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Barbara

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Nov 10, 2017
Cambridgeshire
For the first time in my life I'm actually PLANNING my novel. I'm not a natural planner. I'm a seeing-what-happens writer who enjoys evolving the characters as she goes. Hence making a road map in advance is going to be a tad different.

Needless to say, I'm already finding myself with decisions I've never had to make before. My main character is going to be a charming misguided baddie on a downward spiral. In a sense, his 'character arch' (not sure if that's the right word) will have to be completed at the start of the novel, so that he can 'fall to pieces' and unravel during the story to make his his actions work throughout.

The problem is this: I've noticed this is a hec of a lot of character development at the beginning, tons of 'info' which I feel has to go in there. I then have to throw a lot of cr*p at him straight away to get him onto the path to hell. Now, how much of 'him' do I concentrate on. I have to cover his difficult past, his present situation, his weaknesses, addictions, flaws and fears etc, of course. There is a reason he is a bit of a nutty creature. But can I realistically use all his totality at the beginning without making the novel too full and confusing from the off? Should I stick to one one side of him, and then build him slowly, bit by bit before I make him go down hill? Or is this simply a case of doing what Agent Pete always says: More meaning from less words. Can a main character be too complex at the start? Would he turn into an over-worked caricature who annoys the readers?

Too many questions for a Friday. Or maybe it's a no brainer, and I'm just concerned with nonsense I should actually know by now. Any thoughts, anyone?
 
They say every writer starts in the middle of the story regarding your novel. I know, even though you start from chapter one.
There are many ways to bring out your characters personality dialogue is the most common - how he interacts with characters and you know they too should all have their own distinct voices too.
Another way you could do it - is how he reacts in certain situations such as his morals such as his cynicism and lack of respect for authority etc.
And they say like all of us - there is both good and bad in us certain emotions/people/influences can make them come out.
I'm I making sense? I'm I helping? Or I'm I barking up the wrong tree.
Flashbacks are very effective if used sparingly - and always use something that takes them back and something that brings them back to the present and you need to clearly show your readers that.
Prologues also but I think personally that benefits your story not your characters
I think it would help to share a snippet about him or here :)
 
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H
They say every writer starts in the middle of the story regarding your novel. I know, even though you start from chapter one.
There are many ways to bring out your characters personality dialogue is the most common - how he interacts with characters and you know they too should all have their own distinct voices too.
Another way you could do it - is how he reacts in certain situations such as his morals such as his cynicism and lack of respect for authority etc.
And they say like all of us - there is both good and bad in us certain emotions/people/influences can make them come out.
I'm a making sense? I'm I helping? Or I'm I barking up the wrong tree.
Flashbacks are very effective if used sparingly - and always use something that takes them back and something that brings them back to the present and you need to clearly show your readers that.
Prologues also but I think personally that benefits your story not your characters
I think it would help to share a snippet about him or here :)
Hey A. Thanks for your response. I shall ponder it. The thing is, I need him at a certain point straight off and don't have much time to show him with flashbacks, dialogue, prologue etc. I don't want to spend too much time on how he got to be the way he is. I will show him through dialogue most likely. The thing is that leaves me with an unlikable, complex character, with slightly strange thoughts. I'm not sure if I'm making sense. But yes, I give your response some thought.
 
So, you're writing a tragedy. No problem. Watch The Godfather (parts 1 & 2), make a note each time Al Pacino takes a new turn. Apply the notes to your story and bingo, instant bestseller.

Seriously though, the character arc is just the journey between how the character is on page 1 to how they are on the last page. Everything that came before page 1 is backstory. And you want to let that stuff out slowly, or it gets very dull very fast.

Set up your dude by showing us how he is now. As your story develops, you can drop in any backstory that we have to understand. You don't need to do it all at once.
 
... The thing is, I need him at a certain point straight off and don't have much time to show him with flashbacks, dialogue, prologue etc. I don't want to spend too much time on how he got to be the way he is. I will show him through dialogue most likely. The thing is that leaves me with an unlikable, complex character, with slightly strange thoughts.
So give him a likeable, or at least compelling, trait. You're the boss, after all.;)
 
In a sense, his 'character arch' (not sure if that's the right word) will have to be completed at the start of the novel, so that he can 'fall to pieces' and unravel during the story to make his his actions work throughout.
Just to clarify, do you mean that the reader will begin at the end, and the story is one of reminiscence, as the hero looks back on his life? Or is this the hero's second journey, as it were?
 
Just to clarify, do you mean that the reader will begin at the end, and the story is one of reminiscence, as the hero looks back on his life? Or is this the hero's second journey, as it were?
It'll sort of be his second journey. He's slightly disturbed already but more in his potential to be disturbed, if that makes sense. Then stuff happens and he crashes big time, killing people as he sinks.
 
So, you're writing a tragedy. No problem. Watch The Godfather (parts 1 & 2), make a note each time Al Pacino takes a new turn. Apply the notes to your story and bingo, instant bestseller.

Seriously though, the character arc is just the journey between how the character is on page 1 to how they are on the last page. Everything that came before page 1 is backstory. And you want to let that stuff out slowly, or it gets very dull very fast.

Set up your dude by showing us how he is now. As your story develops, you can drop in any backstory that we have to understand. You don't need to do it all at once.
Rich, you have a way of seeing clearly. You make so much sense. The cloud is lifting; my foggy brain clearing. Thanks for that.
 
Hi Barbara,

I don't like plotting either. I have a story I'm trying to plot. It's my first time. I'm a virgin.

It looks like you already have a lot of suggestions and I might repeat some of them. If so, I apologize. Or, if you already know this, then ignore me and hopefully, forgive me.

A lot of the character building you'll do before you even start to write. Sometimes you might start writing and the scene is really a scene you don't need for the story. However, in the process of writing the scene, you learn more about the character. Don't be afraid to trash these scenes. Although, you might keep them in a separate file.

After you do all of your character building, what I suggest is opening the novel/story with a scene which tells us who he is -- quintessentially. You don't need a lot of back story. You can let his actions speak for him. Think about people you know, think of things they've done where you would say, "Oh, that's SO Barbara." Or whomever. Of course, you want it to apply to the plot too. So, you might have to try several on for size.

Then throw stuff at him and let him slowly unravel. I'm imaginging this imaginary guy and it might be fun for him to have a moment of hope before it all unravels. I don't know.

Layer hints about what's really going on with him, I assume, the situation which really messed him up, in from the beginning. You don't need a lot. Try to resist explaining and let the hints, whether they take the form of a quip or an internal thought or something he does, speak for themselves.

Good luck with it.
 
A character profile is a good foundation to use. I have a character profile for all my characters pen-written on paper. I can PM you a sample if you like. I went back to it everytime I questioned my scenes etc. I asked myself what is the point of this scene? What do I want the readers to know about him? It’s so useful it really is :)
 
A character profile is a good foundation to use. I have a character profile for all my characters pen-written on paper. I can PM you a sample if you like. I went back to it everytime I questioned my scenes etc. I asked myself what is the point of this scene? What do I want the readers to know about him? It’s so useful it really is :)

Thank you Alix for your kind offer.

Yes, I'm using my character thingymybobs from my acting days. I'm a method actress so they are pretty deep. They even include the question: What kind of vegetable would your character be? ... Dare I admit that, during a rehearsal, I once had to play a scene as a carrot? Well, I guess I just did admit this, my darkest secret, but I'm not going to write the novel as a broccoli.

But if you have a mo, I wouldn't mind having a look at the character sheets you have.
 
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Hi Barbara,

I don't like plotting either. I have a story I'm trying to plot. It's my first time. I'm a virgin.

It looks like you already have a lot of suggestions and I might repeat some of them. If so, I apologize. Or, if you already know this, then ignore me and hopefully, forgive me.

A lot of the character building you'll do before you even start to write. Sometimes you might start writing and the scene is really a scene you don't need for the story. However, in the process of writing the scene, you learn more about the character. Don't be afraid to trash these scenes. Although, you might keep them in a separate file.

After you do all of your character building, what I suggest is opening the novel/story with a scene which tells us who he is -- quintessentially. You don't need a lot of back story. You can let his actions speak for him. Think about people you know, think of things they've done where you would say, "Oh, that's SO Barbara." Or whomever. Of course, you want it to apply to the plot too. So, you might have to try several on for size.

Then throw stuff at him and let him slowly unravel. I'm imaginging this imaginary guy and it might be fun for him to have a moment of hope before it all unravels. I don't know.

Layer hints about what's really going on with him, I assume, the situation which really messed him up, in from the beginning. You don't need a lot. Try to resist explaining and let the hints, whether they take the form of a quip or an internal thought or something he does, speak for themselves.

Good luck with it.

Hi @Amber

Thank you so much for your response. Your advice is really good, and helpful. Actually you have just given me the green light to write a scene I had in mind which won't fit into the novel time-line wise. I didn't want to 'waste my time' with it so to speak, but after what you said, I shall write it anyway.

And you make a lot of sense when you say to open with a scene that is 'Oh, so the character.' And I like your suggestion of a moment of hope. Actually, that would be pretty important for what I'm trying to do with him.

I'm going to make myself a 'check list' with all your advice, then tick it off as I go. Thank you so much.
 
I’ll type it and send it to you. My hand-written writers notes are scribbles and very untidy. I’ll send you the character profile of one of my main characters I have two - Abe Gray or Angelique Gray - take your pick :)
 
I’ll type it and send it to you. My hand-written writers notes are scribbles and very untidy. I’ll send you the character profile of one of my main characters I have two - Abe Gray or Angelique Gray - take your pick :)
Jolly nice. Thank you. Much appreciated. Maybe PM one of them, which ever is shorter to save you having to type too much.
 
Sounds like you have a lot of great advice already. Starting with a character sketch for each main character is essential, IMHO. How can you write how your characters will respond with any consistency if you don't know them as individuals? Being able to keep that personality throughout the story is what makes them real - what makes them pop off the page for readers. It also makes showing the arc easier. And the thing is, your readers don't have to know every single thing that you do about those characters as the story progresses. Those sketches are more for you so that when you write their dialogue and emotional or non-verbal responses, you understand them as real people. Each of us responds differently in situations, so that's what you're going for. A completely fleshed-out human being so that all your characters don't end up speaking or acting the same way. With your acting background, you probably already know this. :)

One thing I haven't seen mentioned that I'd like to toss out there for your consideration is making sure you also write down your character's goal, motivation, and conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Even though your main character is beginning the story in a failed state, there still needs to be some sort of conflict, even if it's an internal one. Maybe he knows he's on a downward spiral but continues to make bad decisions? Maybe someone significant in his life is trying to stop him but he ignores that person, and this causes him further emotional grief?

He also needs a goal, because every action and reaction in that story needs a purpose. Your character is trying to reach his goal. In this case, rather than viewing him as having a completed arc at the beginning of the story, maybe you could consider something tempting him that is the goal? You mention him as a misguided baddie. This might be something he knows is really not good for him, but he has to have it. You could use something in his past to make this goal believable. Or, someone he meets that turns his head from his current path, and starts him on this downward spiral, but that goal is out there, hanging in space, all shiny and he must have it no matter what. Even if he knows on some level it's not good for him. Goals don't have to be right or good, but they do need to be believable. There has to be a defining moment - some reason - this man starts on a downward path.

This way, every action and reaction in your story will have believable motivation. Your main character is trying to reach that goal. He knows it's not good for him, the reader knows it's not good for him, but because you gave a compelling, authentic reason for him wanting it anyway at the beginning of the story, it will work.

As for the background you mention, you can dribble that in bit by bit as memories that surface, other characters talking about when he was different and did this or that, to show the readers just how far downward he's come. To give them a sense that he wasn't always like this. Hope this makes sense. :)

Debra Dixon is the author of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. This book is my BIBLE. I use these principles in every book I write. It applies to ANY genre fiction, and keeps you on track as you progress through a character arc She uses well-known movies to illustrate the principles, and to show how those highly commercially successful movies can still be broken down into these simple building blocks. By the way, if anyone reading this decides to buy the book, I'd highly recommend you do so from the link above. It's WAY overpriced on Amazon.

Simply put, you decide what your character's goal is. This doesn't have to be something life-changing or earth shattering. One of the examples she uses is from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's goal is to return home. That's it. But it's also what drives each of her actions and reactions throughout the movie. She encounters plenty of conflicts, both internal and external, but her motivation in the face of each of them is to reach her goal - to get back home.

The idea here being that every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every reaction has a purpose in your story. Your character is trying to accomplish his or her goal. This prevents filler that serves no purpose in the story, and keeps you as an author on track so the arc doesn't wander all over the place, or get lost entirely.

I hope this helps. If you have any further questions about GMC, or how it might be used in your story, please just ask. I'm more than happy to help. :)
 
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Check your inbox B. :)
 
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Sounds like you have a lot of great advice already. Starting with a character sketch for each main character is essential, IMHO. How can you write how your characters will respond with any consistency if you don't know them as individuals? Being able to keep that personality throughout the story is what makes them real - what makes them pop off the page for readers. It also makes showing the arc easier. And the thing is, your readers don't have to know every single thing that you do about those characters as the story progresses. Those sketches are more for you so that when you write their dialogue and emotional or non-verbal responses, you understand them as real people. Each of us responds differently in situations, so that's what you're going for. A completely fleshed-out human being so that all your characters don't end up speaking or acting the same way. With your acting background, you probably already know this. :)

One thing I haven't seen mentioned that I'd like to toss out there for your consideration is making sure you also write down your character's goal, motivation, and conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Even though your main character is beginning the story in a failed state, there still needs to be some sort of conflict, even if it's an internal one. Maybe he knows he's on a downward spiral but continues to make bad decisions? Maybe someone significant in his life is trying to stop him but he ignores that person, and this causes him further emotional grief?

He also needs a goal, because every action and reaction in that story needs a purpose. Your character is trying to reach his goal. In this case, rather than viewing him as having a completed arc at the beginning of the story, maybe you could consider something tempting him that is the goal? You mention him as a misguided baddie. This might be something he knows is really not good for him, but he has to have it. You could use something in his past to make this goal believable. Or, someone he meets that turns his head from his current path, and starts him on this downward spiral, but that goal is out there, hanging in space, all shiny and he must have it no matter what. Even if he knows on some level it's not good for him. Goals don't have to be right or good, but they do need to be believable. There has to be a defining moment - some reason - this man starts on a downward path.

This way, every action and reaction in your story will have believable motivation. Your main character is trying to reach that goal. He knows it's not good for him, the reader knows it's not good for him, but because you gave a compelling, authentic reason for him wanting it anyway at the beginning of the story, it will work.

As for the background you mention, you can dribble that in bit by bit as memories that surface, other characters talking about when he was different and did this or that, to show the readers just how far downward he's come. To give them a sense that he wasn't always like this. Hope this makes sense. :)

Debra Dixon is the author of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. This book is my BIBLE. I use these principles in every book I write. It applies to ANY genre fiction, and keeps you on track as you progress through a character arc She uses well-known movies to illustrate the principles, and to show how those highly commercially successful movies can still be broken down into these simple building blocks. By the way, if anyone reading this decides to buy the book, I'd highly recommend you do so from the link above. It's WAY overpriced on Amazon.

Simply put, you decide what your character's goal is. This doesn't have to be something life-changing or earth shattering. One of the examples she uses is from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's goal is to return home. That's it. But it's also what drives each of her actions and reactions throughout the movie. She encounters plenty of conflicts, both internal and external, but her motivation in the face of each of them is to reach her goal - to get back home.

The idea here being that every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every reaction has a purpose in your story. Your character is trying to accomplish his or her goal. This prevents filler that serves no purpose in the story, and keeps you as an author on track so the arc doesn't wander all over the place, or get lost entirely.

I hope this helps. If you have any further questions about GMC, or how it might be used in your story, please just ask. I'm more than happy to help. :)

Wow, Carol. This is really good. Erm, have you ever considered teaching? I'd def sign up for that course. I'm really touched at the amount of help I've been getting from you, as well as the colony. And thank you for such a comprehensive response.

The thing is, I've been working on him for a few weeks now, trying to figure out every last detail about him to make sure his psychological pathology works. And I think I've been trying to cram it all into the story. I forgot that not all of it needs to go in there. Normally, I feel a character as I write, but with the advanced planning thing I'm doing, I've been living too much in my head.

The goal and motivations etc are already in place, but this is where I got muddled. I'm writing it backwards, in the sense that I've already got the ending (a scene which I wrote for a comp.) I'm now trying to work out how and what kind of a character would end up in this situation. So I've been looking at the motivations and goals which would get him into that situation, then work his personality around that. But I'm probably doing this wrong way round. Basically, his downward spiral starts when he decides to get his life back on track (he's a compulsive gambler with massive debt), but it all goes wrong. Of course, it then goes from bad to worse. He loses control and eventually self-destructs, killing others in the process and getting a kick out of it.

I have to admit, writing this novel scares me a bit. A big bit. It currently feels like a grand, insurmountable mountain. But then again, mountains are here for skiing.

I'll look into Debra Dixons book. Thanks for the tip.

Thank you again, and to all Litopians, for taking the time to give this so much consideration. I shall now go back to creating my own headache. :):eek:
 
Very glad to help, @Barbara! :)

I actually think you have a cool concept here and don't need to write it backwards. From what you've added here, I think it would work just fine starting where he decides to get his life back on track, but it goes down from there. Maybe he can do something really bone-headed to get it back on track - something that he knows is not a great idea, but for a plausible reason (again, this might come from his background), he does it anyway. Or, he could decide to get his life back on track for the wrong reasons, so the decisions he makes might be good ones under different circumstances, but not in this case.

And from there, it spirals downward as the chain reaction is set up. Maybe he has a history of making bad decisions (which is how he ended up with massive gambling debts!) and so in trying to fix his life, only ends up reverting to the same pattern, but in his mind, he justifies the decisions and tries to convince himself and everyone around him that he's making better decisions?

Hope this makes sense. :)
 
Very glad to help, @Barbara! :)

I actually think you have a cool concept here and don't need to write it backwards. From what you've added here, I think it would work just fine starting where he decides to get his life back on track, but it goes down from there. Maybe he can do something really bone-headed to get it back on track - something that he knows is not a great idea, but for a plausible reason (again, this might come from his background), he does it anyway. Or, he could decide to get his life back on track for the wrong reasons, so the decisions he makes might be good ones under different circumstances, but not in this case.

And from there, it spirals downward as the chain reaction is set up. Maybe he has a history of making bad decisions (which is how he ended up with massive gambling debts!) and so in trying to fix his life, only ends up reverting to the same pattern, but in his mind, he justifies the decisions and tries to convince himself and everyone around him that he's making better decisions?

Hope this makes sense. :)

This makes a lot of sense. And yes, he will do something he knows isn't a great idea, but 'Hey, it's a bit of a gamble but it might just work out.'. Only, it doesn't.
 
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