Character Defining in a Flash

What makes a story? Obviously, the plot has to be there, but if the characters that have to convey this aren’t compelling, then it is all for naught. What makes a good character? Am I the right person to be telling you? Well, if you don’t know what makes a “good” character, go away and read and think and read and think, because I’m not going to tell you that here. In fact, I’m not going to tell you how to do anything. I’m going to share an approach, which I find both obvious and useful. In that sense it is not particularly novel, so think of it more as a reminder, or an endorsement.
Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, Character, Writing tips

The problem with many ideas, not just for writing stories, is that they are in flux, they’re fluid, until they’re written down. There is something about writing down your thoughts that makes them solid and coherent. It is not enough to write bullet point lists, you need to construct proper sentences before the idea can be forced into being something coherent. If you are like me, still learning to write (who isn’t, really), then this approach also helps in that respect – because to be a better writer, you need to write. So we’re told.

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Phase One Complete – Bring on 2015!

I claim to write science facts to science fiction and beyond. I have been, for some time now, more focused on the facts than the fiction. This remains the case – this year I have published or submitted around 10 scientific papers, which is an incredibly good year no matter how you look at it. So if we look at the fiction side of things, I’m still taking baby steps, but this is a long game and this was always the plan.

Tazio Bettin, Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, Writing, ScifiThis year the goal was to read and write as much as I could, without worrying too much about what it was. In a sense, it was a quest to find my style, and more importantly, improve how I write. The only way to do that is to write. I now have first or second drafts of a handful of flash fiction, two and half shorts as well as two novels – one about the third done and the other a bit less, but both are fully planned.

What have I been writing? I would say SciFi, but if you’re after space cruisers and alien battles, there is not much here for you yet. Trust me, this to will come. Currently, there is a heavy dystopian influence in a lot of the work – possibly too much, but it is what it is and it is more symptomatic of where I have been coming from lately and where I am heading.

Continue reading “Phase One Complete – Bring on 2015!”

Composting Snowflakes and the 8-point arc

Not sure where I saw the term, but I like it. And so it is, that I have been composting the ideas, the twists and turns, how things work, and don’t. I have been playing with various strategies for structuring and preparing the book. I like the Snowflake method as it forces one to be precise about what the story is and what everyone is going to do and when. I also like the idea of the 8-point arc I originally found here:

Stasis: This is the “every day life” in which the story is set. Think of Cinderella sweeping the ashes, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) living in poverty with his mum and a cow, or Harry Potter living with the Dursley’s.

Trigger: Something beyond the control of the protagonist (hero/heroine) is the trigger which sparks off the story. A fairy godmother appears, someone pays in magic beans not gold, a mysterious letter arrives … you get the picture.

The quest: The trigger results in a quest – an unpleasant trigger (e.g. a protagonist losing his job) might involve a quest to return to the status quo; a pleasant trigger (e.g. finding a treasure map) means a quest to maintain or increase the new pleasant state.

Surprise: This stage involves not one but several elements, and takes up most of the middle part of the story. “Surprise” includes pleasant events, but more often means obstacles, complications, conflict and trouble for the protagonist.

Watts emphasises that surprises shouldn’t be too random or too predictable – they need to be unexpected, but plausible. The reader has to think “I should have seen that coming!”

Critical choice: At some stage, your protagonist needs to make a crucial decision; a critical choice. This is often when we find out exactly who a character is, as real personalities are revealed at moments of high stress. Watts stresses that this has to be a decision by the character to take a particular path – not just something that happens by chance.

In many classic stories, the “critical choice” involves choosing between a good, but hard, path and a bad, but easy, one.

In tragedies, the unhappy ending often stems from a character making the wrong choice at this point – Romeo poisoning himself on seeing Juliet supposedly dead, for example.

Climax: The critical choice(s) made by your protagonist need to result in the climax, the highest peak of tension, in your story.

For some stories, this could be the firing squad levelling their guns to shoot, a battle commencing, a high-speed chase or something equally dramatic. In other stories, the climax could be a huge argument between a husband and wife, or a playground fight between children, or Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters trying on the glass slipper.

Reversal: The reversal should be the consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters – especially your protagonist. For example, a downtrodden wife might leave her husband after a row; a bullied child might stand up for a fellow victim and realise that the bully no longer has any power over him; Cinderella might be recognised by the prince.

Your story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Nothing should happen for no reason, changes in status should not fall out of the sky. The story should unfold as life unfolds: relentlessly, implacably, and plausibly.

Resolution: The resolution is a return to a fresh stasis – one where the characters should be changed, wiser and enlightened, but where the story being told is complete.

(You can always start off a new story, a sequel, with another trigger…)

I also like the idea of a spreadsheet that breaks down the story into scenes. Who is the POV character and what is happening – what is the conflict?

In the end,  I use these iteratively, going back and forth as the composting progresses until I have the story and the structure. I paste this into something like Scribus, where I can take all of my scenes and turn them into chapters – the small spreadsheet text being sufficient to focus the writing in each chapter.

So today, I should finish going through the 8 point arc again and finalising the spreadsheet. Tomorrow, everything gets pasted into chapters and we are ready to begin!