Showing posts with label protagonist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label protagonist. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 24

The M.I.C.E. Quotient and Mystery Stories


The M.I.C.E. Quotient and Mystery Stories


In a murder mystery the detective is usually the protagonist, but not always. For example, in the TV show Lucifer the detective’s sidekick is the main character. Today I want to talk about this delightful inversion of formula with reference to the M.I.C.E. Quotient.

Note: I've included this material in my book: How to Write a Murderously Good Mystery: The Major Characters.

Lucifer and the M.I.C.E. Quotient


Before we get into this material let’s do a quick review of M.I.C.E. (For a more in-depth discussion listen to the podcast: Writing Excuses 6.10)

M.I.C.E. is a way to manage the various subplots in your story. It stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. Each of these refers to a kind of story. Let’s do a quick review:

(BTW, I’ve discussed M.I.C.E. before: The Mysteries of Outlining and Nesting MICE: Creating Killer Stories and The MICE Quotient: How to Structure Your Story.)

A Quick review of the M.I.C.E. Quotient (Milieu, Idea, Character, Event)


Milieu


“The milieu includes all the physical locations that are used—one city or many cities, one building or many buildings, a street, a bus, a farm, a clearing in the woods—with all the sights, smells, and sounds that come with the territory. The milieu also includes the culture—the customs, laws, social roles, and public expectations that limit and illuminate all that a character thinks and feels and says and does.” [1]

“The structure of the pure milieu story is simple: Get a character to the setting that the story is about, and then devise reasons for her to move through the world of the story, showing the reader all the interesting physical and social details of the milieu. When you've shown everything you want the reader to see, bring the character home.”[1]

Begins: When the character enters a particular physical setting/location.
Ends: When the character returns from the physical setting/location.

Idea


“The idea story has a simple structure. A problem or question is posed at the beginning of the story, and at the end of the tale the answer is revealed. Murder mysteries use this structure: Someone is found murdered, and the rest of the story is devoted to discovering who did it, why, and how.”[1]

Begins: With the posing of a question.
Ends: When the question is answered.

Character


“The character story is about a person trying to change his role in life. It begins at the point when the main character finds his present situation intolerable and sets out to change; it ends when the character either finds a new role, willingly returns to the old one, or despairs of improving his lot.”[1]

Begins: When the protagonist finds his or her situation intolerable and sets out to change it.
Ends: When the protagonist either finds a) a new role, b) willingly returns to the old one, or c) despairs of improving his lot.

Event


“Every story is an event story in the sense that from time to time something happens that has causes and results. But the story in which the events are the central concern follows a particular pattern: The world is somehow out of order—call it imbalance, injustice, breakdown, evil, decay, disease—and the story is about the effort to restore the old order or establish a new one. / The event story structure is simple: It begins when the main characters become involved in the effort to heal the world's disease, and ends when they either accomplish their goal or utterly fail to do so.”[1]

Begins: When the main characters become involved in the effort to prevent the disaster.
Ends: When the main characters succeed or fail.

Using M.I.C.E


A novel length story (80,000 words or so) often has all four kinds of stories (Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event) nested within each other. The uppermost, 'umbrella' story will be the main story arc. The first subplot (the B-story) will often have to do with the protagonist’s love interest or, more generally, it will be about a relationship the protagonist forms with another character.

So, for instance, a murder mystery might look like this:

Main arc: Idea story
->begin B-story (first subplot): Character story
-->begin C-story (second subplot): Event story
--->begin D-story (third subplot): Milieu story

Closing out:
--->end/resolve D-story.
-->end/resolve C-story.
->end/resolve B-story.
end/resolve A-story/main arc.

M.I.C.E. gives us a way of managing subplots by helping to expose the bones, the skeleton, of a story. In this sense, M.I.C.E. makes it easier to organize any story, but especially long complex ones with many nested subplots.

First, subplots/arcs need to be closed out in the same order they are introduced.

Second, the question that begins an arc, that spins one up, needs to be answered before that arc can be closed.

Third, it works best if the resolution of one subplot feeds into the closure, the resolution, of the next subplot (and/or the main arc).

Okay! I spent longer on M.I.C.E. than I'd intended, but it's a terrific tool to have in your writer's toolbox so I think that's fine. Moving on!

Lucifer (the TV show)


With M.I.C.E. in mind, let’s take a look at Lucifer[wikipedia].

Currently I’m watching the second season. It’s a light comedy populated with interesting, unique, quirky characters. The general structure of an episode is this:

A body is found which leads to the IDEA question: What is the identity of the murderer?

First subplot: This is often a CHARACTER story but it can also be another IDEA story.

For example, in season two episode eight, the main story, the wrapper, is an IDEA story: Who killed Maddie Howard?

This leads directly into the first subplot which is another IDEA story. For example, Lucifer has recognized that Maddie was killed with Azrael’s blade, a magical weapon. This is very bad news because this blade, when used by a human, will drive them to kill over trivial matters (e.g., leaving the toilet seat up, not taking out the garbage, etc.).

The goal (first subplot): Get Azrael’s blade back. So the question for the first subplot is: Will Lucifer get the blade back?

A brief digression ...


Every episode the characters active in that episode each have a story (a subplot) associated with them. Of course the main character's story isn't a subplot, it's the main plot. This is the story that is onscreen, that we—viewers—see played out. For the secondary characters, though, their stories often play out largely offscreen. It's only when their personal stories intersect with the main character's, with Lucifer's, that they come 'on-screen,' that viewers become aware of them.

I thought I'd mention that; it's a slightly different way of looking at exactly the same thing. (It's like this for written stories as well.)

I want to mention one more thing before we get back to the main thread of discussion ...

I've mentioned that each character with significant screentime has a story/subplot associated with them. Each of these subplots can be viewed as either a Milieu story, an Idea story, a Character story or an Event story. For example, Lucifer’s mom (played by the talented Tricia Helfer) is trying to change her role in life. This is why she released Azrael’s blade into the world. She was hoping to get the attention of her ex-husband (i.e., God!) through misbehaving. So, for this subplot to be wrapped up Lucifer’s mom has to either:

a) Find a new role.
b) Willingly return to the old role.
c) Despair and give up.

Further, the mother's subplot is intimately tied into the main arc because the mother finds a new role by hatching a new plot which sends the show off in another direction AND increases the stakes.

Back to the Episode


But the mother isn’t the main character in the inner plot, Lucifer is. So (as I see it) the first subplot is an IDEA story which revolves around the question of whether Lucifer will get the magical blade back.

Midway through Lucifer discovers the first murderer’s name: Duncan. But this doesn't close out the first/main story arc—if it did, that would be a problem—because now someone else has the blade and bodies are continuing to accumulate. All that has happened is that the question for the main arc has been changed/twisted: Who is the new murderer? And the stakes have increased. Now many were killed as opposed to just one.

Eventually the last wielder of the blade is tracked down: Dan Espinoza, Chloe’s ex-husband and someone who is definitely NOT Lucifer’s biggest fan. Lucifer disarms Dan and recovers the blade, thus closing out the main arc.

The Sidekick as Protagonist


One of the most interesting things about Lucifer is that in terms of the murder mystery arc, Lucifer is the detective's sidekick! Lucifer does what sidekicks do and unwittingly gives the detective the 'ah-ha' clue.

Also, when working with Chloe/the detective, Lucifer is usually not intellectually committed to solving the murder; he's busy with his own concerns. He doesn't notice much at the crime scene—not because he can't or he's dim—because he simply doesn't care (which is actually a core trait of the character).

Lucifer's story arc over the course of the episode usually is an IDEA story; specifically, it's a mystery of some sort, though often not a MURDER mystery. Though Lucifer's story arc will be closely related to the primary murder in some way.

Conclusion


M.I.C.E. is a terrific way of helping writers sort through their subplots/arcs. It helps to keep things from getting all tangled up like unruly balls of yarn.

If you want to write a detective story but have fallen in love with your sidekick it’s okay to make the detective’s sidekick your protagonist! The key is to give them their own arc, one distinct from but related to the murder.

Notes:


1. Elements of Fiction Writing, by Orson Scott Card



Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending a book I’ve read MANY times: Orson Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint.

From the blurb: “Award-winning author Orson Scott Card explains in depth the techniques of inventing, developing and presenting characters, plus handling viewpoint in novels and short stories. With specific examples, he spells out your narrative options—the choices you'll make in creating fictional people so "real" that readers will feel they know them like members of their own families.”



Wednesday, March 29

Writing a Murder Mystery: 7 More Characteristics That Make a Murderer Interesting. Part Two of Two

7 More Characteristics That Make a Murderer Interesting. Part Two of Two


This post is a continuation of my last post, Writing a Murder Mystery, Character Creation: The Murderer, Part One of Two.

Let’s continue our discussion.

7 More Characteristics That Make a Murderer Interesting:


1. The murderer must be a worthy adversary for the sleuth.


Storytellers want their audience to think the detective is clever and resourceful. How is this done? Easy! SHOW the detective being clever and resourceful by pitting her against an opposing force—the murderer—who is as clever and resourceful as herself.

When the detective fails (as she inevitably will at some point) the reader will understand that the detective is up against someone brilliant. If the murderer isn't clever, then when the sleuth fails there is a real danger the reader will lose interest.

In addition, if the murderer is at least as clever as the detective, when the detective solves the mystery and unmasks the murderer it will mean more. We want the murderer to be perceived as being so clever that ONLY your detective could have brought him to justice.

2. The murderer should act from motives of self-interest.


No inexplicable desires or drives, please. The murderer should have an easy-to-understand motive. This goes back to what P.D. James wrote about all motives boiling down to lust, lucre, loathing and love (see: The Murderer, Part One of Two[http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2017/03/writing-murder-mystery-character.html]).

3. The murderer often has a deep psychological wound.


Having a deep wound will help humanize the murderer, it will make him more sympathetic. A sympathetic character is one a reader can understand and understandable characters are ones readers can relate to. They are compelling.

4. The murderer’s ‘type’ is clear.


The murderer is brilliant.


Fictional murderers come in all sorts of flavors but we could say, broadly, that they come in two types: some murderers are brilliant (e.g., Moriarty from Sherlock[link]) while others ... not so much.

If a murderer is brilliant then, often, their strength is also their weakness. For example, in the TV show Sherlock[link] Moriarty is a brilliant psychopath. I say brilliant but it seems he’s not QUITE as clever as Sherlock. Moriarty’s oddness is explained by his intelligence, as is Sherlock’s (in this sense Moriarty is Sherlock’s nemesis[http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2013/09/character-types-and-five-bad-band.html]).

Moriarty is so intelligent ordinary humans are like ants to him. The master criminal thinks of himself as a different, and clearly superior, species. Just as many humans wouldn't bat an eye at killing a mouse or deer so Moriarty wouldn't hesitate to kill a human if it was in his interest to do so (shades of Hannibal Lecter).

As for Sherlock, his friends—John Watson and Mrs. Hudson—keep him connected to humanity, they keep him human. Moriarty has no such connection and in consequence his brilliance has stripped him of his humanity.

Another detective who, broadly speaking, fits this pattern is Mr. Monk[link]. Recall Mr. Monk’s catch phrase: It’s a gift ... and a curse. Sherlock’s brilliance is both what allows him to solve crimes and it’s also what isolates him from other people; it’s what sets him apart.

The murderer is garden variety.


If the murderer is more of a garden variety murderer then his motive usually has something to do with greed, desperation, depravity, and so on.

In a psychology course I once took the professor said that humans have four motivations for all their behavior: feeding, fleeing, fighting and ... sex. Translating this into the language of a murder mystery, the common murderer is interested in:

  • Feeding: The murderer wishes to continue life as it is but someone is threatening his status quo.
  • Fleeing: All hell has broken lose and the murderer has to disappear but someone is preventing this.
  • Fighting: The murderer is in a smiting mood. He wants to destroy an enemy. 
  • Sex: Love and lust. Obsession. Love and lust are distinct and yet intertwined. Though, arguably, one can love or lust after something inanimate, here I’m talking about loving or lusting after a person. The murderer would do anything—and I do mean ANYTHING—to gain the affections of this individual, but someone is standing in her way.

4. Make the conflict personal.


Make the conflict between the sleuth and the murderer personal. Whatever motivation you give the murderer, make him want to taunt the sleuth. Also, make the sleuth willing to take crazy risks to catch the murderer.

If the murderer is caught then his/her life is over, perhaps literally, but if the murderer gets away with it, what then? What will the sleuth lose?

If the sleuth isn’t able to solve the puzzle and figure out the who, what, where, why and how—or, worse, if he offers up an incorrect solution—this would not only ruin the sleuth's reputation but send an innocent person to prison. And condemning the innocent is something the sleuth MUST care about unless he or she is an anti-hero. Caring about justice, about fairness, is a large part of what separates white hats from black hats.

5. Show that the murderer is one sick puppy.


For most of the story the antagonist is going to wear a mask. Underneath the mask she is getting more desperate and her sickness, her desperation, escalates.

One way we could show this is by escalating the number of murders, their violence, as well as the murderer's reckless daring.

6. Let your antagonist win occasionally.


Your sleuth needs setbacks. He needs strong opposition to battle against and, so, occasionally, he needs to fail. Often this happens at or near the midpoint. The sleuth—or the sleuth's helper, his Watson—thinks he knows who did it. But he’s wrong. Around either the Midpoint or the All Hope is Lost point, the suspect is found dead, killed the way the other victims were.

7. Show the killer's true face at the end.


So far the killer has hidden her true face: she is a cold-blooded killer. She has taken the lives of those she knew, perhaps even those she loved. And she did it for personal gain. She's not nice, not ordinary, perhaps not even sane. But for most of the story she has hidden in plain sight and has acted like everyone else. At the end we need to show her as she really is. We need to show readers the murderer's contempt for those around her, for those who counted themselves as her friends.



Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Midsomer Murders, Season 18.

From the blurb: “The cozy villages of Midsomer County reveal their most sinister secrets in these contemporary British television mysteries.”



That’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing!

Friday, March 24

Murder Mystery: The Victim

Murder Mystery: The Victim


Let's talk about the victim and her importance to a murder mystery. In a sense, she is the central character. Of course the victim isn't the protagonist—the detective is—but without the victim there would be no story! Today I look at what information the detective needs to uncover about the victim, the what, where, when, why and how.

The Victim Injects Passion into the Narrative


I think of the victim as the heart of the story. After all, she was killed. Murdered! That’s passionate. Someone stole her life. And it usually isn’t an act of passion, it’s planned. The murderer intended to snuff the victim out, knowing the stakes, knowing that if he was caught he would be killed or spend the rest of his life in prison. (I’ll talk more about motivation when I discuss the killer.)

Most of the time the passion comes from the victim, not the detective. Think of it: the detective is engaged in solving a bloodless puzzle, deciphering clues to identify the murderer. Myself, I like passionless puzzles! But there is no denying that emotional engagement helps build suspense.

How does the reader discover all this passion? Through the detective. Details of the victim's life are a bit like buried treasure the detective must unearth. The detective strips away layers upon layers of the victim's life, her psyche.

The relationship between the detective and the victim is peculiarly intimate and one-sided. The detective is laser focused, at least in the beginning, on the first victim, on why she was killed, on why the murderer ran such a risk.

The detective is the victim’s champion. Because of the nature of the crime, of murder, the victim no longer walks among us. Nevertheless, it is the detective who must, in a sense, bring the victim back to life until justice has been served.

Information the detective uncovers about the victim:


WHO was the victim?


What was the victim's strongest desire? How did this desire translate into a concrete goal? What were the obstacles to this goal? Where was the victim in his journey toward this goal? Had he, perhaps, denied his greatest desire all his life and then, just before death, decided to follow his dreams?

If the victim pursued his passion who would it have impacted? Whose lives would have been changed? How?

What was the victim’s profession? How did the victim earn his money? Through legal means? Illegal? Was it a profession others admire (doctor) or did it make them feel vaguely uncomfortable (used car salesmen)?

Did the victim have family? Were they married? Single? Did they have children? Were they close with their family (mother, father, siblings, uncles, aunts) or had they drifted apart? What was the victim's last Christmas like?

Perhaps most important of all, how did the other characters feel about the first victim? I've found it works best if the first victim is either loved or hated by most of the suspects. The victim could be hated by everyone except one person (as in Agatha Christie's wonderful mystery, Appointment with Death) who loves them blindly, devotedly; to such an extent one wonders: It can't possibly have been real ... can it?

WHAT about the victim motivated the crime?


It’s often easier to look at what the murderer needed than to ask what characteristics the victim had that motivated the crime, but let's try.

Was the victim wealthy? The child kills parent for her inheritance.

Was the victim hated? Did they set up a ponzi scheme that robbed folks of their life savings?

Was the victim killed to frame someone? The murderer may have had nothing against the victim, the only reason she is dead is that the killer was setting someone else up to take the fall. And so on.

WHY was the victim killed?


Knowing what about the victim motivated the crime is only half the story. The other part of the equation can only come when we know the killer's motive.

For example:
- The victim was wealthy.
- The murderer was poor.
- The murderer was in the victim's will.

So far so good, but it's still not enough. There needs to be some sort of catalyst. Perhaps the murderer's daughter needs an expensive operation or she'll die, and she needs it soon. (I'll talk more about motivation when I discuss the murderer in a later post.)

WHERE was the murder committed?


The WHERE of the murder is often closely linked to the HOW. If your victim is to die of poisoning and the poison needs to be introduced into a bitter liquid (such as coffee), then that helps narrow the field. Perhaps an intimate picnic breakfast for two in a local park is called for or (even better!) breakfast in bed.

Of course the most important thing about the crime scene is that it must create a dividing line between those who COULD have done the murder and those who could not.[1] A blizzard could have cut a group of people staying at a bed and breakfast off from the rest of the world, it could have occurred in a small English village (or, possibly, Cabot Cove Maine!), and so on.

Speaking of the crime scene, the same rules of thumb apply to this setting as to any other. Is it unique? Exaggerated? Memorable?

WHEN was the murder committed?


Generally murderers attempt to trick the detective when it comes to time of death. Corpses are frozen or draped with electric blankets, anything to mask the time of death so the murderer can set up his perfect alibi. (I'll talk about this in more detail, later, when I go over the murder method.)

HOW was the murder committed? 


This should, ideally, have something to do with both the murderer and the victim. It can’t always be done, but I like it when the murder method is matched to the reason for the crime. For instance, a billionaire buys an old, family owned, winery intending to turn it into a parking lot. The day after the purchase the billionaire is found, drowned, in a vat of merlot.



Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Cruising for Murder: A Myrtle Clover Cozy Mystery (Myrtle Clover Cozy Mysteries Book 10), by Elizabeth Spann Craig.

From the blurb: When “a fellow passenger disappears, Myrtle realizes she must seize the helm and find the killer...before more souls are lost.”



That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on the weekend. Till then, good writing!

Notes:


1. There needs to be a dividing line between those who could have done the murder and those who couldn't, but there is a subset of mysteries—a variant of a locked room mystery (e.g., Death in Paradise)—where it seems no one had the opportunity to commit the crime. Normally, means and opportunity are known and it is the motive—the psychology of the murderer—that needs to be revealed.

Thursday, January 22

A Three Act Story Structure: The Final Conflict (Part 5 of 5)

A Three Act Story Structure: The Final Conflict (Part 5 of 5)



This is the final post in my series on the Three Act Structure for genre stories. Yes! (I always get a bit excited when I write the last post in a series, it’s not the same as finishing a short story, but it’s still good.) Here’s an index to the rest of the posts in this series:


Endings Are Important


In many ways the final bit of your story, the Final Conflict, is the most important part. If the ending isn’t satisfying then, chances are, your readers won’t be waiting on pins and needles for your next story. 

I’ve written about story endings elsewhere (see here and here) but what I want to concentrate on today is everything that happens after the protagonist goes through the All Hope Is Lost moment and has her epiphany. (I’m not going to talk about this moment here because I covered it in my last post, see above.)

The Plan


Things are now looking up. Sure, nothing has actually changed. The protagonist is still in the deep dark pit with no way out and his allies are about to be killed in the most brutal of ways, but, still, things aren’t as bleak because the hero has an idea. 

Right now at this moment, the protagonist is everything we wanted her to be. She has struggled, she has failed, she has learned from her mistakes and the scales have just fallen from her eyes. She is aware of the lie she’s told herself. She has (partially at least) healed her deep inner wound. As a result, the protagonist is whole; she has come into her power.

Now the protagonist makes a new plan. Often she is alone at this point, her allies having been sidelined. But, even if she has allies, she often won’t reveal the specifics of her plan. (The writer  may not want her readers to be too informed at this point since not knowing exactly how the protagonist plans to pull things off can help build suspense.) 

Story reasons for the protagonist keeping her plan to herself could include the following:

- The protagonist knows that one of her allies is really a spy.
- The protagonist knows her allies would try to prevent her from doing what she must since she believes doing so will mean her death.

In any case, the protagonist advances, alone, to the place where the final conflict will take place. (Though, her being alone isn’t the crucial bit. She could have one or two allies come with her, the crucial bit is that she faces the Big Bad all by herself without any help.)

The Penultimate Conflict


There is often a confrontation with the antagonist’s minion, a confrontation that the protagonist will win, now, without too much trouble. The minion would have beaten her before her revelation—before the epiphany she had at the end of the All Hope Is Lost moment—but now the tables are turned.

Also, this confrontation with a minion shows how far the protagonist has come. She has overcome her weaknesses, she has healed her wound, and it’s time to let the audience see this. 

One way of accomplishing this is to have the protagonist wipe the floor with a bad guy that gave her a sound beating earlier in the story, around about the time she entered the Special World and was still figuring out how things worked.

Often this bad guy is the Big Bad’s second in command. He sees that the protagonist is in pretty bad shape, she’s beaten up, and he thinks she’ll be easy to obliterate. What ensues now is what I think of as fun, satisfying, violence, the sort of thing you see in the trailer to a James Bond flick. She will win the fight with the minion fairly easily (though the protagonist may fake an injury to build a moment or two of tension) and he’ll die with an incredulous expression on his face.

After this fight things get serious. Often, one way the protagonist can win is by sacrificing her life. This would be noble and a perfectly good ending, but we want her to live, so there’s suspense, tension.

The Final Conflict


Riding high from trouncing the minion the protagonist often walks into a trap. Or she is ambushed. Perhaps our protagonist has gotten a little cocky, perhaps a vestige of her former, scarred, self rears its head. Whatever the case, the protagonist gets into trouble.

This could happen right as the protagonist goes to engage the antagonist, or it could happen after the fight is well on its way and the antagonist is starting to realize he may not win the fight (or confrontation). Whatever the case, there’s a moment when it looks as though we were wrong—really really wrong—about the protagonist now being as good as it gets. She’s in trouble again and this could be the end of her and her quest. 

But it’s not. She faked the injury to get an advantage.

It sometimes happens here that the antagonist ups the stakes one last time by daring to do what no one else would. Perhaps he alters himself in such a way that he is now the walking dead but he’s going to be godly for the next ten minutes, which is more than enough time to destroy the protagonist. This pushes the protagonist to excel in a way we’re truly not sure she’s capable of and, once again, the audience is (hopefully!) on the edge of their seats.

- At this point the antagonist has no secrets.


At this point in the story all of the antagonist’s cards should be on the table. True, you don’t want an information dump where the protagonist, strapped across railway tracks, pleads for her life while the black cloaked villain rubs his gloved hands together, twirls his mustache, and tells her about the brilliance of his scheme.

But, still, no secrets. Perhaps the antagonist will taunt the protagonist by filling in the last little bit of the puzzle that lets the protagonist see how very high and dire the stakes are. Instead of simply the world being destroyed, he’s taking the galaxy out too! 

Yes, I’m exaggerating, but at this point it isn’t just the protagonist that is going to win or lose it’s also every single one of her allies, and perhaps her family and extended community. Also, the protagonist may have allies the antagonist has killed and who need avenging. Not to mention that by this time we’ve become emotionally attached to the protagonist and those she cares about.

- On with the fight.


After the antagonist shows us his last card we’re all on the same page. We now know the antagonist’s true power as well as his true agenda.

We, the audience, quake. Even our new punched up self-aware protagonist can’t possibly beat this guy, he’s just too badass.

Then ... why does the protagonist seem so confident?

Seeing the protagonist’s newfound confidence, the antagonist’s composure is shaken for a moment but then he laughs. “You’re faking,” the antagonist says and calls the protagonist’s bluff. Perhaps he even knocks the protagonist down. The Antagonist is now sure he’s won and sneers at the protagonist, ready to deliver the knock-out punch.

The audience is now worried that perhaps the protagonist was bluffing after all, that perhaps she really is all flash and no substance.

But, then, the protagonist shows the audience she wasn’t bluffing and shows the antagonist what she’s capable of. And wins. Since the antagonist was the thing that prevented the protagonist from achieving her goal, that’s it, we’re done.

The story question has been answered. (The story question is basically: Will the protagonist achieve her story goal? Jim Butcher has written a wonderful article on this.)

- Other kinds of endings.


Of course the story doesn’t have to end with the protagonist winning. 

a. She could fail to defeat the antagonist and die. 
b. Or she could fail to defeat the antagonist and live the rest of her life with the knowledge that she’d failed. 
c. Or she could beat the antagonist but still die. 
d. Or she could partially beat the antagonist and ... Well, there are many, many, possibilities.

Keep in mind, though, that each genre usually has pretty clear conventions about how stories will end. 

In a mystery story, if the sleuth doesn’t discover who committed the murder—or they do discover whodunit, but no one is ever brought to justice for the crime—then chances are that you’ll have plenty of grumpy readers who will make it a point of never ever reading another one of your mystery books.

In a Harlequin-type romance story, if the romantic leads do not live happily ever after (HEA) there will be hell to pay. A senior editor at Harlequin once told a conference I attended that they did break this rule once, and both the writer and publisher received hate mail. I kid you not!

The Wrap Up


The final conflict concluded, we wrap up the story by cashing out the final stakes. We do this by showing how the lives of each significant character have been changed because of the protagonist achieving the story goal.

Then, at the very end, the protagonist goes back to the Ordinary World and we see how the adventure changed her. Now, transformed, she does with ease tasks which were impossible before. For example, the protagonist can now best a bully, make difficult decisions, be a leader in the community, gain the elder’s respect, and so on.

Closing Thoughts: The Importance of Change


Let me stress that, although I do often talk about THE Three Act Structure, there’s really no such thing. There is no one monolithic structure that each and every genre story will exemplify. What I’ve written about is my own personal understanding of, distillation of, a structure I see in the overwhelming majority of popular genre stories.

Further, no single story will touch all these bases, and that’s fine. If I had to boil all the advice I’ve given over the years down to just one thing, it would be this: change is necessary.

Situations change, characters change. The mood of a scene changes. Readers—the audience—go from ignorance (Who is the villain?) to knowledge (It’s—drumroll—the mayor!). Without change, nothing dramatic can happen. And whatever else genre stories are, they should be dramatic.

Though, that said, there are only two actual rules in writing:

1. Write regularly. 
2. Read regularly.

If you’re looking for places to share your writing, or encouragement to write every day, I publish a daily writing prompt here, here and here, and the folks over at Critters.org have helped many writers hone their craft.

That’s it! Thanks for reading. 

Note: While the version of the Three Act Structure I’ve presented here does agree with that put forward by many screenwriters, I’ve noticed some put the break into Act Three after the All Hope Is Lost point. I think the take-away from this is to, as always, do what seems right for you. For me, it seems most natural to have the break into Act Three come just after the Major Setback but before the All Hope Is Lost moment, so I’ve placed the Major Setback at just before the 75% mark. 

I’d also like to note that, often, the Third Act will be quite short compared to the First Act. That way, once the hero breaks into Act Three it feels like one incredibly fast race to the Story Climax.

Photo credit: Original photo: "The Lonely Vacuum Of Space" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, October 13

Protagonist Checklist

Protagonist Checklist


My mother cleaned our house from top to bottom every year; she cleaned out every drawer, every cupboard, every closet. 

That’s practical industry at its best. Unfortunately it’s also something I’m almost completely devoid of. I feel at my best amidst a friendly snarl of papers and pens.

Yesterday, though, I had the day to myself and had the uncharacteristic urge to go through the drawers in my office and do a bit of tidying. (These days most of my tidying gets done as I listen to an audiobook.)

My office drawers have become receptacles for the revolving miscellany of papers I tack to my walls: bits of writing advice, admonitions, to-do lists and urgent reminders for events long past. 

I sifted through the pages of writing advice and lifted out one or two of my favorites to share with you.

Character Development


After I write a first draft here are some questions I ask about my protagonist (or any character that’s not a walk-on):

1. Main Desire. Every protagonist must want something deeply, desperately. Does she? What is it? Find (at least) one clear expression of it in your novel. Bonus points if you showed rather than told. (Though this is so important you might want to do both.)

2. Motivation. What is your protagonist’s motivation? Why does he have this particular overriding desire? For example, in The Mummy Rick O’Connell’s motivation for leading the expedition to Hamunaptra was to repay Evy for saving his life. His goal, on the other hand, was to get everyone there and back safely. (That, and he liked Evy.)

3. Decisive Action. When (in which scenes) does your protagonist take decisive action to get what he wants (his main desire)? Although a character can do their share of wiffle-waffling, they have to take decisive action at least once.

4. Stakes. What are the stakes? They should be clear and substantial. Further, the stakes should get bigger over time. (The stakes are what the character gets if she achieves her main goal—in other words, fulfills her main desire—and what she loses if she doesn’t.)

5. The Stakes Must Matter. Why do the stakes matter to the other characters? In the case of The Mummy all the characters wanted the treasures concealed within Hamunaptra, though their reasons for wanting them varied.

6. Well Defined Problem. What is the well defined problem that sets the protagonist’s goal? I mentioned The Mummy, above. In that movie the problem was to find the lost city of Hamunaptra and return with its artifacts.

Character Development: Scenes


- Strength. What is your character’s main strength? Find (at least) two scenes where the protagonist depends on that strength to solve a problem.

- Weakness. What is your character’s main weakness? Find (at least) one scene in which the protagonist’s weakness prevents her from solving a problem (/achieving her goal or desire).

- Silly Quirk. What is your character’s silly quirk? Find (at least) two scenes in which the character’s quirk complicates their life. That is, find at least one scene in which their silly quirk threatens to prevent them from achieving their goal. The goal here is that of a scene or a sequence of scenes, not necessarily the final, ultimate, goal. For example, Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes. 

- Contradiction. I’ve blogged about this the last few days. Complex characters are, generally, a mass of contradictions. 

* How does the character’s characterization contradict one or more of her internal traits?
* How do the character’s internal traits (intelligence, charisma, etc.) contradict each other?
* How does the character’s dominant trait change over time?

Find at least four scenes that show your protagonist’s contradiction(s).

- Clever. Most protagonists should be clever and resourceful. List at least two scenes in which the protagonist’s resourcefulness turns a situation around and allows him to achieve his goal.

- B-story. This won’t be the case for all stories, but in some the solution to the B-story provides the hero with the solution she needs to, at the story climax, achieve her main goal. What is your B-Story? In which scene does it begin and which scene contains its climax? In which scene, or scenes, do you tie in the epiphany of the B-story with the final culmination of the A-story?

- Guiding Principle. Often a character will have a guiding principle they live by. Hercule Poirot was fond of saying, “I do not approve of murder.”

General Questions


I try to always keep these questions at the back of my mind:

- What are your protagonist’s positive qualities? Is she strong? Good? Is she principled? Is she brave?

- What can your protagonist do that no one else can?

In Conclusion


I agree with those who hold that a protagonist doesn’t have to be amiable, likable or admirable. As long as your protagonist:

a. Has a special talent
b. Is clever and resourceful
c. Is wounded

then it doesn’t matter if the reader thinks he’s likable. The key thing is that the protagonist must be pursuing justice.

That leads us to our final  question: In your manuscript what one thing embodies the protagonist’s pursuit of justice?

That’s it!

Today’s writing exercise: The significance of the apparently mundane. (William Hjortsberg make the most of this in "Falling Angel," a book which was made into the movie "Angel Heart.")

Photo credit: "Oh happy rainy day!" by Caroline under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, April 29

Parts Of Story: How To Create Suspense



What is suspense and how is it created?

Lee Goldberg once said that, "Suspense is an escalating sense of apprehension or fear, a building of pressure, heading either towards an uncertain conclusion or a horrifyingly certain one." Either way, the reader asks: What's going to happen next?

In what follows I look at what suspense is and then, in the next chapter, turn to examine the preconditions for suspense. Namely:

a) A real danger to the hero. 
b) The possibility that the hero will escape the danger. 
c) A finite amount of time, sometimes called a ticking clock.

Dramatic Irony


Dramatic irony can be used to increase the audience's sense of curiosity and concern for the hero.

There are many kinds of irony: verbal, dramatic and situational. Here, though, I'm only going to discuss dramatic irony.

Dramatic Irony And Suspense: An Example


Scenario 1: Imagine a hero inching along a darkened path, oblivious to the deadly shadow soundlessly creeping up behind him, poised to suck the lifeforce from his bones.

Scenario 2: Imagine that, as before, our hero inches along a darkened path anticipating a threat just round the bend. He doesn't know whether there's a monster there, but there could be. Unlike before there's no deadly shadow stalking him ... at least, not that we know of.

The first scenario creates suspense, in part, by giving the reader/audience more information than the hero possesses. We see the danger creeping up on him and want to scream: Turn around!

In the second scenario there is no such disparity of knowledge. We know what the hero knows and, with him, we cringe as he rounds every corner, every bend in the twisty road. 

Some Aspects of Dramatic Irony


a. Surface meaning vs underlying meaning


Dramatic irony occurs when the surface meaning of an utterance is at variance with its deeper meaning. 

Meanings don't exist in a vacuum. It's people who understand utterances, it's people who understand meaning, whom things matter to. 

Dramatic irony depends upon certain people knowing more than others. Some who hear the utterance will be stranded at the surface while others will understand the deeper meaning.

Let's look at the possibilities.

a.i. The audience knows less than one or more of the characters.


For instance, tension, suspense, can be generated when we see a character's reaction to, for example, the contents of a suitcase even though we never find out what it contained.

This example comes from Pulp Fiction. Vincent Vega looks into the suitcase, it's eery illumination playing over his face. For a moment he seems lost in whatever he sees. Stunned. Overwhelmed. The viewer doesn't know what's in the suitcase, but Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield do. Vega is looking right at it and, damn him, he's not telling! 

a.ii. The audience knows more than one or more of the characters.


I think this is the far more common scenario. It happens on almost every show I watch, nearly every episode.

A character knows less about something than another character or the audience, and they don't know they know less.

For example, a couple of months ago I re-watched the scifi/horror classic Alien, a movie that has aged remarkably well. At one point one of the characters--Brett--searches for Jones the cat. Everyone on the ship is going back into stasis and that includes Jones, but Brett needs to catch him first. Yes, sure, the alien is on the loose too, but in this scene Brett isn't overly worried about meeting the alien since he knows Jones is in the area and, therefore, attributes any weird noises to the spooked feline.

Brett hears a noise, looks beneath nearby machinery, and spots the recalcitrant feline. Brett tries to coax the cat out of his hiding spot but, just as the cat walks toward him, we see a tentacle unfurl behind the man. Jones hisses and darts away. Brett is stunned. He thinks the cat hissed at him. Puzzled, he keeps calling Jones, trying to coax the cat out of hiding. While Brett does this we see the alien slowly, silently, unfurl behind Brett. 

At this point in the movie, if you're anything like me, you gripped the cushion you had a strangle hold on and screamed: Turn around!

And, of course, Brett does but it's too late. He's monster chow.

This is the kind of thing we mean when we say that in dramatic irony "the implications of a situation, speech, etc, are understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play." In this scene both the cat and the alien had more information than Brett did and, as so often happens in horror movies, Brett paid for that inequality with his life.

b. Unwise behavior.


When a passage contains dramatic irony, the character from whom information is being kept usually reacts in a way that is inappropriate and unwise.

In the example from Alien, running away and hiding would have been both appropriate and wise. Standing in front of the alien calling out "kitty, kitty," ... not so much.


Summary: Irony occurs when there is an incongruity, or contrast, between what the expectations of a situation are and what is really the case.

(Note: This post is from one of the chapters of my upcoming book, Parts of Story.)

Monday, February 10

How To Create An Entertaining Protagonist: A Story Checklist

How To Create An Entertaining Protagonist: A Story Checklist


What do you have over your writing desk? Mine is littered with pieces of paper on which I've scribbled bits of (what I think is) sage writing advice. I'll let you be the judge. (grin)

By the way, your protagonist doesn't have to have all these characteristics. I like to look at this list every once in a while and double-check that my protagonist has a fair share of them and, also, to make sure I haven't forgotten anything.

1. Protagonist


Your protagonist should:

a. Have a special talent.
b. Have a strength.
c. Be clever and resourceful.
d. Be wounded.
e. Be pursuing justice or at least have a guiding principle.
f. Have a catch phrase.
g. Have likeable qualities.
h. Be quirky.

1a. Give the protagonist a special talent (/unique ability).

Give the protagonist an ability that no one else has. This doesn't have to be something earth shattering. It can be something trivial such as being able to tie a cherry stem with one's tongue.

1b. Give the protagonist a strength.


The following list is from Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

i. Wisdom allows one to acquire and use knowledge. Creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective and wisdom.

ii. Courage allows one to accomplish goals in the face of opposition. Bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality.

iii. Humanity allows one to befriend others. Love, kindness, social intelligence.

iv. Justice helps build community. Active citizenship, loyalty, fairness, prudence, self control.

v. Temperance protects against excess. Forgiveness & mercy, humility.

vi. Transcendence helps forge connections to others and provides meaning. Appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor & playfulness, spirituality.

1c. Make the protagonist clever and resourceful.


It seems to me that most good protagonists are both clever and resourceful. They are intelligent and can fix things, both little and big. They can come up with inventive solutions others would never think of. 

Clever characters are quick-witted. They can come up with a blindingly clever retort but without, perhaps, thinking through all the ramifications of what they've just said. (It can, occasionally, be smart not to say something clever.)  

1d. Give the protagonist a wound


Make sure that, in romance writer Terrel Hoffman's words, "In a hero’s character arc, she is missing something so essential that, if she doesn’t find it by story’s end, she’ll fail to achieve her story goal." (For Great Characters it's All About the Wound)

1e. Give the protagonist a guiding principle.


What is your protagonist's guiding principle? What rule do they live by? Turn this into a saying. Almost a tag line for the character.

For example, Poirot's guiding principle is "I do not approve of murder."

1f. Give the protagonist a catch phrase.


For example, two of Poirot's catch phrases are: "My little grey cells," and "I do not approve of murder."

Monk's catch phrase is "It's a gift and a curse."

1g. Give the protagonist likeable qualities.


I've already listed some strengths a character--or, indeed, a person--could have. I think most of these would go toward making a character likable. 

Another thing that works is to show a character being liked by other characters. 

You can also show your character doing something selfless for someone else. Save a cat!

1h. Give the protagonist a quirk


Give your protagonist a reason to be concerned about something, their clothes for instance. Then give your protagonist a reason to continually pay attention to it.

For example, lets say your protagonist, Zoe, buys an expensive dress she can't afford. She plans to wear it once then return it. Her date takes her out for dinner, but at a place that features mud wrestling! Zoe continually worries about staining the dress.

If you can manage it, the silly quirk should contradict the character's strength. For example, Indiana Jones' strength is courage and his silly quirk is fear of snakes.

2. Stakes


Stakes must be clear. What will the protagonist get if she achieves her goal?  What will she lose if she fails to achieve it? 

Also, the stakes must matter to the protagonist.

3. Motivation


The protagonist's motivation must be clear.

Although it seems not everyone draws a distinction between a protagonist's motivation and his desire I find doing this often helps. 

Here's how I look at it: a protagonist's motivation explains why he desires what he does and his goal is a concrete expression of that desire. 

For example, a child might want to win a spelling bee because the school bully taunts him and calls him stupid. In that case, the character's wish to silence the bully would be the protagonist's motivation. His overriding desire, on the other hand, is for people to think he is smart, and the concrete expression of that desire--his goal--is to win the upcoming spelling championship.

4. Goal


The protagonist needs to solve a well defined problem
The protagonist must take decisive action to get what she wants.
The protagonist must want something desperately
Finally, the thing the protagonist wants should be something so concrete that you could take a picture of her doing it.

5. B-Story


The solution to the B-story often provides the protagonist with the solution she needs to finally resolve her dilemma and achieve her goal. (I talk about the b-story a bit in my article on narrative setting.)

6. Antagonist's Goal


The antagonist's goal should be such that if he achieves it the protagonist cannot. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, if Frodo succeeded in destroying the One Ring then Sauron's quest to destroy Middle-earth would fail. On the other hand, if Sauron got the One Ring back then Middle-earth would be destroyed and Frodo would have failed.

The best article on creating an antagonist I've read so far is Jim Butcher's, "How To Build A Villain." If you read that article, don't forget to take a look at JB's comments in the comments section.

Question: What writing advice do you have tacked on the wall above your writing desk? Please share!

Photo credit: "2014-038 this way up" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, April 21

How To Create A Villain Your Readers Will Love To Hate

How To Create A Villain Your Readers Will Love To Hate

Have you ever had the experience of suddenly seeing something everywhere after you begin studying it? Of having something 'on your mind'?

That's what's happening to me with antagonists/villains.

A few days ago Larry Brooks wrote an excellent article, The Flipside of Hero Empathy, about the importance of crafting an antagonist your readers love to hate, and how that generates narrative drive. I thought it was brilliant so I'm sharing it with you. It's all about the basics of the craft, but those are strangely easy to forget.


Empathy


"Your reader needs to feel something for your hero."

We know this. We want our readers to care intensely about our protagonist and about whether he/she will achieve his/her goal.


Dramatic Tension


The antagonist is "the obstacle to the hero's question. Therefore a good antagonist will help build dramatic tension or what I call narrative drive.

The Antagonist


The antagonistic force tries to prevent the protagonist from acquiring his/her goal, often because the antagonist wants it, or something it would lead directly to.

Also, the antagonist is often very much like the protagonist but with one crucial difference. For instance, Luke and Darth Vader were both strong in The Force and both trained as Jedi Knights. One could say that they both wanted what was best but they had very different ideas about what that was.

Similarly, Dr. Belloq was Indiana Jones's antagonist in Raiders of the Lost Ark. They were both archaeologists, they were both passionate about finding and bringing back relics and they both liked Marion Ravenwood, Indiana's old flame. The big difference? People were more important to Indie than relics.


Empathy & Narrative Drive/Dramatic Tension


Larry Brooks holds that if readers have both a) empathy for your protagonist and b) a strong desire to see the antagonist get what's coming to him (/go down in flames) then your story will have oodles and oodles of narrative drive, that couldn't-put-it-down-if-they-tried quality which most of us would like our stories to have.

After all, if readers desperately not only want the hero to achieve his/her goal but want the antagonist to go down in flames then they will keep turning pages until that happens.


The Following


Larry Brooks writes:
I mention this killer (literally) television program [The Following] because it offers one of the most compelling, interesting and deliciously hateable villains, maybe ever.
I haven't watched this series yet, though it's on my to-do list.

Which antagonist(s) do you love to hate?

Other articles you might like:

- Joe Konrath Is Having A 99 Cent Sale
- Dean Wesley Smith Writes A Novel In 10 Days
- How To See Through Your Character's Eyes

Photo credit: "Snow" by Luis Hernandez - D2k6.es under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, December 8

12 Tips On How To Write Antagonists Your Readers Will Love To Hate

How To Write Antagonists Your Readers Will Love To Hate

Who is the most important character in your story? Your protagonist, right? Wrong! It's the antagonist. Or at least that's what Jim Butcher says. He writes:
One of the most critical skills an aspiring writer needs is the ability to build a solid villain. Even the greatest protagonist in the world cannot truly shine without an equally well-rendered opposition. The converse of that statement isn’t true, though—if your protagonist is a little shaky but your villain absolutely shines, you can still tell a very successful story. (How To Build a Villain, Jim Butcher)
Whichever is the most important, the protagonist or antagonist, the protagonist needs a strong adversary. Here are 12 tips for ensuring your antagonist is in tip-top shape:


1. Spend As Much Time Developing Your Antagonist As You Do Your Protagonist


Your antagonist needs goals and obstacles, hopes and fears, just like your protagonist. As Jim Butcher says, arguably, having a strong antagonist is more important than a strong protagonist. (See: Ten Tips for a Terrific Antagonist)


2.  Antagonist and Protagonist Have Conflicting Goals


If the antagonist gets their way the protagonist doesn't and vice versa. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, if Sauron gets the One Ring then Frodo has failed to destroy it in the fires of Mt. Doom.


3. Antagonist and Protagonist Have Conflicting Characteristics


In Die Hard protagonist John McClane (Bruce Willis) cares about other people, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) not so much. John McClane cares most about his job and his family, especially his estranged wife. Hans Gruber cares most about the millions of dollars he's going to steal from the vault. And so on.

It's interesting that in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone many of Severus Snape's (also played by Alan Rickman) characteristics were the opposite of Harry's and this was partly why it was so easy to think he was the one out to get Harry.


4. The Antagonist Drives The Conflict


Without the antagonist's dastardly plans, the hero would have nothing to do.

For instance, before Changes begins Harry Dresden's having a grand old time. This peacefulness is shattered when his ex-girlfriend calls and tells him (surprise!) he has a daughter and that she's been kidnapped by Red Court vampires.

If the Red Court hadn't taken Harry's daughter he'd have had time for an afternoon nap and a leisurely dinner at McAnally's. But that wouldn't have been terribly exciting.


5. Outline Your Book From The Antagonist's Point Of View


Kathy Steffen writes:
As Donald Maass suggests in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, outline your book from the antagonist’s point of view. Not every scene, but give him an outline with steps throughout the story so you clearly see the path he will take through your book. Whether you do it at the beginning, middle, or end of writing your book, this is a wonderful way to strengthen conflict in your story.  (Ten Tips for a Terrific Antagonist)


6. The Antagonist Is The Hero Of Their Own Story


Many antagonists think they're the good guy. Like Col. Jessep in A Few Good Men, the antagonist does terrible things to protect the group. He is the necessary evil doing what needs to be done for the greater good.

Or not.

Hans Gruber in Die Hard was motivated solely by the bottom line. He wanted money, lots of it, and didn't give a fig who he had to kill to get it. Different strokes. But I bet in Gruber's own mind having a lot of money made him a success and, at least in that minimal respect, we could relate to him.

I think what matters is that the antagonist is as fully fleshed out a character as your protagonist. That means giving her goals, motivations, fears, likes, dislikes, phobias, and so on. She has to have both strong points and faults, likable qualities and detestable ones.

Once your antagonist has fears and hopes and weaknesses it's hard to see them as pure evil. But that's good because it's much more interesting.


7. Don't Make Your Antagonist Too Powerful


If they are too powerful it's difficult to relate to them. Give your antagonist at least one weakness.


8. Don't Make Your Antagonist Too Weak


If they are too weak then there isn't enough conflict. We're not really worried for the protagonist. There's nothing to root for.


9. Have A Moment Of Connection With The Antagonist


Even if he's a complete jerk, find one point of connection, one point of contact, between your readers and the antagonist. Find the last surviving ember of his humanity. Fan that ember to life and show it to your audience.

Chuck Wendig says it best:
[M]ake me connect with him: something he does, something he believes, should be something I would do, something I believe. Or connect me to his past — help me understand ... (25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists)

10. Give The Antagonist An Arc


Just as your protagonist changes through the course of your story, so should your antagonist. For instance, at the beginning the antagonist might be a careful planner, over-confident and jolly and at the end she is paranoid, reckless and vindictive. (Though I guess it's not paranoia if everyone is out to get you!)


11. Give Your Antagonist A Kick-The-Cat Moment


This point comes from Chuck Wendeg:
In Blake Snyder’s books, he speaks of giving the hero a “Save the Cat” moment — meaning, we get to rally behind the protagonist early on as we get to see just what he’s capable of because, y’know, he rescues the cat from the tree (metaphorically). Antagonists need the reverse: one requires a “Kick the Cat” moment (see also: “Detonate the Puppy,” “Machine Gun the Dolphin,” or “Force the Baby Seal to Watch a Marathon of the Real Houswives ...). We need to see just why the antagonist is the antagonist — show us an act that reveals for us the depths of his trouble-making, his hatred, his perversion of the ethical laws and social mores of man.
Just as we need to show that our protagonist is a good guy by having him do something good, so we need to show that the antagonist is a bad, bad person, by having him (or her) do something horrible.


12. Let Your Antagonist Win Occasionally


Let the antagonist win. Sometimes. He's going to lose at the end, and lose big, so give the guy a break and let him (or her) win every onece in a while. Besides, it'll keep your readers guessing and interested.


13. Make An Antagonist Your Readers Will Love To Hate


The goal of writing is to create stories that move your readers emotionally.

Your antagonist can help you with this, but it all depends on your readers truly hating him. And not just hating him, loving to hate him. If your readers don't despise your antagonist as the lowest form of pond muck then, chances are, they won't like your protagonist much either.

Check Wendig writes:
[T]he biggest and best test of an antagonist is that I want to a) love to hate them and/or b) hate to love them. Do either or both and it’s a major win. If you make me love them and I feel uncomfortable about that? You win. If you( make me despise them and I love despising them the way a dog loves to roll around in roadkill? You win again. I hate that I love Hans Gruber. I love that I hate every Nazi in every Indiana Jones movie. ... [M]ake me feel something. (25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists)

Further Reading:

- Jim Butcher: How to Build a Villain
- Chuck Wendig: 25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists
- Kathy Steffen: Ten Tips for a Terrific Antagonist

Other articles you might like:

- Editing & Critiquing
- The Albee Agency: Writers Beware
- Connie Willis And 11 Ways To Write Great Dialogue

Photo credit: "Who dressed YOU?" by juhansonin under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, November 30

NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!

NaNoWriMo Ends. Editing Begins!

If you participated in NaNoWriMo 2012 you're a winner! It's the end of the month and you survived with your sanity (more-or-less) intact.

Whatever your word count, this should be a day of celebration. You wrote more than you normally do, you stretched yourself as a writer, and are heading into December with what Jim Butcher called writing momentum. Because I think his advice is fabulous I'm going to include it here even though I posted about it only a few days ago.
Write every day.

Even if you only write a little bit, even if you only write a sentence or a word, write. Because, even if you've just written a word, you're one word closer to the end of the book than you were at the beginning of the day, and that's progress.

Writing is about momentum, so get that momentum, set your time aside every day and stay honest.  (Jim Butcher's Advice For New Writers: Write Every Day)

What The Future Holds: Editing


For those of you who did finish and wrote 50,000 words over the course of November, you rock! But it's not over. You have a first draft. Great! Now put it in a drawer and back away slowwwly.


1. Take A Break


Resist the urge to read your manuscript over. Let it rest. Stephen King usually gives it about six weeks, but do what feels right for you. I think that having at least a week off would be an excellent idea.

Part of the reason for giving yourself a break is so that you'll be able to come back and, to a certain extent, read your story with fresh eyes. Passages you thought blazed with unsurpassed brilliance and creativity will seem less brilliant (after all, you were sleep deprived and over-caffeinated) but parts that you thought hadn't turned out as well as you wanted may strike you as pretty darn good.


2. Read Your Manuscript Through But DO NOT EDIT IT


When you come back to your manuscript read it through once, from beginning to end, but DO NOT EDIT IT.

Because you've gotten some distance from the story you will have forgotten some of its twists and turns. Given that, it would be BAD to make major alterations before you've loaded the story back into your noggin.

I know it's agonizingly hard to read your work without editing it. Or perhaps that's just me. It's like torture. But your restraint will pay off.

By all means, take lots of notes about what you'd like to change, but put them in a different file, or you could even use a paper notebook. I often enjoy the act of writing on a physical page when I'm taking notes.


3. Unleash Your Inner Editor


During NaNoWriMo I've been saying to people, "Take your inner editor, tie her up, and lock her in a closet." Now it's time to let her out (and hope she's not too grumpy). Now you want to think about how other people would read your story.

Here's a rule of thumb: 

Above all else, you want your story to be clear. Remove anything that doesn't serve to push your story forward.

For each element of your story look at it and ask yourself, "Does this need to be here? Would the story be the same without it?" If its absence would leave the story unchanged, be ruthless and cut.

Protagonist's goals: 

Is it clear what your protagonist wants? What their external goal is? For instance, winning the hand of the princess, finding the golden bird, bringing back the lost ark, and so on.

How about your protagonist's inner goal? How do they need to change in order to get what they truly want? For instance, Shrek was lonely, isolated. He wanted friends, but in order to get them he had to change and let people in.

Subplots:

How many subplots do you have? If you want to write an 80,000 word story and this is your first book you could go easy on yourself and have only one, or perhaps two. If you're writing a 40,000 word novella (which I think would be an excellent thing to do!) you wouldn't need any sub-plots. Again, this advice is for new writers, if this isn't your first book you know best what you're comfortable with.

Characters:

If a character doesn't do anything to advance the plot get rid of him. Or perhaps you could combine him/her with another character.

Backstory:

You only want to include what is relevant to the other characters in the novel at the time it's given. Robert Sawyer gave a beautiful example of this. (Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling)

Best of luck as you continue to work on your novel! Do you have any advice you'd like to pass on?

Here are a few articles about editing:

- Creating Memorable Supporting Characters
- Editing: Make Sure Your Story's Bones Are Strong
- Robert J. Sawyer: Showing Not Telling
- 11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings
- Check Your Writing For Adverbs And Other Problem Words: MS Word Macros
- How To Find The Right Freelance Editor For You
- Want Help With Editing? Try Free Editing Programs

Photo credit: "The BIG Guy" by VinothChandar under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.