Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Showdown Between Character-Driven and Adventure-Driven Stories - Who Will Win?

Welcome to our first real posting.

This week I’m talking about how to start a story.

You have an idea that makes you pretty excited and you think "Other people would enjoy this story, too." But where do you go from there? Do you just tell the story from the perspective of the exciting adventure? Or do you tell the story of a character enjoying the adventure - or suffering from the adventure. You get the idea.

I know, many of you have already written and possibly published stories and books. But some of you may still be struggling with “Why doesn’t this work?”
You edit and edit and struggle with the wording, ch
ange the names of characters but the story is still flat and lifeless. That happened to me with my first draft.
I’ve been writing all my life. I still have the stories I made into little books using binders when I was 8. Pretty funny stuff to go back and read now.
But when I began my current book in earnest I ‘pantsed’ it and just wrote and wrote for six months getting the story on paper. When I read it, however, it was flat and lifeless. Boring.

It took me a while to figure out why.

That’s it. That’s all.

I had and have an awesome story full of intrigue and adventure, but there was no character to drive the story – no interesting, intriguing character to pull the reader through all of those adventures.

When I went back through and angled the perspective from my main character’s eyes it suddenly became obvious and the story POPPED into 3-D life.

Here’s an example of what I mean. First I’ll pos
t a scene from my very first manuscript (be kind – it was pretty bad) then I’ll post a similar scene from the character’s viewpoint. Watch how it becomes more interesting because you want to know what happens to the character – not just what is ‘happening’ in the story.


Before her stood a very tall, stately man with long, curly brown hair wearing a white robe.
“My name is Patronus. We have a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” the regal man said. They were sitting in a secluded garden wit
h a fountain. “You have been chosen by Laudius to accomplish a very important task. While you are here at Punctilym, I will be your guide and mentor.”
She and the tall man dressed all in white had met to begin her mind training. The first thing he wanted her to learn was how to meditate in order to release conscious control and allow her subconscious to do what it already knew how to do. They met in the Meditation Garden again, but instead of sitting on the benches, they sat on the soft grass, facing each other, legs folded and feet tucked underneath. Their hands gently rested on their knees as they gazed into each other’s eyes. His voice was as soft as the wind sighing in the trees as he spoke a chant to relax them both. After a few minutes, Zarena picked up the chant and echoed his soft whisper with her own, feeling her muscles relax throughout her body. After several more minutes of chanting, he stopped, his eyes closed he sat silen
tly, unmoving. Zarena closed her eyes, too, and sat unmoving, relaxed and waiting. After several more minutes she felt herself becoming light, as though she was floating like she did in the ocean. Her conscious mind reminded her that she was not in the ocean and therefore could not be floating and she was suddenly sitting on the grass again, the light feeling gone. She opened her eyes and was startled to see the man watching her.

The next day Patronus and Zarena met to begin her mind training. They sat in the Meditation Garden again. But instead of sitting on the benches Patronus chose the soft grass. They faced one another, legs folded and feet tucked underneath. Their hands gently rested on knees as they gazed into each other’s eyes.
Patronus’s voice sighed as soft as the wind in the trees as he spoke a relaxing chant. After a few minutes, Zarena picked up the chant and echoed his soft whisper with her own, feeling her muscles relax throughout her body. After several more minutes of chanting, Patronus stopped. With eyes closed he sat silently, unmoving. Zarena closed her eyes and sat unmoving, relaxed and waiting.
Within moments she felt as though the ocean rocked and rolled beneath her. But her conscious mind said that was not possible and with that thought she felt a thud. She opened her eyes surprised to see Patronus staring at her.
“What happened?” he asked her lightly.
“I…I…don’t know,” she stammered. “I was sitting here chanting, copying you then suddenly I was in the ocean, but when I realized I couldn’t be in the ocean I found myself sitting here again. What did happen?”
“You were floating,” he said simply.
“That’s impossible…isn’t it?” she shook her head.
“Then why did it feel as though you were floating?”
“I was dizzy from chanting or something.”
“No. You were floating. When I opened my eyes you were about a foot off the ground, sitting exactly as you are now with your eyes closed and completely relaxed. It wasn’t until you chose not to believe that you settled back down on the grass and awoke,” Patronus chuckled softly. “You are an excellent student. Obviously you have a lot of natural ability. You’ll be flying out-of-body in no time.”
“I was? I will? Am I ready for all of this?” she asked, more of herself than him.
Rising and stretching he helped her up, “That’s all for today. Have you thought about yesterday? Have you any questions?” She didn’t respond. “That’s alright. Why don’t you go to the Library and do some more research.”

What do you think? Can you see the difference in being told about the character and ‘being’ the character, knowing her feelings and thoughts? I know I prefer the second version.

Share your own stories, ask questions, make comments. Let me know how you feel when you write.


Jim Hartley said...

This is difficult for some of us older writers. I grew up on 1940's Science Fiction, where plot was the be-all and end-all, and cardboard characters were perfectly OK. Oh, I'm learning, but an awful lot of my stories start as a plot and I have to flesh out the characters as I write. I imagine those who started reading with more recent material have fewer problems.

Karen McGrath said...

Jim, that's a good point that you bring up here. One of the ways we learn to write is by reading.

The Classics are a good place to start for excellent reading and writing modeling material.