speech about their superiority or evil plot, when in truth if they just got on with being evil/annoying/victorious they wouldn’t give the protagonist time to figure out how to defeat them. So likely as not you’re going to need to create some minor characters as well.

Then you have the background people; you won’t need to know too much about them but the reader does need to know who else might be there and how they generally react in certain situations. They include crowds, other kids in a classroom/workers in an office/ fighters in a battle etc. If you’re going to be writing any scene like this, don’t forget you’re going to need background people to add depth to your story.

Well there you go, the bare bone basics of who you might have to include in your writing. In my next post, I’ll look at Protagonist and Antagonist more closely and how to start forming ideas about who they are as people.

The Key to a Great Story

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The key to a great story is not who, or what, or when, but why.

‘The key to a great story is not who, or what, or when, but why.’

Elliot Carver, Tomorrow Never Dies

This quote by the main villain in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, has stuck with me ever since I saw the film for the first time. The quote itself is actually in relation to journalism, but in relation to writing fiction it is relevant. To an extent.

The who, what, where, when, why and how a story takes shape are all fundamental to writing fiction. I would certainly agree that the ‘why’ is the most important of them all, but I think that if you do not have the basics of the rest put in place as well, the reader doesn’t care why a story is being told.

My blog over the next month or so is going to explore these issues in greater depth and the ways in which I go about shaping my characters, my setting, the chronology, and the structure. Then I will explain how all of these direct the reader to understanding why this story is important enough for me to have dedicated time, effort and words into telling it.

My aim is a to be a guide as to how to start writing fantasy if you are an absolute beginner. They aren’t rules, and many of the principles could be used for other genres, this is simply how I would advise someone to begin to learn how to write before they find the confidence to fly the nest and do it the way that suits them the best.

It’s good to be stubborn, but not too stubborn

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In the writing process in these last few months, as I’ve been planning the longer term prospects for my series of fantasy novels, I have learnt that you need to be really stubborn to persevere with the entire process of being a writer. Sometimes you just have to force the ideas to come to you; my muse frequently leaves to go on vacation at awkward moments and comes back when the house isn’t clean, I need to go to work and until recently I really needed to get on with my university work instead. When the muse is away and you need to write, you just have to stubbornly persevere with the writing and the ideas. It takes practice but eventually knowing what to write next comes as second nature.

And then, you have to edit, a process that is completely different from writing. You aren’t creating anymore, you’re in a way destroying your work and putting it back together again in a smoother, more defined shape than the original composition. Trust me, you have to be stubborn with yourself to get through editing and you have to be tough. Any notions that you might have that writers are whimsical and dreamy, think again; to write means to edit, and to edit means being ruthless. To be a writer you have to be stubborn.

But not too stubborn. I’ve been working on my first novel of the series ‘The Phoenix Spell’, for years. In my previous post, The Inner Fear, I wrote about how my first chapter required work, which is an understatement. I was crushed at how bad my first chapter had been when I’d returned to it after years of not working on it. I’ve been working on my story for the last couple of months now as a rest bite from my dissertation, and in that time I’ve had several clear things in mind. I knew I had a slightly altered first chapter; I knew I had some better ideas about character development throughout the story; and I un-categorically knew where the story was going to end. I have been stubbornly working towards that end for years. Yesterday, when I was totting up the word count, I came to the conclusion that my ending is not the ending of my first book, but the ending of my second. Fantasy traditionally is a longer form of fiction; but there is long and then there is the possibility that in writing one book you’ve accidently written two.

The first half has a different tone from the second, it is a journey towards finding out what love is and understanding acceptance of one’s self. The second half, which is rougher, having only been written in its current form in the last few months, is how that acceptance transforms what my characters are willing to do and risk in the name of love. They are two different books, but it took me letting go of a little bit of stubbornness to admit that where I wanted by first novel to end isn’t where my first novel naturally ends.

So it’s good to be stubborn, but not too stubborn.