Monday, March 14, 2011

The Character Story

**The ideas here come from Orson Scott Card in How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. This is my take on them.**

Aah, Character. How often have we been asked, as writers, if we're more plot-driven or character-driven? I'm of the opinion a character should always drive the plot – that is, he should be proactive. This doesn't mean he consciously chose to be a part of the events. A character might be proactive if he takes a few actions and, before he knows it, he's in a big mess. This is what happens to Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. He stops to save a dirty, bleeding girl on the street, and is irremediably pulled into the story.

In a Character Story, however, the character is the plot. A character story will be about a character's attempt to change himself or his relation to others. He might be discontent with his current role in the family or close neighbourhood. He might hate what he's become and try to change himself.

The character story starts when your main character decides to make these changes and ends either in his success or failure. A father who attempts to reconcile with his son after a decade is a character story. He might succeed and grow closer to his son, or his attempts might be constantly rebuffed until he abandons them.

My February Shiny Idea, Fezim Aulm, is a Character Story. It begins with the MC’s admittance in a wizard asylum and his decision to ‘fix himself’ as much as he can, and it ends with his acceptance that while he might change, he can never make up for his past actions. There is a lot happening, but my story structure milestones revolve around his character evolution and, in planning my novel, I often relied on James Scott Bell’s character layers.

While I find the Character Story structure is rarer in fantasy as the main one, it's quite often there as a subplot. After all, events of the magnitude of what your throw at your characters should change them. That's the whole fun of it!

The point of a Character Story is this change. The character arc doesn't support the main plot. It is the main plot. 

1 comment:

  1. I just read a friend's manuscript -- a western -- expecting a plot story and was pleasantly surprised when it was all about the character's change.

    You know a writer did it right when you're still thinking about their characters days after finishing the read.