Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Got Glue?

Planting your characters and sticking them to the story.

Whenever an author needs to 'plant' a character, it means they have to give them purpose in the story and a personality. Normally, through actions, dialog or introspection the character is given a basis. Basis is the bargain basement basic of planting a character.

This 'basis' sketches the character. It tells or shows the reader how the character will act. Are they responsible or reckless? A free spirit or mired down by life? This isn't an all inclusive list, but you get the idea.

A writer should approach this basis as the beginning of their character arc. Their hero/heroine/sidekick/ensemble character is this way—but when they end the story they will be this way. Some characters will not change as much as others. In most of my stories, it is the heroine who does the most changing, but not always. Even with characters who aren't going to shift enormously, they still have basis.

It's through this basis that the characters become glued to the story.

Going back to Star Wars, I'll show you some examples.

Qi Gon – From the moment the story opens, there is no doubt he is an educated warrior. This is based on any religion where education as much as fighting ability leads to enlightenment.

He is also a mentor. Mentor characters rarely change a great deal in a story. There are other issues with them that I won't go into here, but for the sake of this post, I will say, a mentor figure is the character who stands heads and shoulders above all the rest. There is almost always a line of dialog where he reminds his protégé that he saved him. The protégé may not agree with this line, but it establishes that the mentor is a hero.

Qi Gon is the voice of reason for The Phantom Menace. He is also the basis for the Jedi. This is why mentor figures in Star Wars are important and prevalent – as the characters change so does the force (ties characters to the unseen force). {Gandulf is another great example of a mentor figure}.

Obi Wan – The sidekick or protégé. He is also an educated warrior. He is sketched at the beginning as the loyal follower. The premise is a good follower will eventually make a good leader if he is educated by an honorable man.

Though, he hasn't reached his full potential, or the title Jedi, he is close when The Phantom Menace opens. Some would say, he doesn't reach his full potential until Star Wars Movie I, but it remains, he does change in The Phantom Menace.

He becomes the mentor figure upon Qi Gon's death. Once the Attack of the Clones begins (a time progression of about eight years), he has taken on the role Qi Gon played in The Phantom Menace.

Because these are movies – the changes are seen literally if you look very hard. A trick that can help writer's who struggle with planting characters is to pull up the chapter or scene menu for a movie. Watch the first chapter to three chapters. If you are watching a television series – use only the first chapter. You may want to note how the characters are sketched the moment they are introduced to the scene.

So, now, I ask you – how do you plant your characters? Do you believe finding their basis is important or not?

Until next time – cheers and happy writing.



Sandy said...

Great subject, T.J., and one I need work on. Thank goodness, my mentor keeps reminding me to place my characters.

I may start to get it before I die. lol


Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Great article, T.J. Very informative. The example of Obi Wan was also very easy to grasp.

GMC allows me to plant my characters at the start of the story. Along with character sketches, I know who they are and where they come from, and where they're going. The plot is their journey. The end, the destination. As the writer, I know the destination, which allows me to steer the character on his/her journey (the plot). Knowing the journey too is vital here, otherwise you run the risk of getting lost.

Just like a person takes a trip and arrives at the destination a little weary, dirty, and having been privy to new sights, scents, sounds and meetings along the way, that's how my characters reach the end.

Again, very good article.



Angela Guillaume said...

This is great Lee. It shows the importance of plotting out in detail and knowing exactly where the characters are going and where they came from. Excellent example with Qi Gon and Obi Wan. Thanks!