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characters make or break a story

I’ve been watching the TV series Supernatural for the last couple of months on Netflix.

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Purely so I can talk to you about character.  *cough*

Supernatural is short on plot, shorter on logic. Shortest of all on production values. In my next life, I want to be the guy who stands around on the Supernatural set with a bucket of blood to throw on a wall right before the commercial.

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And yet, Supernatural is highly entertaining. It’s in its eighth season, for crying out loud.

What’s the secret?

The main characters.

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Dean and Sam Winchester are two orphaned brothers who hunt supernatural creatures. Sounds ridiculous, I know. And it is. But the interplay between the two brothers is fun, fascinating, heartbreaking and universal. One episode might portray the theme of forgiveness, something we all have to do at some point in a relationship. Then the next episode might play up the silly rivalry-banter brothers indulge in. And the next week the Winchesters might team up to stop the Apocalypse. Like I said, thin plots.

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But the relationship between the main characters peaks and dips, becomes complicated and gets repaired. We care about these guys. Bunches.

That’s how to make your reader stick with your novel. Create characters who they feel attached to, and want to keep company with to the end of the story.

 

listen to your characters

Yes, I am still on my second draft.

No, I’m not stuck. I’m churning out pages like a house a-fire.

My plot has evolved and a lot of my revising has turned into rewriting. In fact today a COOL HUGE TYING-TOGETHER-TWIST has come to me.

How did this miracle happen?

I spent time with my characters.

Character and plot are inseparable–after all, who drives the plot? Your characters BETTER drive the plot. If they don’t, if they are simply victims of an outside force, it’s not a book, it’s a puppet show.

Plot is not a series of occurrences, it’s a story that happens to a particular group of characters because of who they are, where they’ve come from and the choices they make.

Let your characters guide you. They know the way.

 

draft two

So I have the revised outline as my story will be.

My first draft, printed out.

My story bible.

Time to Boogie.

My next step is:

Read through the first draft with my outline as my story will be ,making revision notes. I write directly on the manuscript, add post-it notes where I think I might miss my notes, add those little tabs where I want to point to a specific line. I move chapters, add chapters, mark out chapters. I BREAK MY HEART.

This revision pass, I concentrate on PLOT, and to a lesser degree, pacing. Of course I will fix anything else that sticks out at me as I come across it: dialogue, voice, setting, etc., but my main thrusts at this point are plot and pacing. I want to get the story straight so I have a firm foundation of STORY for my characters to act and react in.

However, character and plot can’t really be separated. So keep in mind as you revise that your plot choices will be informed by your characters’ personalities and values.

Choices. You haz them.

revising: keeping stuff straight

Boy, that was a long week.

Good job holding on, guys.

So.

Next step before I get going on the Ol’ Revision in earnest is…

(Don’t you like how I offer no reason or excuse for my long absence?)

THE STORY BIBLE.

A story bible is a file where a writer keeps track of the facts of her novel for continuity’s sake. One doesn’t have to be writing a three-book series to have one. If you’re like me, (what a dangerous phrase to type), you’ve gone through six or seven names for everyone and everything and everyplace during the first draft.

Some things that might go in a Story Bible:

  • Character names, first and last
  • Character ages, physical descriptions
  • Street, town, restaurant, store names.
  • Pet names
  • Books the character’s read, TV shows, food they ate.
  • Rules of society
  • Spells, language quirks, texts
  • Car makes and models

Another helpful thing to stick in the Story Bible is a CALENDAR.

I use a VERY RUDIMENTARY mini-outline (because we know I am not an outliner) and count out my timeline through the weeks and months. See where in the year my book starts, how long it lasts, make sure my pacing is realistic.

In general, stick the niggling details of your novel in your Story Bible.

I sure don’t want to have to flip through 100 pages of manuscript to see what street a certain character lives on, or if it was a Camaro or a TransAm the villain was driving. Who has the time?

I gotta write.

book report #6: nerds are real characters

If you’re going to write a YA novel with a less-than-popular teen character, you’ve got to read  the book American Nerd: The Story of My People  by Benjamin Nugent.

Nugent confesses to being labeled  a nerd in high school.  But he doesn’t rest his expertise on his personal experience. He looks at the nerd in scholarly studies, interviews, popular culture, and even touches a bit on the nerd in history.

In Nugent’s view, a true nerd is more inward, more directed by logic and reason and less by emotion and physicality.  A nerd is more machine-like, stiffer, and has some relationship to Japan.  You’ll have to read the book to understand that last part.

There are two types of nerds: people who truly deserve the name, and others who are guilty by association.

And then there is the anti-nerd, the nerd wanna-be. 

Nugent takes us through the trends that have helped to define the nerd, such as Dungeons and Dragons, the high school debate team, manga and anime, Star Trek, Star Wars, pseudo-Medieval societies, computer games…

But through interviews we find out that while these pursuits alienate the nerd from the mainstream, they also serve as a vehicle for friendship with other nerds.  In some cases, these nerdly endeavors are even a salvation.

And then there is the issue of Asperger’s Syndrome.  Are nerds mentally ill?  Should we try to “cure” nerdiness?  If we do, will we lose our greatest technological innovators and scientists?

This book is thoughtful as well as interesting.  It’s a peek into nerds’ feelings, understandings, and often their self-loathing.

If you’re a writer, American Nerd will be a big help in developing your characters.  If you’re not a writer, it might just help you be a little kinder.

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