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Monday, June 30, 2014

Introducing Your Characters in Act 1

Some stories introduce characters as people and then let the reader/audience discover their roles and relationships afterward. This tends to help an audience identify with the characters.
Other stories put roles first, so that we know about the person by their function and/or job, then get closer to them as the act progresses. This tends to make the reader/audience pigeon-hole the characters by stereotype, and then draw them into learning more about the actual people behind the masks.
Finally, there are stories that introduce character relationships, either situational, structural, or emotional, at the beginning. This causes the audience to see the problems among the characters but not take sides as strongly until they can learn about the people on each side of the relationship, and the roles that constrain them.
Of course, you do not have to treat these introductions equally for all characters and relationships. For example, you might introduce on character as a person, then introduce their relationship with another character, then divulge the constraints the other character is under due to role, then revel the other character as a person.
This approach would initially cast sympathy (or derision) at the first character, temper it by showing a relationship with which he or she must contend, then temper that relationship by showing the constraints of the other character, and finally humanize that other character so a true objective balance can be formed by the reader/audience.
Don’t forget that first impressions stick in our minds, and it is much easier to judge someone initially than to change that judgment later. Use this trait of audiences to quickly identify important characters up front, or to put their complete situations later, thereby forcing the reader/audience to reconsider its attitudes, and thereby learn and grow.
No matter what approach you take, you have the opportunity to weave a complex experience for your reader/audience, blending factual, logistic information about your characters with the reader/audience emotional experience in discovering this information.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Character Dismissals

Over the course of the story, your reader/audience has come to know your characters and to feel for them. The story doesn’t end when your characters and their relationships reach a climax. Rather, the reader/audience will want to know the aftermath – how it turned out for each character and each relationship. In addition, the audience needs a little time to say goodbye – to let the character walk off into the sunset or to mourn for them before the story ends.
This is in effect the conclusion, the wrap-up. After everything has happened to your characters, after the final showdown with their respective demons, what are they like? How have they changed? If a character began the story as a skeptic, does it now have faith? If they began the story full of hatred for a mother that abandoned them, have they now made revelations to the effect that she was forced to do this, and now they no longer hate? This is what you have to tell the audience, how their journeys changed them, have the resolved their problems, or not?
And in the end, this constitutes a large part of your story’s message. It is not enough to know if a story ends in success or failure, but also if the characters are better off emotionally or plagued with even greater demons, regardless of whether or not the goal was achieved.
You can show what happens to your characters directly, through a conversation by others about them, or even in a post-script on each that appears after the story is over or in the ending credits of a movie.
How you do this is limited only by your creative inspiration, but make sure you review each character and each relationship and provide at least a minimal dismissal for each.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Revealing Your Story's Goal

While the structural nature of a story’s goal is crucial to developing a plot that makes sense, the storytelling manner in which the goal is revealed can determine whether a plot seems clever or pedestrian. In this tip, we’ll explore the impact of some of the key methods of revealing your goal.
Sometimes the goal is spelled out right at the beginning, such as a meeting in which a General tells a special strike unit that a senator’s daughter has been kidnapped by terrorists and they must rescue her.
Other times, the goal is hidden behind an apparent goal. So, if your story had used the scene described above, it might turn out that was really just a cover story and in fact, the supposed “daughter” was actually an agent who was assigned to identify and kill a double agent working in the strike team.
Goals may also be revealed slowly, such as in “The Godfather,” where it takes the entire film to realize the goal is to keep the family alive by replacing the aging Don with a younger member of the family.
Further, in “The Godfather,” as in many Alfred Hitchcock films, the goal is not nearly as important as the chase or the inside information or the thematic atmosphere. So don’t feel obligated to elevate every story point to the same level.
As long as each key story point is there in some way, to some degree of importance, there will be no story hole. You may still have a lot of interest in that story point, however. A character’s personal goal, for example, may touch on an issue that you want to explore in greater detail.
When this is the case, let your imagination run wild. Jot down as many instances as come to mind in which the particular plot point comes into play. Such events, moments, or scenarios enrich a story and add passion to a perfunctory telling of the tale.
One of the best ways to do this is to consider how each plot point might affect other plot points, and other story points pertaining to characters, theme, and genre.
For example, each character sees the overall goal as a step in helping them accomplish their personal goals. So, why not create a scenario where a character wistfully describes his personal goal to another character while sitting around a campfire? He can explain how achievement of the overall story goal will help him get what he personally wants.
An example of this is in the John Wayne classic movie, “The Searchers.” John Wayne’s character asks an old, mentally slow friend to help search for the missing girl. Finding the girl is the overall goal. The friend has a personal goal – he tells Wayne that he just wants a roof over his head and a rocking chair by the fire. This character sees his participation in the effort to achieve the goal as the means of obtaining something he has personally longed for.
And how does your story goal exemplify or affect the moral message of your story as part of the theme? When you see the story goal mentioned in your story synopsis, see if you can incorporate aspects of theme, and when you see theme, try to add a reference to the goal.
In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain has the boy cooking up some food for Tom Sawyer. He puts all the vegetables and meat in the same pan and explain that his pop taught him that food is better when the flavors all “swap around” a bit. The same is true for stories. Don’t just speak about goal, speak about goal in reference to as many other story points as you can.