Progress report – stuckish

Storm

Did I mention I gave up on trying to finish the book before fixing the main character? No? Well, that’s because I haven’t been on here much lately. I should be, it’s good for me, forces me to write more.

Anyhow, I have been working on my book, but haven’t managed to finish those last pesky few chapters. I got stuck. In part, I’m tired from my day job – this is our busy season, and also because I wasn’t able to make chapter 17 work. The reason I couldn’t make it work has to do with the fact that it’s the point in the story where the main character has to make some decisions. Since the character started out so weak, it had no punch and basically fell flat for me as both a reader and writer.

How am I supposed to make the reader care about the character and decisions he’s having to make if they didn’t care about him in the first place? Well, that’s a good question. So, stuck as I am, I went back to chapter one, and stared at it for a day or two. No help there. So, I went back further to a page or three of back-story that won’t ever see the light of day (at least not in the book). I wrote my character with a new perspective. Gave him a reason to fall into the circumstances that come later. In a few sentences, I laid out his world view in something like a monologue. This seemed to work. Of course, it means re-writing the entire book as it is so far. Not awesome, not awesome at all, but necessary. That said, I’m not really changing the plot or the events, more the reaction to those events, and perhaps a little be of how those elements of plot are arrived at.

What was good about this approach though is that if I get stuck or the story starts to seem flimsy, I can refer back to that bit of writing to remind me how the character is supposed to react. So far, I’m back up to chapter 12. One interesting side effect of revising the main character in this manner is that it gives the main supporting character more to work with thus making him stronger as well.

At this point if you’re not asking, why didn’t I just do this to begin with? you probably should be. Truth is, I thought I had. I wrote a whole long chapter of back story, but it didn’t really get at his motivations and perspective. Most of the other character’s I’ve tried to write usually start out fairly strong in my mind, but this character never has. It’s one of the reasons this project took so long to get off the ground.

I’ve still got lots of polishing to do, but now I feel like I’m once again making progress – even if I still haven’t actually finished the first draft.

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The ruggedly handsome rogue hero.

I suppose the ruggedly handsome rogue hero, is technically more appropriately called the lovable rogue, but I like my description better. I could try to write a how-to here, but that’s pointless, because there’s a lot of that out there and everything I’ve seen I generally disagree with to a certain extent. I’m also not out here to pick a fight with other bloggers or advice givers, so picking apart someone else’s analysis isn’t worth the time. Instead, I thought I’d rather muse on three of my favorite lovable rogues. These would be Han Solo, Malcom (Mal) Reynolds from Firefly, and Uhtred of Bebbanburg from the Saxon Stories series*.

First question – Who would win in a fight if they were all pitted against each other at the same time? Uhtred is from the 800s, and only has a sword. I expect he would go down first. Both Mal and Han have firearms. Then Mal would go down because (Wait for it … ) Han shoots first.

Now that’s sorted out, who is the most roguish? Before I can tackle this question, I need to discount the killing of bad-guys. It’s an occupational hazard of the stories these characters appear in. Let’s start with Han. Turns’ out he’s actually a scoundrel. Yes, he comes back to save Luke at the end of movie 1, and he sticks it out through the series, even leading a dangerous expedition on Endor, but his back story is one of real crime, and his motives throughout the rest of the movies aren’t clear – I suppose it’s for the love of Leia. What about Uhtred? The most notable bit of roguishness involves the double-crossing and sacking of a Welsh village. Most of the rest of his exploits involve fighting with Danes, and as it’s part of a war between the Saxons and Danes so I’m not sure that counts as roguish behavior. His back-story has him turned out from a noble Saxon family to be brought up by Danes. Now for Mal. His day job involves running illegal cargo, BUT he’s got a strict set of rules about what that cargo is. He gives up jobs that directly hurt regular folk. His back story involves being on the wrong side of a war. I hardly count this as roguish. Once again Han comes out on top.

What about the strict set of rules this character lives by? In my opinion, Mal really has the best and most idealistic set of rules, generally centered on letting people live their lives. I can’t tell you what sort of rules Han lives by – he’s a scoundrel. Uhtred lives by the sword, and the oath. I’d put him second in the strong belief’s category.

Who’s the most ruggedly handsome? I don’t care.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough. What’s the point of this musing? To be honest, this is some rubber-ducking to help me work out a main character. I hadn’t initially imagined him as a lovable rogue, but that’s where it’s landed. This is one of the reasons I’m having trouble making the character really pop (because I’m fighting against this characterization). Now that I’ve accepted the reality of who this character needs to be in order to make the story work, I need to make sure that I do it right. There are a whole lot of ways to achieve this type of character, I just need to settle on one and go with it. I’m thinking of placing him just outside the not a lovable rogue sphere, but slightly more on the soldier quadrant.

 

LovableRogue

Do you have a lovable rogue? Where does s/he belong on this chart?


 

* By Bernard Cornwell. You need to read this.

Thinking HARDER about characters

After writing last night’s post, I felt pretty good about the place I thought I’d gotten to. However, when I woke up and checked my Facebook, I noticed a nice little bit of feedback on my post. It pointed out that my conclusion about what change my character will undergo, is not a change. It’s an accomplishment. The offending bit from last night’s post reads:

It’s just a matter of understanding what the change ought to be. The main character starts out the book avoiding his innate magical skill. By the end, he has managed to learn how to harness some of the most powerful aspects of this magic. It’s pretty straight forward.

As an aspiring writer who did not spend a lot of time taking literature classes in college, I can’t tell you how hard it is to differentiate between “The change, growth, development for the character comes with the mastering of some internal turmoil, deep rooted assumptions, or personal landscape*” and some sort of personal achievement. These are very related things. Personal accomplishment, I think, is part and parcel of the broader character change.

So, the real question to answer is: How do the character’s motivations change over time? Then on to the question, How does this effect his personality? An accomplishment, on it’s face, isn’t likely to affect a change in the character’s motivation or personality. Although, it certainly could. To go back to Dune as an example, Paul Atreides becomes the kwisats haderach. There is accomplishment here, but the more important thing to note is that Paul becomes a different character. He reacts to things differently, thinks about things differently and sees them differently.

Another example, this one from the world of YouTube, (and if you’re a big enough nerd you should totally go and check this out), is a comedy web-series, now concluded, called the Guild. At the beginning of the series the main character is a total wreck. Uncertain, addicted to gaming, and her life is falling apart. By the end of the series, she has gotten control of all of this. She is sure of herself, has a steady job, and turns off the game (drops the addiction). From the perspective of a writer who is still developing skills, it could be easy to mistake this real change for accomplishment, thus applying the approach incorrectly to my own character development.

With all that rambling out of the way, what do I do now? As it turns out, I think I can still use the magic angle as the underlying impetus for the change. I’m not totally sure where the change will land him. I think I do actually need to finish drafting the work first before any decisions can be made. It’s going to be something more along the lines of coming to understand and accepting his new found role in the world and going on to embrace what it means. It’s going to take a lot of work and revision to get there and I will very likely be changing my mind on some of this once I get moving on it.

* This is a quote from the feedback I got.