Two girls running through the dark woods not as friends but as a predator chasing her prey.
Two girls running through the dark woods not as friends but as a predator chasing her prey.
A few weeks ago (technically, more than 4 weeks), I put up a Poll to see what kind of characters you preferred to write (female, male, or other). Here are the results:
The down-size of this poll is that it didn’t capture whether the writers were male or female so I can’t make any further correlations. It seems that overwhelmingly we prefer females as our characters.
I wonder– why?
Do you find it easier to write from a female’s point of view? Or, perhaps you feel there need to be more female main characters in books?
Another interesting result I found was how high the stat for “other” was. Again, this poll didn’t capture (or further elaborate) what “other” entails.
Imagination runs rampant.
Today, we’ll continue the “character” series with another poll. This time about Character Archetypes.
I read an article recently that got me thinking about creativity and its role in mental illness (or vice versa): Creativity and mental illness share genetic markers on Genetic Literacy Project.
“Scientists in Iceland report that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions.”
Hmm, this statement wasn’t anything I did NOT know; however…
“Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, a genetics company based in Reykjavik, said the findings, described in the journal Nature Neuroscience, point to a common biology for some mental disorders and creativity. ‘To be creative, you have to think differently,’ he told the Guardian. ‘And when we are different, we have a tendency to be labelled strange, crazy and even insane.’”
Wait, there’s more…
“Stefansson believes that scores of genes increase the risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These may alter the ways in which many people think, but in most people do nothing very harmful. But for 1% of the population, genetic factors, life experiences and other influences can culminate in problems, and a diagnosis of mental illness.”
Not only do we, as creatives, think differently I believe we also feel differently. And we just don’t look (or feel) at the surface, we dig deep.
We dare to.
It’s okay if we’re viewed as being different.
We’re used to being alone, standing in a room full of strangers (even family members tend to be viewed as strangers at times).
But do all of these make us mentally ill?
We tend to delve so deeply into our minds that we start to see things (and people) that may or may not be there.
We talk to our characters that no one else can hear.
Our minds…our imagination are our greatest weapons.
And our downfall.
All because “normal” people do not understand us.
But does that make us mentally ill?
March IWSG Day Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?
Over the years, I’ve written several stories (both short and book-length), and for various reasons, I set them to one side never to go back to them.
Voices of one of those abandoned projects begin to cry out to me…
Please tell my story.
Complete me so I can rest in peace.
Finish what you’ve started so that the world may know what happened.
Someone somewhere need to hear this.
Come back to me.
Eventually, I give in.
I have to.
These voices give me no choice; just an ultimatum.
Write, or completely lose my mind.
Or, my soul.
Both are bad in my opinion.
Choosing which one to pick up and continue.
How should this particular story end?
Especially since I may not have set eyes on it for a number of years. I find that I have to get to know the character(s) all over again (which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing). I enjoy rediscoveries. Sometimes I look at a story and ask myself-what was I thinking of when I wrote this? Was I possibly possessed????
Nah, someone else wrote this one. Couldn’t be me.
Then slowly, the memories return as well as the excitement.
I pick up the pen, and begin once more.
*To answer the question above…I am currently working on an old story with the hope of one day finding a “home” for it.
Ever have times when you prefer to stay in a world of your own creation?
Or, find it difficult to distinguish from what’s real and what’s not?
I’m battling this at the moment.
Does this mean I’m mentally ill or insane?
Will writing these imaginary worlds down help me get back to MY reality?
Being artists, are we hopeless causes?
Gratitude: “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.”
A step further…grateful is being “warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.”
What about you? What are you grateful for?
There are many, many books out there on writing; but, you won’t find one quite like this one. Gabriela Pereira knows the rigors and costs of a typical MFA program, and she knows that in the real world, it is not always feasible for any writer who desire to attain this coveted degree because of reasons such as time restraint, finances, family/work responsibilities, etc.. Hence, she crafted DIY MFA for these writers in mind.
The book breaks down critical skills that writers would need in their careers such as how to think like a writer (how to get into the right mindset) as well as how to keep moving forward inspite of setbacks (goal-setting techniques, learn from one’s failures, and ways of keeping motivated).
DIY MFA looks at vital areas of story crafting such as outlining (both traditional and non-traditional kinds), creating compelling and believable characters, POV, creating dialogues, and world building just to name a few.
The book also covers the dreaded revision process in detail (this is my favorite part of the book on a personal level-thank you Gabriela!). She took the Maslow’s Pyramid that highlighted the hierarchy of needs and converted it into the Revision Pyramid which takes one through several “layers” of revising (narration, characters, story, scenes, and other details such as grammar and punctuation). Absolutely crucial for any writer who’s struggling with revising a manuscript.
It goes on to show writers how they should not only read for pleasure, but also with purpose. And last but not least, the book stresses the importance of building a community (with not only readers but with other writers).
If you are a writer, it doesn’t matter which stage you’re in, this book is a treasure cove of engaging information on how to become the kind of writer you were meant to be.
In an earlier post (Every Writer Has a Superpower!), there’s a quiz you could take to find what your storytelling superpower is. However, there is a dark side to this. Each writer has something, a weakness, that tends to drain his or her superpower or make it useless (if we let it).
Not a very pleasant thought, huh?
What’s the key to overcoming this?
Acknowledging that yes, there is something that’s holding you back from achieving that next level as a writer.
Now, you must take action.
Find out what this Kryptonite is, and then work through it. Instead of just accepting it, find ways to improve this area of weakness in your writing.
“Our strength grows out of our weakness.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Adversity tends to make a person stronger- if faced head-on.
A lot of times, one’s Kryptonite is related closely to one’s superpower.
For instance, my storytelling superpower is Survivor:
“You’ve got a penchant for characters who will do whatever it takes to survive….regardless of their situation, you’re drawn to creating characters your readers will admire for their pluck, determination, and sheer creative willpower.”
This is spot on for me. My characters will do whatever necessary to survive; however, in doing so, they tend to be so focused on survival, they forget the human-side of things like feeling emotions. They’re so busy reacting, moving from one crisis to the next like some kind of a robot, they don’t try to stop for a split moment to deal with the emotional trauma they’re experiencing.
I’m great at creating suspense in my stories; but they lack the human-element: emotions. The one thing that grabs a reader, and hook him or her throughout the entire story. The one thing that breathes life into characters. The one and same that gives any given story that special uniqueness. Otherwise, it falls short of greatness, always missing its true potential.
The same is true in my own life. I’ve gone through several periods where I endured losses and painful changes that in order to get through them, I’d completely shut off my emotions.
My main focus was to survive. Adding my feelings to the mix was too much for me to deal with. I figured that I’d deal with them later.
Only I never did.
Now, I’m faced with worsening anxiety issues and becoming more of a recluse.
My family is starting to suffer because of this Kryptonite. And so is my writing.
I’m just now acknowledging that this is my Kryptonite.
Next, I must take action. To find ways of injecting emotions back in to my characters, my stories.
But first-I need to allow those emotions to flow through me. To re-open the door of my heart, and allow it to breathe.
I need to live again.
Only then will my stories come to life.
What about you? Have you identified your Kryptonite yet? What kinds of action will you take to address it?
*Do you have that desire to get to the next level as a writer? Here’s a book that may help you!
As writers, we tend to be more sensitive to various events in life whether in our own lives or in the lives of others; and because of this sensitivity, certain events- specifically those that involve losses- hit writers exceptionally hard.
Why is that so?
Speaking from personal experience, I consider myself an empath and tend to internalize emotions from others around me which at times would threaten to overwhelm me so what do I usually do? I run from them. I’ve done it so many times in the past (during the deaths of my maternal grandmother and first husband for examples). Stifling my own emotions, not allowing them to surface, I believe affected me as a writer especially when it came to developing realistic characters. How can a character be “real” when she’s not allowed to feel? After all, readers are drawn to these types of characters. And why is that?
Because readers can relate to them.
So, many of my stories tend to fall short with characters coming across as “flat” or too one-dimensional. The desire and passion to become the best writer that I can be keep growing within me to the point that it became louder than my own fears of emotions.
I forced myself to face them when my daddy died. Internally I kept going back and forth with excuses as to why I couldn’t go to the hospital and be with my family on my dad’s final night. I so wanted to run. But, I didn’t. Not this time. It was probably the most difficult thing I ever had to face, watching my daddy take those last agonizing breaths, listening to my mom and siblings weeping next to me. I thought for sure it would overwhelm me, but it didn’t. The emotions I felt was a deep sadness as well as gratitude. I was so grateful that I was there for my daddy, and for my family. I thought for sure that their pain would force me to run; instead, I found myself hugging each one of them. I even kissed my daddy’s forehead after he had passed as I said my final goodbye.
Now I can tell myself (and other writers) this: it is okay to be afraid of your emotions, of your pain (or of others’), but don’t run from them. They have a way of caching up to you. It is easier to face them head-on, and acknowledge them for what they truly are. By doing this, it would enable you to write a more fully developed characters that your readers can relate to.
“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond the pain.”-Saint Bartholomew
Whenever you write a story, have you ever envision it being created into a film? If so, ever picture in your mind who you would have play your main characters? This is what I’ve done for my current horror serial; for fun, mind you although I’ve always dreamed of having one of my stories produced into either a short or feature film 🙂
(Click on picture below to see my choice of actors)
Who would you have as actors to play your main characters? Dream big! Have fun 🙂
I want to thank all of our contributors to the plot vs. characters discussion as well as our wonderful readers and those who have commented! It was my hope to help writers better understand the importance of both elements when creating a story.
Anyone have any final thoughts on this topic?
Again, thank you so much and have a great week! 🙂
Let’s welcome author Craig Hart this week for the on-going discussion about plot vs. characters. What you will read below comes from his book, The Writer’s Tune-up Manual, in the section called “Thou Spelunker.”
spe・lunk・er noun \spi-y ləŋ-kər, y spē-y \ : one who makes a hobby of exploring and studying caves. (Merriam-Webster)
In this instance, the “cave” is your plot and the spelunker is you. The argument could be made that your readers are also spelunkers, but you have to go there first and lay down the bread crumb trail so the rest of us can find our way in and out.
Like an iceberg, the majority of a cave is out of the natural line of sight. It’s hidden from view. And yet, it is what makes an iceberg an iceberg or a cave a cave. Without this secret portion, an iceberg would be an ice cube and a cave would be a pothole. Not very interesting, are they?
Applied to your plot, this means that most of it is hidden, out of plain sight, but yet guides the story and impacts the reader. This happens in the way of motivation, backstory, and subplot. None of these should take over a story and yet without them no story is worth reading.
When I was younger I read a book by a much more experienced writer who said that plot is a verb. In other words, action was the key to plot. I get what he was saying. As it turns out, however, plot is more complicated. Stringing together action scenes will never result in a gripping tale. It doesn’t matter how many sharks are closing in on the stranded swimmer if I don’t care about the swimmer or their fate.
It might sound like this is more about character than plot. And, in a way, this is true. But as I have since learned, plot is character. Your plot will never be any better than the characters who populate it. Learning to connect the two is the key.
Craig Hart-writer, editor of The Rusty Nail literary magazine, publisher for Sweatshoppe Publications, and author of The Writer’s Tune-up Manual. To learn more about Craig and his work, visit his website!
Next week, K. M. Weiland will be visiting with us!
Please welcome G. J. Owens who is here to talk more about the plot vs. characters in fiction.
The question of the relative importance of engrossing plot versus engaging and lifelike characters is an age-old one, and not entirely dissimilar to the “skillful writing versus great story” debate. Of course, neither option pitted on opposing sides of these examples can stand wholly alone without some supportive aspect of the other. For the latter, I think it a much more rewarding pleasure to read the deft writer, whose every sentence is a joy even if the plot is lacking, than to muddle through a work of poor structure and style in order to “see what happens next” in a masterfully conceived story. For the former, and to the question at hand, I believe memorable fiction rides on the backs of its characters.
It is fully realized characters with whom the reader can establish an empathic connection that will drive a reader page after page. With the only possible exceptions being some sorts of experimental fiction, a great story can only go so far to entice the audience to make the trip if the characters are hollow and uninteresting. Only in the more streamlined fiction of cinema do characters more easily take a backseat to the overall story, but books require a greater investment, and thus greater commitment, from the audience.
Of course, the ideal scenario is for character and plot to bolster one another in equal amounts to the betterment of each. However, if one of the two must be chosen, I would certainly gravitate toward characters that feel as though they live and breathe in my mind–even if they are despicable and irredeemable–over a rich plot that is well thought out and executed. That too is a benefit of great characters; readers can come to comprehend mindsets and deeds we would not otherwise imagine and use them as a mirror for our own, which is the epitome of the human condition.
As a writer, inevitably I would just so happen to have a clever and handy analogy. I like to think of the balance of plot to character as a rat maze. We as observers can view the scientific construction of the empty maze and find appreciation for the obstacles, the twists and turns throughout, but it is a very sterile process. It is absorbed, analyzed, and then set aside. On the other hand, once that confused yet determined rodent is dropped inside, we become invested on a personal level. We root, laugh, jeer, and empathize with the living creature as it struggles to find its way, imagining how we ourselves would react if placed in the same situation. Our investment is transformed from academic to emotional, and I believe this is the most important aspect of literature. It must move the reader on a basic level, and I believe it is through the connection with the characters that these feelings are best achieved.
If you would like to add your own opinion or have questions for G. J. Owens, he’d love to hear them!
G. J. Owens has been writing in various mediums his entire life. Having dabbled in film and music, he always returns to his first love of telling stories. Check out his website for more! G. J. Owens is the author of the horror novel, The White Door.
Be sure to return here next week to read what author Craig Hart has to say on this topic!
Which is more important to a good story, characters or plot?
Aspiring writers often ask me this question and it’s tough providing a straight answer. It’s easy to say that if the characters in your story are flat, the greatest plot in the world will leave your readers flat, as well; but in order to have a good story, the characters need something interesting to do, get in trouble with, or at least talk about, which requires an interesting plot. It’s one of those ‘chicken or the egg’, catch-22 things. A good story is really a combination of good characters and a good plot. Leave one out at your peril.
But which is more important? Characters or plot?
I’ve written stories where I’ve spent months working on the career-defining plot, only to realize that, oops, I’d neglected to fully develop my characters — and that never ends well. Certainly I try to begin with a great story idea, and perhaps an outline of that idea, but like a good film director, once I start working I focus on my characters, letting them help me with the story as it moves along. They know more about themselves and where the story should go than I do, so why not enlist their help? As those of you who’ve experienced this know, when it’s working, and your characters are jumping off the page just to see what happens next, it’s thrilling, and a lot of fun, and when you manage to pull it all together at the end, you have yourself a good story. But like bad actors, characters who don’t give a crap, who couldn’t care less about themselves or their feelings, and who don’t react to who and what’s happening around them, doom your project to failure. Don’t waste months. That plot scribbled on a napkin by Stephen King at your high-school reunion won’t save you. Swallow your pride and move on.
Some of the most popular stories ever written have the simplest of plots: for example, Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”, Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, or the classic films, Alien, The Big Chill, and even Home Alone — simple plots with fascinating characters resulting in unforgettable stories. On the other hand, we’ve all read books and seen movies with interesting, action-packed, potentially thrilling plots that were cut off at the knees by boring, even annoying characters (my apologies to Jar Jar Binks fans). These stories are unforgettable, too, but not in a good way.
As writers we should always strive to achieve the perfect blend of characters and plot, as Larry McMurtry did in his epic, Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, Lonesome Dove; but when that’s not in the cards, I give the nod to my characters.
Have any questions, thoughts, anything you’d like to add for John? Fire away in the comment section below!
“I’m a thriller writer who loves to write stories that force good people into terrifying situations – just to see how they react.” John Avery, Amazon International Bestselling Author of THREE DAYS TO DIE. Official website: John Avery Books
G. J. Owens will be here next week so be sure to stop by!
When I was a teenager, we used to play the game, “Would you rather?” Would you rather eat fried spiders or grasshoppers? Would you rather be blind or deaf? Would you rather jump out of a plane or off a mountain? Most of us agreed that the best answer to most of the questions was: neither. But that’s not how the game worked; We had to choose.
When asked, “What’s more important—rich characters or a tight plot?”—my answer was swift and sure: both. I adore mystery novels, and the authors I love the most give the reader a healthy dose of both plot and character: Louise Penny, Elizabeth George, P.D. James, Martha Grimes. Over the course of multiple books, the main characters become more like distant relations than fictional characters and their adventurous exploits become fantastic family stories.
But let’s say you must choose between the two. How do you decide? Ask yourself:
+What do the readers of my genre expect? Take a look at the reviews for books in your genre on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and other book review sites. What do the readers adore and despise in these books? Are they more upset when an author cheats on character or plot?
+What am I naturally good at? Some of us can easily build believable characters, others plot like master architects, and a few juggle both well. Know your strengths. Choose a genre that plays to your strengths. And then rock it!
+How can I make up for my weaknesses? Plot writers often make character work by writing series novels. That way they can create and deepen central characters over many books and have time to do what they love, build plot. Character writers sometimes borrow plots from the classics. And why not? They’ve lasted for centuries because they’re good.
+What type of marriage between plot and character works for this book? Every book project is different. We don’t have to choose to be “plot writers” or “character writers.” We can make unique choices for each book.
In the end, I’m always going to answer the question of plot vs. character with BOTH. Choosing between them is like breaking up the birds and the bees or Ken and Barbie.
Bio. Rochelle Melander is an author, speaker, and certified professional coach. She is the author of ten books, including the National Novel Writing Month guide—Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) She is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for at risk tweens and teens in Milwaukee. She’s currently wrestling with some very opinionated characters in a novel for kids. For more tips and a complementary download of the first two chapters of Write-A-Thon, visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com
Have anything to add to this? We love to hear it!
Next week John Avery will be presenting his thoughts on this discussion so be sure to return here!
Back in December, I ran a poll asking my readers (many who are also writers themselves) which part of any given fiction is more important: plot or characters. I wasn’t completely satisfied with this mere poll, and decided to expand this topic further with an open debate with others. I sent out a call to various authors/editors/writing coaches and several have answered!
I originally planned to run this “debate” with just a single posting; but each response I received was too good to break down into pieces. Instead, on each Wednesday (starting March 5th), I will run each one of these responses. At the end of each one, the readers will have a chance to chime in their own thoughts and input on the matter.
Be sure to tune for the first part of the debate on Wednesday!