Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Key to a Great Story – Crowds Are Characters Too!

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E. S. Lowry - Daisy Nook Fair. The crowd populating this painting adds to the atmoshpere.

E. S. Lowry – Daisy Nook Fair. The crowd populating this painting adds to the atmosphere.

One final note on character development before I move onto plot development, is to talk about crowds as characters. I know that in my own work the reaction of a crowd in a book adds a lot of atmosphere to a story. In a way the crowd is a character in its own right.

Firstly, the inclusion of a crowd in a scene adds depth. If your characters are in a middle of a battle or simply sat eating lunch in a canteen, they are unlikely to be there alone. In Maria V. Snyder’s ‘Inside Out’ the packed corridors of the lower levels of the ‘In’, make the main character feel trapped and she seeks solitude to escape the masses.

The reactions of a crowd can also add depth to your story world and is a great plot device for conveying the general attitudes of the your world. For example, in a court room scene I’m currently working on, the crowd is multi-national. Their reactions to various events relate directly to the attitudes of their nation, and convey a great deal of information about the wider world I’ve created for my fantasy series. Some of the crowd for example are from the central authority, who feel as if their superiority is being questioned by people unworthy of making such remarks. Others in the crowd are outraged at how the accused is being treated because they are of their nation and they dislike the remarks being made as they feel as if they are also being insulted alongside the accused.

Crowds can hinder or help a protagonist and they can convey a lot of information to the audience while adding depth to your story. You don’t need to go into too much detail about what they look like, the strength of their reactions or even mention them all the time. The focus of your story should be the protagonist, their companions and their struggles against the antagonist, but the character of the crowd can help convey a lot of information without much effort on your part as the writer.

The Key to a Great Story – The Importance of Minor Characters

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Over my last few posts I’ve talked a lot about the different types of protagonists and antagonists that I identify as being part of a great story. In my posts I’ve compared the differences between these two types of characters and now I want to talk about the more general differences between major and minor characters.

So far I’ve identified several different types of protagonists, and all of these types I would see as a major character.  They have to interact with antagonists who can be redeemable, puppets or the puppeteer. The main antagonist, to me, is the puppeteer who pulls the strings of their minions and effects the life of the protagonist who has to act to counter the puppeteer.

The other specific character types which I’ve posted about, such as best friends who for a while are redeemable antagonists, or the puppet antagonists both redeemable and willing, are minor characters in comparison to the two major characters of any basic story. You can have more than one protagonist and antagonist who are major characters, but in my mind the vast majority of characters in a story are actually minor characters. When developing minor characters I approach their development slightly differently from major characters, because of one key question I ask myself.

How important is this character?

Major characters are automatically important, but a minor character has to have their importance defined by the writer so that their importance to the audience can be conveyed via the writing. You have to ask yourself about the character’s importance in the short and long term, and similar to a major character, you have to identify how you plan on developing the character. As a starting point I ask myself the following:

  • How important will they be to the plot when they are introduced?
  • Will they be important to the plot in the long term?
  • What is their relationship to the protagonist or antagonist?
  • What is the potential of this minor character increasing or decreasing in importance?

In answering the first three of these questions I find that I can identify which type of minor character I’m developing on my self-devised Scale of Importance. This helps me to understand how much I need to know about this character so that I can convey them to the audience as I intend for them to be perceived.

My Scale of Importance includes the following types of minor characters;

  • Crucial
  • Reoccurring
  • Infrequent

On seeing the scale you can understand better, why I ask myself the fourth question; all minor characters have potential to change their character type. An infrequent character can become crucial to the protagonist or antagonist. I find this can be true because I write books in series and because I do this I do find that some characters who were once useful and crucial are reduced to being little more than a reoccurring character. If you write stand-alone novels, you might find this progression less likely to occur, but it is certainly something to bear in mind.

You certainly need to understand the character type in order to develop them. If they are crucial characters then you need to develop them as much as you do a major characters; you need to understand their reactions so well that their importance to the audience is as strong as the major characters.

Reoccurring characters don’t need to be as developed. It might be nice for the writer to know them as well as a major characters, but all the audience needs to know is who they are, the basics of why they are doing what they are doing and why they are needed as a reoccurring characters.

Infrequent characters might not even need a name, they are just a tool for the writer to use to help move the plot along. An example would be a shopkeeper selling the protagonist something they need to help them on their journey; that purpose can be fulfilled with minimum dialogue, description and page space. The audience might not remember them, but they exist in your story, so you as the writer needs to know about them.

I will go into more depth about minor characters in later posts, especially the relationship between major and minor characters, but a lot to do with the development of minor characters is closely related to plot as well as the dynamics of character interaction. For now, just bare in mind that you need to understand the importance of your minor characters within your story, so that you can weave them into your story appropriately.

The Key to a Great Story – Puppet and Puppeteer Antagonists

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Antagonists who pull the strings...

Antagonists who pull the strings…

In my last post I wrote about antagonists who are redeemable in the eyes of the audience and the other characters. This post is about a more manipulative, more reprehensible type of antagonist. What I call Puppeteer Antagonists. However, you cannot have a puppeteer without a puppet with strings to pull and manipulate to the detriment of the goals of the protagonist.

You can of course have protagonists who pull at the strings of their fellow characters, but the motivations behind their manipulation need to be purer and understandable to the audience. Antagonist Puppeteers though can leave a trail of Antagonist Puppets in their wake; their strings cut and their lives destroyed as well as the protagonists.

THE PUPPETS

In a way the characters of the puppets can be more interesting than the puppeteer. Depending on how you decide to write the puppets, they can also fall into the category of redeemable antagonists as well as puppet antagonists.

Redeemable Puppets

In a way redeemable puppets have a lot in common with redeemable antagonists more generally, and for that I advise you to read my post on redeemable antagonists as well. But redeemable puppets are subjected to being manipulated by the puppeteer as well as acting on their own feelings and desires. There are two ways in which they might have their strings pulled; either because they are ignorant that they are being manipulated or because they are threatened in order to make them do as they are told.

The first is potentially less forgivable to the audience than the second, as fear can be a very strong motivation to do things that a character wouldn’t normally do, but either way redeemable puppets can end up being as much a victim in the eyes of the audience as the protagonist.

Willing Puppets

And then of course you have the characters who are actually willing to play along with the plans of the puppeteer. It makes then as bad as the villain in many ways, but there are two ways that a willing puppet can be written, and it very much depends on the attitude of both the puppet and the puppeteer.

There are some great willing puppet antagonists, and in recent films Christopher Lee seems to be the go-to actor to play the part. Saruman and Count Dooku are both committed to the causes of their puppeteers. Saruman though is more aware that he’s not on an equal footing to his master than Count Dooku.

Saruman is seduced by the power that the one ring and Sauron can offer. In the end though it isn’t his Master who betrays him, but Wormtongue, who is one of his own puppets. Count Dooku though is openly betrayed by his master, who callously uses a more desirable puppet, in the form of an ever darkening Anakin Skywalker, to kill him. The reactions of the willing puppets to their betrayal can make for interesting plot twists and helpful aids to the protagonists; if they last longer than Count Dooku of course.

That moment of betrayal...

That moment of betrayal and disbelief…

THE PUPPETEER

The grand villain, with their dastardly plan and their manipulative ways. They pull the strings of the puppets (and cut the strings of the puppets) and are just generally there to make disrupt the lives and plans of the protagonist. Some of the greatest manipulators of fantasy and science fiction, include Voldemort and Emperor Palatine. There are many great villains in literature and film, but the very best ones are those who are controlled in their character development.

The best villains are the ones who are more than just two dimensional evil people, who only care about carrying out their plans. Good villains have dimensions, purposes, reasons for why they are like they are and to what they do. The only exception as to why a villain does what he does without much explanation is The Joker, portrayed by the late Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. As Michael Caine puts it, some men just want to watch the world burn. This character gets away with being evil without much purpose, but that’s because he explains that he likes reducing everyone to the same level of villainy as him and is disappointed at the end when he fails to achieve this by pulling on the strings of Gotham’s citizens. The Joker is the exception to the rule.

Pulling on the strings with just a look and a taunt.

Pulling on the strings with just a look and a taunt.

Most Puppeteer Antagonists though need to be less mysterious than this and have character development as complex as the protagonist. In my posts about developing characters I’ve spoken a lot about understanding as a writer how your characters react. How a villain reacts to situations is just as crucial to lay out as it is for the protagonist. It is less likely that the feelings and motivations of the antagonist are something you are likely to draw upon from personal experience though, and this is why having a clear plan is crucial for antagonists, even if you don’t end up revealing it all to the audience, it doesn’t matter; if you understand it then you can write about it a lot easier.

Feelings that generally motivate the plans of villains include, hate, greed and the desire for power. All of these can be understandable to a writer on some scale. All of us can hold up our hands and admit occasionally we can be a little greedy when it comes to our favourite food for example. Just capture that feeling of greed that you do understand and expand upon it using your imagination and the limits you’ve put in place in your story world. The villains can have a massive amount greed, but there are limits in the world and also protagonists to get in the way of them working their way towards satisfying their greed.

So when it comes to the Puppeteer Antagonist and their puppets, there are a few combinations you can play with in how you develop them as characters. What you do with them though a matter for plotting, but that’s topic for a another series of posts.

If you get ‘The Twitch’ be prepared to admit you’ve gone wrong.

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I thought I’d reblog this old post, because I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently and it was mostly about thinking that I’d done something wrong. I got the twitch again, this time in the longer term but seriously, all you writer’s out there: FOLLOW YOUR GUT REACTION. It is usually right.

A Young Writer's Notebook

I will admit that occasionally when it comes to my writing, I don’t get everything right the first time around. This is known as the shoddy first draft. No writer in the history of writing gets everything right the first time around. If such a writer does happen to exist, they sure as hell haven’t shared the secret on the web. That and they also cannot possibly be around every time I accidently hit the wrong key on the keyboard, usually the vowels, and it’s not picked up by spellchecker because technically I have spelt a real word if not the one I’d intended to spell. If humans can’t programme computers to help write the perfect first draft, then it simply doesn’t exist.

For the longest time in my writing career I was an isolated writer. I wrote stories, normally in my free time in school. I remember once being sat…

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