Creating Good Characters – Tropes and Relationships

About a week ago blogger ‘ericjbaker’ posted an article called ‘Writing Motivated Characters,’ on his blog, found by clicking the name. It is a good read, and I recommend you go take a look if you haven’t already. I posted a brief comment in reply, mentioning my own method of creating characters; it is this method I would like to go through today.

‘Characters for an Epic Tale’
Source: Tvtropes.org (click image for link)

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Treasonists update

Today was, perhaps, the most productive writing day I have had this year (It sounds impressive when I say it like that, doesn’t it?)

I started the day by collecting all of my plotting notes for the new ending. You see, I aim to almost completely rewrite (Or at least drastically alter) the current ending because it is nowhere near as exciting and thematically powerful as I think it should be.  To guide me, I resolved to write a new plot outline for the ending.

This was more difficult than it sounds. Most of the last third of the book follows the POV of 3 different characters (and minor scenes in a 4th POV) who are all doing different things in different places, at roughly the same time. They all tie into each other in the Climax of the novel, and have massive effects on each other during the lead up to that point. I was very worried all that could get very confusing.

My first order of business was to write-up the separate plot outlines for each character – To note all of their scenes in chronological order as if I were just writing about them.  That was the easy part.

Next, I attempted to fit everything together in a single outline that detailed everything in the order it will appear in the final book. This was a huge puzzle to work out, and I admit it was a read headache at some parts. (Literally, I ended up taking some Panadol!)

First of all, I wanted to keep everything in roughly chronological order so the reader isn’t constantly going backwards and forwards in time, because that could get very confusing. On the other hand, swapping between characters every paragraph could also get very confusing. There is a balance to be struck somewhere between this two, and I have no idea if I’ve hit it. There is no real way to know, really, until it’s all written down and the beta readers look at me in confusion. But it works in theory, for now.

Another consideration is the excitement and ‘plot’ of each chapter. I’m sure everyone reading this can conjure the graph of how a book’s plot is meant to look when excitement is quantified and graphed; An Ascending line with plateaus and finally a climax followed by a Denouement. It is my opinion each chapter should be set out somewhat similar, with its own goals, climax and denouement (or a set up for the next chapter) and I have stuck to this throughout most of the book. I think it works really well, so I would hate to break it to jump around to another character and ‘start something new,’ instantly destroying the tension and excitement built up over previous scenes.

Lastly, I had cause and effect to consider. As I noted somewhere above, what characters do in their plots have significant impacts on other characters. I had to make sure this all made sense, and that I never accidentally showed the effect of an action before showing the cause. This was just a case of Watching  where I was positioning things, and luckily for me most of the ‘causes’ were naturally at the end of something, allowing me to slip over to the next character to see the effects.

After a few hours of working all this through, I was staring at a shiny new plot outline of the shiny new ending. It is much better than the old ending and, if you don’t mind my saying, pretty epic. I think it provides a much more climactic end both for the main plot and the character arcs that eventually cumulate in the final battle.

But that’s not all I did today (I told you it was productive!) – I also got some work on the actual editing or, rather, writing. I’m at a point where I am adding a completely new chapter, so I’ve had to swap from an editing mindset to a writing one. Thankfully, I’m able to do that without much pain.

This chapter is really shaping up to be an interesting one to write, and I can only hope it’s as interesting to read. The chapter follows a major battle, the Seige of Luftenport, Between Vanessa of the Valkyries and Admiral Garcia of the Azimirian/Silvarian navy. What makes the battle so interesting is the fact those are both POV characters. In essence, what I have in this chapter is a miniature version of the above.

So the chapter follows the POV of both side’s commanders. Think of it was watching a game of chess (or, more aptly, an RTS) where you can see the plans and strategies of both sides as they attempt to implement them, and make the other fall into their traps. We get to see the commanders formulate their plans, we get to see the plans implemented, and we get to see the opposing side make their counter-plans and react. It’s a very interesting dynamic to write because both characters are Strategists, leading to a battle of wits with the lives of a few hundred soldiers at stake.

Not only that, But the battle has the same features of all my battle scenes – I like to show how things play out from the POV of commanders directing the battle (Moving regiments, implementing strategies) and also the POV of the actual soldiers fighting the battle directly.  Again, it’s an interesting method of doing things and I like to think it pull it off well, but there is no real way to know until I have my beta readers look at it.  At some point in the future, I’ll write a post entirely about how I write battle scenes.

To get all this working together, I’ve had to make heavy use of ‘***’ on an In-chapter level, to indicate a change of character. On a larger, inter-chapter level I’ve come up with the idea of calling Chapters by the same number with a different letter to indicate Concurrent timelines. For example, Chapter 6A and Chapter 6B happen at the same time, but follow different characters.

What do you think? How do you deal with different POV characters affecting each other’s stories? How do you show a battle from both perspectives? How do you indicate to a reader that two scenes are happening at the same time, in different places?

Vanessa and the Valkyries

Only a few short days ago I passed the 60,000 word milestone.

Passing the mark was an exciting moment as I realized just how quickly I had raised the word count some 6000 words. My ultimate goal is 75,000 and I’m very confident in my ability to reach (even surpass) that in the 15 chapters I have left, especially considering most of my large-scale plot changes and additions are still to come.

The last chapter was an exciting chapter to work on because it contained the introduction to new character – A woman named Vanessa – who I was particularly looking forward to working with again. In the original first draft, she did not receive nearly enough attention or development.  In the end, Vanessa was less a character and more a plot device with dialogue. She was the kind of character that exists only because the plot demands it, and has no complexity or dimension. She didn’t feel like a person.

And I wasn’t happy with that. So while I was collecting my notes and making plans for the edit, I set improving her and her involvement in the story as a major goal. First I had to fix her character, so I gave her a much more detailed personality, complete with some new motivations. Hopefully now she can be a character in her own right – and like all good characters, she can give something to the story.

Vanessa is the commander of the ‘Valkyries,’ a criminal organization active throughout the independent city states, but mostly in and around Luftenport. She is the ex-commander of a military regiment from the Astral empire, and a veteran of a heated war, as are most of her loyal troops.  She is cool under pressure, tactically and strategically brilliant, and ruthlessly and mercilessly cunning.  Simply put, she is a magnificent bastard. There is an interesting dynamic I have here between Silvara, the antagonist, and Vanessa – because they are so alike.  They are different enough to be unique characters in their own right (I hope) but similar enough for it to be noticed.  It’s interesting because they use very similar methods to maintain power, and rule their respective sphere though fear. On one hand, we have my characters opposing the tyrannical rule of Princess Silvara, while on the other hand we have the characters accepting Vanessa’s help. I’m going to enjoy having my characters think through that.

My next task was to think about how I am going to give her more involvement in the story – this was an easier task. She already played a large part, it was just background. Vanessa was organizing and doing things while I was focused on the adventures of the main characters. The solution, then, was to write the parts focused on her.  I resolved to write a chapter that chronicles the Battle of Luftenport (The Azimirian invasion of Luftenport.) while the main characters touch on this battle, I felt it could be expanded from Vanessa’s point of view. Not only would this be an exciting addition, but it would help develop Vanessa and answer some questions I quietly swept under the rug in the first draft.  Additionally, I made some plans for new scenes throughout the novel that show Vanessa’s action – a good implementation of the show, don’t tell rule.

Overall, I hope the additions with Vanessa help develop her character and clarify some parts of the story that may have been a little shady before.