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March 2015

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Steven George

Writing Lessons: Character or Plot

I've noticed in a lot of the postings both on LJ and on NaNo, there is a big difference between people who focus on plotting out a story before they start NaNo and those who do a lot of character development. (For now I'm discounting those who don't plan anything! Go! Go! Go!)



Last year my storyline revolved around a single character who was dying of heart-failure and who narrated the entire story in first person. As such, I spent a huge amount of time getting to know Dag and even telling a couple of short stories from his point of view as a warm-up. Dag took up residence in my head to such an extent that I started grooming and dressing like him so I could channel him when story-time came. Not that I didn't have a pretty thorough outline of the plot, but whenever that failed, my understanding of everything Dag pulled me through. I knew what day he went to the Swedish American Center, the coffee-shop he stopped at in the morning, his relationship with his dog, his doctor, and his assistant. I went so far as to devote six chapters to the six decades of his life and the one big lesson he learned in each decade (interspersed throughout the novel). As clear as the story-line was to me (it had to be as it was a mystery), I let Dag take the plot wherever he would.

At the same time, I developed the character of Deb Riley, so thoroughly that she had a blog here on LJ and responded in character to the many friends she acquired. Then I continued after NaNo with an entire novel told from her point of view that occurred the month following Security & Exchange. I knew Deb so well that I could speak in her voice as well as in Dag's. This was no small undertaking as I am a 58 yo male and she is a 28 yo female. The interesting thing was that I knew only one real thing that would happen in Municipal Blondes. The entire story was driven by her narration, told in multiple time-posts each day in her LJ. The story was entirely character driven.

Zoom ahead to this year and Stn. George & The Dragon. I know who Steven is and a few quirks of his character. But I don't know exactly how old he is (he is an adult with depth of experience in his village, but complete niavete outside his village). He has no father. (I'm not even certain why this is significant.) He has a mission that he has been prepared and trained for his entire life. And, finally, he loves telling and listening to "Once Upon a Time" stories. Now you know absolutely everything I know about Steven George.

On the other hand, the plot of the story is quite linear. Steven George leaves his village on a mission to kill the dragon. The path that he follows is long (a million steps). Along his journey he meets at least half a dozen and possibly more people with whom he swaps stories. Each story that is told serves to supply him with more information he will need to kill the dragon. It is linear. Very little happens to Steven along the way. There are a few things that he needs to acquire and many more that he needs to lose as he progresses. He discovers that there is no direct route to the dragon. He gets lost, robbed, and cheated. He helps the poor, falls in love, and faces his (and the dragon's doom). I have listed the stories that will be told and the title of each. The plot is laid out.

Now, which technique will work better? I think sometimes that it would be much better if I learn more about Steven before I start writing, but I am content to let his character develop as the stories mold him. So, rather than this being a story in which the character drives the action, the action drives the development of his character. He could turn out to be a very different person at the end of the story than I understand him at the beginning. In many ways, I think this is a more difficult approach to take, but it is uniquely suited to stories that revolve around more than one character or that take various POVs. It remains to be seen if Stn. George & The Dragon is properly suited to this type of development!

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Comments

I think you're doing the right thing here. This feels like the sort of story where putting too much characterization in ahead of time will needlessly restrict the story. You may realize that he learned something life-changing during the story told to him by the third person he meets, and that will inform his character in a way you couldn't have predicted ahead of time.

Let the journey take him where it will, and just go along for the ride...
I'm counting on this. It is something of a new experience for me to let the story go wherever it wants to.
I was excited about S&E you know that. This story though, and after reading the Historian this year, I can't wait. I am so thrilled. I love the way you described both. I have multiple stories on tap in both areas. I can't wait to hear you talk about how each practice feels.
So give me some suggestions of fairy tales you truly love and the lessons they taught you. I'm collecting.

Thnx sweety!
oh fine give me a hard one. let me think about this just a bit. i will get back with you by tomorrow.
Wow, thats so interesting... I really can't wait!!

Urrr yah... I so planned out everything in my plot, well for the most part... what might up happening is I'll write it one way for NaNo and then end up shifting parts around before I do anything else with it....

Cause I more like have an idea when and where certian events are going to happen... and knowing once I start writing that might actually change.
One thing that I discovered in my writing (and especially witnessed by last year's effort) was that even when you have a significant plot and outline, the characters can take control. You have the choice of either letting them have their way or corralling them and forcing them into your story. I did a little of both. I kept one character chained to the story I envisioned (and he did a wonderful job of playing the part and pushing a great storyline forward) and let the other one develop as a loose canon. Her story threw in a lot of the motivation needed to push the other story forward! It was a great experience.