Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing/Gaming - Character 101 - Part 5 - The Path

Good afternoon everyone, I hope you're enjoying the post-Super Bowl glut of breakdowns of commercials and the halftime show. And for the record, I don't know why they did that thing with the thing on that commercial. Yeah, it was unbelievable.

Shall we do some writing today? We're continuing Character 101, you can catch up with Part 4 here.
This is more a "Writing" post. The "Gaming" version will go up later, I'm still putting it together.

Today we're going to look at "The Path", which is the course for the character is on before, during, and after this particular plot of this particular book.

The rule can be expressed like this:

A path, that when started, will lead through the designated plot and result in change (either positive or negative) from his starting state

Characters need to do things. Without actions, characters are formless humps, full of potential, but without the ambition, focus or interest to do anything. Often, people draw up wonderful concepts of characters and fail to deliver on that potential, chiefly because they either set the bar too high (making the character into a superhero, without elevating the plot) or they ignore the plot’s linear motion in an effort to show just how flawed the character is.

There has to be a progression for these characters that starts either on page 1 or even before page 1, and lead them until the last word on the last page, or even beyond. (You can imply or infer that people either began or will continue something when appropriate). I am not suggesting you place the character “on rails”, narrowly limiting the scope of the character growth to a particular strain – a character that only grows through the specific actions you shows is boring, no matter what those actions are, and is also unrealistic.

This path is NOT the plot, as in; it is NOT ONLY the specific actions of the plot (it’s not about ONLY defusing the bomb, saving the woman from the burning building or discovering that he loves babies) but the path of the character must at times join with the plot.

Key words there? “AT TIMES”.

If you rigidly and inflexibly adhere to the plot as the only tool that gives a character growth, then your book is going to be lean, because if you only need a main plot, then absent are the character arcs (which are the native tool for growth) and the sub or secondary plots (which are the native tool for connection between characters and the world). Also, without any deviation or wiggle-room, this main plot better be absolutely riveting, and can NEVER let me go. That’s a great deal of pressure to put on one set of actions. Don’t do it.

Characters in any story are not only limited to the plot, we (the reader) are only meeting/seeing/interacting with the character when they MEET this plot. It’s a snapshot of their life, and we get to tag along for however long or crazy this ride is. This idea that a character is on a particular path greater than the plot is critical for firming up the idea that the character is INDEPENDENT of the plot, and exists, fully-formed in dimension and detail large and small.

Where the character and plot intersect, there has to be an impact, like two items colliding. The plot has to have an effect on the character; otherwise the character has no reason to be invested in it (and neither will the audience). The plot, for all the twists and turns and new scenes it brings to the character is going to change the character. And maybe yes, the plot is going to change that already-started path (redemption is good for this, for example) but for the most part, the plot and this particular book is just a slice or section of the character’s overall path.

Now, to speak more pointedly of the plot, the plot has to matter to the character, because the two form a cycle:

Character Acts to Impact the Plot -->> The Plot Evolves and Presents New Challenges -->> And the Character Acts to Impact the Plot Anew 

And the character has to matter to the plot, because if the plot is beyond the scope of the character, then there can be no investment or hope to make a difference. Without the help of the plot, remember, it is just a snapshot of the overall growth, then the character’s growth is stunted.

The path is never fixed, and no end result is guaranteed. But the path contains the plot, and a limitless number of similar conflicts (in terms of emotional or psychological weight, not necessarily the physical events – how many times can terrorists threaten the globe?) If we were to chart it, it would be this:

|| Character at start of the story >> Actions that define who/what the character is based on experiences seen and unseen to date >> Plots that challenge and expand definition >> Continued maturity and resolution of problems >> Character Conclusion ||

The acts that define the character are not necessarily those given at an early age, or through flashback. This is where the developed philosophy of the character is interwoven with the character description and the boundaries of the world to create a character-in-context.  Events transpire some large (like the possible plot of this story) and some small (plot of another story) that lead to the evolution of the character in philosophy, action and description. Eventually, the character reaches a point of maturity, having been presented with all manner of challenge and overcome all level of odds. It is at this point, the writer may move on from the character, retiring or killing it off as warranted.

Remember: The path does not have to be positive. Negative traits are as compelling as positive traits (or moreso) depending on how they’re told.

Remember: The path is NOT ONLY the plot.

Remember: All elements of Character 101 work together and regularly intersect. So yes, the Path can be shaped by Morality, Abilities, Description and the character's Sandbox.

How have you found your experience with Character 101 to be? I'd love to hear about it. Leave me a comment or find me online. 

Happy writing.