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What Comes Before Part Three: A Whole Lotta Character
Hello again, lovely Pubcrawlers! Hopefully by now you’ve spent some time considering your premise, story world, your character’s basic actions and, most importantly, their weakness and moral choice. Because now we’ll define some of the last few steps to fleshing out your character’s emotional and physical story arc. Settle in: this one is a bit longer than the last two. Just a reminder: This series is not an Outline How-to; this is more appropriately looked at as a version of the Character Q&A. Some writers like to ask their characters twenty questions. Some like to jump right in to the story. This series is just one method of character and premise development. So, with that in mind, let’s jump into the last section of this series! Now, I’ve saved this chunk for last because structurally, your book should answer these “questions”, as I’ll call them, in a linear fashion. To recap a bit, you’ve already determined your character’s weakness, what they look like as a changed person, and the moral choice they must make at the end. Now we must determine just how the character gets to that moral choice. It begins with a desire. What your character wants, what propels the plot and provides a catalyst for the entire story. Maybe your character wants to save a friend/a lover/a parent from an evil dictator. Maybe your character wants a degree in Astronomy from a prestigious university. Maybe your character wants to confess his love for the girl of his dreams.
Note: This is called a desire because it’s not necessarily the same as what your character need. The desire is the superficial goal. It’s what your character thinks he or she needs more than anything else, what will ultimately make them happy. It’s often the clash between desire and need that makes for interesting internal conflict.
Your character’s need should be reflective of your character’s weakness. If, as I proposed last time, your character’s weakness is a fear of doing anything risky due to a loved one’s death, but her desire is to visit a friend who lives halfway across the world in a strange country, then your character needs to overcome her fear of doing anything that might be considered a risk to get there. This is, hopefully, much easier said than done. So to fulfill her desire, your character now needs a plan. Maybe getting across the world is easy, but finding her friend once she’s landed in the foreign country is where things get tricky, and she must hire a guide, or negotiate a method of transportation that could go horribly wrong. Her plan is the catalyst – employing it is where things will ultimately test your character’s weakness, and force her to confront it. And plans often go wrong because of the opponents that stand in your character’s way. Determine your character’s opponent by asking: who are the people who are making your characters’ life difficult? Who is testing your character’s weakness and emotional limits? How do they make the plan next to impossible to follow through?
Note: I’m intentionally not using the word antagonist here because, while antagonists are always opponents (when they’re human), opponents are not always antagonists. An Antogonist could be considered an active opponent – someone who actively opposes your character and sabotages the plan intentionally, whereas some opponents don’t even realize they’re in the way. They just exist. For example: your Main Character wants to date Person A, but Person A is dating Person B. Person B is an opponent. Even if he or she never does more than act as a really great romantic partner to Person A – even if he or she never actively opposes the MC, they are in the way of the MC’s goal, and therefore an opponent. The Antagonist in that scenario is actually Person A – because she actively wants the opposite thing to the MC, and rebuffs the MC’s advances because of that opposing desire.
Whew. Still with me? Okay, let’s move on. Your character is enacting her plan. She’s facing her opponent(s). Now comes the battle: the moment when her desire and her weakness come head to head and she is forced to overcome her weakness or fail at everything she’s overcome to get this far. Yes, this is the climax. But it’s also an internal battle for your character where she’s forced to face these things about her that have been holding her back, emotionally and physically. This should spark an internal revelation: things are not how they’ve always seemed to your character. Now that she has finally reached her friend on the other side of the world, your character realizes the world is, in fact, beautiful. That she is, in fact, capable of taking and overcoming risks. Your character gains an understanding of herself and her surroundings due to overcoming her weakness – she has found a new balance to her previously unbalanced life. Now that you’ve determined your character’s desire, her plan for achieving it, and everything in between, sit back and admire your handiwork. As a bonus, ask yourself, what does it all mean? I know my premise, I know what my character is trying to achieve. Now what’s the theme of my story? The theme for the story above could be something along the lines of “Taking risks results in a more fulfilled quality of life” or something to that effect. It’s up to you to take everything I’ve talked about in the last three posts (linked at the top of this post, important concepts in bold) and assemble your own worksheet. You might find some things I’ve talked about particularly enlightening, and some of them not so much. Take what you need! Create a development worksheet that works for you. That’s the beauty of story development and storytelling. There are lots of methods, but only you can determine the right method for you and your writing. This one just happens to be mine. I hope this has been useful! As always, I love hearing what you guys think and if posts like this are helpful to your process. Now, go forth, and conquer (your story)!