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wanda7 Profile
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Registered: 02-2005
Location: Pacific Northwest
Posts: 312
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Character vs. Plot


Some stories seem to be about the characters, more than a plot (Pilgrim, by Tim Findlay, for example) and others are more plot driven (there are a thousand examples).
I'm wondering how you structure or approach a character study. Clearly, there is a story line, but it is not critical to the character study except as the circumstances in which the character is explored.
Or something like that.
This is something I'm just starting to grope my way through, something new I'm pondering, considering, contemplating...
Any thoughts?
wanda

---
Reading: On Equilibrium (John Ralston Saul), Saving Fish From Drowning (Amy Tan)
Writing: Three Bags Full and various short stories
Living life large, loving with compassion
2/8/2005, 5:35 pm Link to this post Send Email to wanda7   Send PM to wanda7
 
nuanc Profile
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Scribus Moderatus

Registered: 01-2005
Location: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Posts: 204
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Re: Character vs. Plot


Hi wanda,

I am not sure... I haven't ever set out to do a character study. However, I naturally focus more on character than what happens to them (ie the plot).

I saw that as a weakness in my writing (probably comes from over-associating with speculative writers) emoticon and so have worked diligently to learn how to move my characters around and through their worlds more interestingly.

I think the pitfall for me is this: if the character isn't doing something or having some outside forces impinging on him/her in some way, then I tend to tell the reader about the character. The action side of the story is the only way I know of to show instead. And I've been taught that's what makes good writing.

does this touch on what you're exploring?
~nanc

---
READING: Not Wanted on the Voyage, Timothy Findlay
WRITING: a love story (planning stage)
PROPPING UP: Being Practically Creative
2/9/2005, 10:20 am Link to this post Send Email to nuanc   Send PM to nuanc
 
wanda7 Profile
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Location: Pacific Northwest
Posts: 312
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Re: Character vs. Plot


Indeed it does. And it's not as if there is nothing happening in Pilgrim, but the bulk of the story is about the characters, about revealing who they are. So, the plot is there as a tool for revealing the characters. Other stories are more situation, revealing a conflict or a state of being that could, in essence, happen to others, the characters are there for the revelation of the plot. Sometimes you know a great deal about a character in the story, and sometimes you know a great deal about the situation.
One of the things I've tried with The Robins in Winter is building the characters in great detail before I began to write. I know what I want to do, which is explore our relationship to war, and I concocted a family that fit my bill and then I began to read about the experiences of Canadian soldiers in WWII and Vietnam. I have a friend who has served in Iraq, and some of his experiences will shape the youngest man in the family. Although now that I'm writing this, why not make it a woman? Oh, I know why, because I want the great-grandfather to feel a connection to the great-grandson, and he doesn't really connect with the women in his life, he doesn't understand them outside of their role. Oh, but now that I think about it, he doesn't understand men either, but he at least gets to share in their roles.... (he's modeled a bit on my mother, with a different gender, of course).
So, how do I work out what I'm doing? For this story, it's about a situation and I have been creating characters that reveal the situation. But I had to talk about it to know.
Whew!!
Wanda

---
Reading: On Equilibrium (John Ralston Saul), Saving Fish From Drowning (Amy Tan)
Writing: Three Bags Full and various short stories
Living life large, loving with compassion
2/9/2005, 10:52 am Link to this post Send Email to wanda7   Send PM to wanda7
 
nuanc Profile
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Registered: 01-2005
Location: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Posts: 204
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Re: Character vs. Plot


quote:

wanda7 wrote:

I have a friend who has served in Iraq, and some of his experiences will shape the youngest man in the family. Although now that I'm writing this, why not make it a woman? Oh, I know why, because I want the great-grandfather to feel a connection to the great-grandson, and he doesn't really connect with the women in his life, he doesn't understand them outside of their role. Oh, but now that I think about it, he doesn't understand men either, but he at least gets to share in their roles.... (he's modeled a bit on my mother, with a different gender, of course).
So, how do I work out what I'm doing? For this story, it's about a situation and I have been creating characters that reveal the situation. But I had to talk about it to know.
Whew!!
Wanda



Isn't it great when you can get this stuff out of your head so you see it more clearly? It's so enlightening! It's really good that you're talking it through at this point.

My main interest in writing is people, not situations. I have a background in psychiatric nursing and I'm interested in what makes people behave the way they behave. So character is always of utmost importance to me. I think that's why I've had to focus on the other side, the situations that people get into since it doesn't come as naturally to me.

They have to work together to build a really good story, I think.

Have you read "The Things they Carried?" It's written by a Vietnam vet (who's name I can't remember right now, but I'll find it for you) who tried his best NOT to write about his experiences there. He did a lot of other writing but found that it haunted him. It was so formative for him that he couldn't not write about it... if you know what I mean.

I found it brilliant. It's billed as fiction and reads like a series of interwoven short stories... the first one is a listing of "the things they carried" which sounds as if it should be dull but is gripping. I still get goosebumps thinking of it. The ambiguity about whether it's all fiction or fact is part of it's brilliance. It's ambiguous in the same ways the war was so the writing is reflective of the experience.

If you want to get in the head of soldiers in Vietnam, I'd really recommend you read it. It gets pretty heavy but it's bearable...just.

I'll find the authors name.
------
Tim O'Brien

~nanc

Last edited by nuanc, 2/9/2005, 12:46 pm


---
READING: Not Wanted on the Voyage, Timothy Findlay
WRITING: a love story (planning stage)
PROPPING UP: Being Practically Creative
2/9/2005, 12:44 pm Link to this post Send Email to nuanc   Send PM to nuanc
 
Uncle Mac Profile
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Registered: 01-2005
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Re: Character vs. Plot


I structured the plot to Ascension around a series of events that led up to the final scenes of the book. Each scene of each chapter in the book had something to do that would drive the characters in the story to the final scene.
I do my best to make sure that I only include characters that will have some kind of impact or supporting role to the story, and while my my plot drives the story, I make sure to flesh out my characters enough to make them fit.

Am I off track? Apologies, I just woke up.

---
Jay M. Hurd
Author - Ascension: Book One of The Alliance Chronicles
ISBN# 1-4137-3709-9
http://ascension.pfrpg.org
Working on: Avenging Angel & The Migichinan Sourcebook
2/10/2005, 9:44 am Link to this post Send Email to Uncle Mac   Send PM to Uncle Mac Blog
 
wanda7 Profile
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Re: Character vs. Plot


Hey Uncle Mac,
I think you're on track, I think that there are different strategies depending on what the *purpose* of the story is. The Harry Turtledove stuff I've been reading is very plot driven, the characters fit the plot, just as you've described in your novels. I guess my focus is more often on who is involved rather than what is happening.
The short story I'm working on in the workshop was giving me some grief, when I started to work on the planning form that Sherry sent to the workshop participants, I was stymied by the question of who was the main character. In the car, yesterday, I realized that war is the main character in this story, so rather than being a study of people or a person, it's a study of people in relationship to war.
It's new to me to write something that is not character-driven, but plot; this means I have to figure out what the plot is!! Usually what needs to happen in a story comes to me because the revelation of the character requires certain scenes... if that makes sense. This is a reversal for me, what happens in the plot requires certain characters.
Oh, I think I'm getting it.
Wanda

---
Reading: On Equilibrium (John Ralston Saul), Saving Fish From Drowning (Amy Tan)
Writing: Three Bags Full and various short stories
Living life large, loving with compassion
2/10/2005, 11:23 am Link to this post Send Email to wanda7   Send PM to wanda7
 
Uncle Mac Profile
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Location: Steger, IL. USA
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Re: Character vs. Plot


That's an interesting way to look at it. An event being the main character of a story. Certainly an event can take on a life of it's own. Not that it's a living, breathing entity, but it has a beginning, middle and end.
I think Tom Clancy wrote his earlier books like that. Look at Red Storm Rising. The book featured a number of characters that were an integral part of the story, but it was the plot, the war that took place, that was the main focus of the story and the characters occupied sub-plots that were woven into the story.

---
Jay M. Hurd
Author - Ascension: Book One of The Alliance Chronicles
ISBN# 1-4137-3709-9
http://ascension.pfrpg.org
Working on: Avenging Angel & The Migichinan Sourcebook
2/10/2005, 11:29 am Link to this post Send Email to Uncle Mac   Send PM to Uncle Mac Blog
 
wanda7 Profile
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Re: Character vs. Plot


I think this came up for me because the short story I'm working on is an exploration of people's relationship to war. For at least one character in the story, war was the best time of his life. It reflected the chaotic element of his nature and bonded him with people in a way he'd never experienced, and would never again experience.
Wanda

---
Reading: On Equilibrium (John Ralston Saul), Saving Fish From Drowning (Amy Tan)
Writing: Three Bags Full and various short stories
Living life large, loving with compassion
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SFGirl Profile
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Registered: 01-2004
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Re: Character vs. Plot


In his book, How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card talks about the MICE quotient:

"All stories contain four elements that can determine structure: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event. While each is present in every story, there is generally one that dominates the others.

Which one dominates? The one that the author cares about most. This is why the process of discovering the structure of a story is usually a process of self-discovery. Which aspect of the story matters most to you? That is the aspect taht will give you your story's structure."

While this book is obviously aimed at SF writers, I think this is a good way to look at stories--the best ones have all four elements present, but one is the main thrust of what the author is trying to say. There's a whole chapter dealing with this in the book, so if you can pick it up at the library and have a look I think it would be helpful to just about any writer.

Sherry

---
Reading: Nothing at the moment
Rewriting: One's Aspect To The Sun (novel)
Editing: Winter Unwitched (short story)
6/5/2005, 3:46 pm Link to this post Send Email to SFGirl   Send PM to SFGirl
 
wanda7 Profile
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Master Scribe

Registered: 02-2005
Location: Pacific Northwest
Posts: 312
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Re: Character vs. Plot


I'm finding that books on writing, regardless of the genre the author works in, are about writing and say much the same thing.
I'm really enjoying opening up this avenue, it's one of those things that people have been encouraging me to do for years, but I've just always had something that had to be taken care of first.
I'm going read and read and read, until I fall over or wear a groove through the crust of the earth (on the path between home and the library).
wanda

---
----------
Reading: Bird by Bird
Writing: 2 unnamed pieces
----------
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.
Douglas Adams
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