The ‘Oh’ Moment Redux: Characterisation

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It has occurred to me that calling it the ‘Aha Moment’ might make a tad more sense and sound slightly less dirty. Oh well.

My theory is that every writer, either through natural talent, upbringing or personality, is stronger in one element of writing than the others. Whether they excel in Plot, Characterisation or Description, it can take a bit of work to bring the other elements up to snuff. I also think the writer who naturally excels in Characterisation has a huge head start as Plot and Description are (or should be) based in character.

Unfortunately I’m not one of those people – I find that Description comes most naturally. Throughout primary school in particular my stories were entirely made up of description. No plot, no character, just description. And I was good at it. At age 14 I sold one of these description-only stories to a magazine. Although they did make an effort to inject some plot in there, I just didn’t get it. It took a course in journalistic news writing to help me un-learn my love of description. I learnt description is like jewellery. A few simple pieces are classy. One bold piece is fine. But many bold pieces take away from the overall look. Description should be used to make your story come alive with telling details, and much like jewellery should be used to accentuate your natural features, description’s primary purpose is to reveal character.

Character is the foundation of any story, but I didn’t quite understand this when I started my book. The first draft of Tiger Eye was my attempt to understand Plot. I learnt a lot. I learnt about set pieces and Acts and Inciting Incidents and red herrings and how a mystery novel works. Lots of very important stuff. But the draft just wasn’t working, and the reason for this was character. I had tried to write a book in which plot was divorced from character, because I didn’t completely understand my MC’s motivations. I guess I figured if I could just get to the end, maybe I could fix that stuff up in revisions. And this is possible but it has to be the hardest possible way to go about things. I’m going to have to completely re-write the novel (again) in order to repair these problems of character. That’s okay, though, because it’s all a big learning experience. Here are a few ‘Oh’ Moments I’ve had in relation to character:

1.       1. Plot results from character. What I mean by this is every effective story centres on a character or characters undergoing some sort of emotional change. They should be somehow different at the end of the story. This emotional journey should therefore be the primary story line, and all other arcs should result out of it. This may all sound obvious to you, and I probably read something similar a million times before it finally clicked in my head. I think the ‘Oh’ Moment finally occurred when I read the following on the Verla Kay Blue Boards (I hope the user doesn’t mind me quoting her!):

“I plot the baby steps in my character’s emotional journey.  I started doing this after a book club I’m in read PROM (Laurie Halse Anderson — SPOILER ahead) and someone complained that she couldn’t see the progression in the main character’s change from hating prom to fighting to go.  So I mapped it out.  I went chapter by chapter and tracked the teeny concessions/changes in the MC’s attitude (She hates prom and thinks anyone who goes is stupid; she hates prom but recognizes that others don’t; she concedes it might be okay that her friends want to go…).  Then I thought, "Hey!  I need to do this for my own books."  So now I think about the MC’s internal story arc and write down the tiny changes my MC has to experience in attitude or whatever.  Then I can look at which plot points might cause which tiny changes, and which scenes require the MC already to be at a certain place emotionally.  Knowing those things often dictates the order those scenes have to take.” – SproutQ

I’ve also heard this expressed as: "Don’t ask yourself what happens next, ask your character what she will do next." (Kathleen Duey, I think) Through all this, I’ve come to believe that Plot exists solely to challenge the character/s to change in some way.

 

2.       2. The second ‘Oh’ Moment came while watching Jackson Pearce’s Vlog. I couldn’t say it nearly as well (and as musically) as she did so here is the linkWhen I started Tiger Eye I knew that the MC needed to want something really, really bad, and that my job was to give her obstacles to prevent her from getting it (i.e. Plot). My problem was I kept changing my mind on what this thing she so wanted was, and my ideas were always pretty vague. I think this all could have been helped if I’d written an ‘I’m Wishing’ scene into the story. A scene in which my MC articulated exactly what it was that she wanted, before I sadistically made it harder and harder for her to get. So that’s what I’m going to do in this draft. Poor MC.

 

I hope my convoluted rambling has made some sort of sense to you all, and I pray you all have many ‘Oh’ Moments of your own. Geez, I just can’t escape the dirty-ness!

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The ‘Oh’ Moment Redux: Characterisation

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