Exploring Story Characters: Examples of Four Dimensional Characters

In previous blogs I have talked about creating dynamic story characters and how the best characters are those who are four dimensional. Characters are the most important narrative elements in the story-world, and the quality or appeal of a story depends on whether a character is flat or fully developed – in other words, four dimensional. We all have our favourite story character/s from a book or a film. Characters determine how we experience the story-world and they leave the greatest impression on our mind and heart after we have read a book or watched a film.

Creating characters can be compared to an artist when he starts to create a masterpiece. He starts off with an idea, then he begins to sketch a rough outline of a landscape or a portrait, and then he applies the paint layer by layer. The layering process is when the artwork really begins to come to life.

Creating four dimensional characters is very similar. As we sit at our computer or when we put pen to paper we dream up a character, and then we begin to jot down details about that character.

The Layering Process of Characterization

The layering process of characterization is as follows:

The first layer is the character’s physical description. The second layer is his personality and idiosyncrasies.  Once we have started to weave the story-world around that character, we can then add the final two layers: the third and fourth layer: observations from other characters, and the character’s interior world – his intimate thought-life. This final fourth layer reveals his worldview, his psychology. After this is complete, our character is now fully developed. He or she has been borne from the chrysalis of our imagination and they are now ready to have their journey shared on the screen or the page.

Sometimes creating dynamic and four dimensional characters can be challenging, so a great way to get started is to think about existing, well-known characters from books or films. Some of the characters below also cross over from a book to film.

Five of the best characters from books 

Anne from Anne of Green Gables
Alex Cross from the James Patterson book series
Sherlock Holmes
Jane Eyre
Tris Prior from the Divergent trilogy

 

Five of the best characters from films  

Frodo from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.
Superman from the Man of Steel film
Spiderman (the films with Tobey McGuire)
Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

 

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Books/Fantasy

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Can Your Learning Style Determine How You Read a Story?

Storytelling is an integral part of human culture. Although storytelling has been around for thousands for years, whether it be through the earliest cave paintings, oral tradition, or via digital mediums, storytelling continues to be of great importance to the way we communicate.

In my conversations, I have discovered that there are many people who don’t like reading a book, which is hard for me to fathom as I have always been an avid reader. Some people have never read a book and the only kind of reading they engage in takes place on the internet. How much they are missing out on!

I believe that reading is so important, aside from providing an opportunity to temporarily escape from reality, it allows us to explore a range of human experiences that may vary from our own, and it can help to develop our imagination and our language skills. 

Books are an important part of our human history. From the moment of their first introduction into the world, they have provided opportunities for people to learn to read, to experience the greater world that was inaccessible at that time, and the humble book has even ignited revolutions.

There are many reasons why people avoid reading a book. They may not have cultivated a love for reading from a young age, they may have a learning disability, or they may not have access to a book in their language. But here is an interesting question: can your learning style determine how you experience a story?

There is another significant reason why reading a book is avoided; we all have different ways of learning and absorbing information.

Three Learning Styles

Extensive study and research show that there are three different ways of learning and absorbing information. They are called the Three Learning Styles or Techniques. I had learned about these learning styles some years ago and they have helped me to understand the best way for me to learn, absorb and retain information.

Once you have discovered your learning style it will change the way you perceive information. It will help you to choose the best way of experiencing a story and ultimately enhance your reading experience.

Here are the Three Learning Styles.

Although there are different approaches in explaining these learning styles, I have chosen to use a basic description.

Visual (Spatial)

You learn via the visual sense – seeing and looking.
You like images, pictures, and illustrations.
You like taking notes.
You tend to visualize things (settings, characters) in your mind when you are reading.

Audio

You learn via the auditory sense.
You like to listen to discussions and hear people talk.
You like reading aloud.

Kinesthetic

You learn by doing and by the sense of touch.
You like to engage in activities.
You like to ask questions during an activity.
You like working or talking with others in a team or group.

Why not try this creative exercise to discover your learning style. 

Once you have discovered what your dominate learning style is (there will usually be one main style that defines you), you can find a storytelling medium that best suits you.

Four Different Ways to Experience a Story.

Besides reading a book, there are many different ways to experience a story.

Audio Books

As well as audiobooks, you can also find websites where a book narrator provides stories via a podcast. Here is one website: Kris Keppeler narrates short stories. 

Watch a film with friends

If you are a kinesthetic person and watching a film or the television by yourself is boring, you could have a film night and discuss the film with your friends afterward as a group.

Smart televisions also allow for a community interactive experience. You can engage with other viewers by leaving comments via social media whilst watching a show.

DVD

Most DVD’s these days have an extra feature where you can listen to (and watch) the Director or Actors talk about the film, and a section where you can engage in social media discussions, or even choose alternate endings to a film.

Graphic novels

Books with pictures are a great way to encourage reading for the younger generation: children and adolescents. Developing a child’s reading experience at an early age can lead to an ongoing relationship with books that can extend into their maturing years. It can help them develop language skills, teach them to use their imagination, and promote empathy and intercultural understanding.

Digital Devices

If you are sight challenged or just a Digital Device fan, you can download books via Kobo or iBooks. Digital devices also allow for multiple book downloads and greater portability.

Internet/Social Media Platforms

There is ongoing research that argues that reading via the internet can be detrimental to our reading experience: it can affect our neural pathways by causing an inability to concentrate for long periods. But for those who are visual and/or kinesthetic, it can be a struggle to focus on just words on a page, so the internet provides many different ways of experiencing a story: YouTube, social media platforms like Facebook, and websites where you can share stories and chat with other writers.

Here are some creative writing websites.

Apollo Blessed
Skrawl
Scriggler

Digital Storytelling

Although digital storytelling is still being developed, you can learn how this breakthrough method of storytelling combines the three learning styles: visual, audio and kinesthetic. Have a look at my blog post on Digital Storytelling.

Immersing yourself in a story by reading a text-based book has so many benefits, but it may not suit everyone.  But when you discover your perfect learning style and choose a storytelling medium that suits your style, you will be able to fully discover the magical world of storytelling and enhance your reading experience.

 

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Books

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Make Your Characters Face Their Fears

Creating fictional characters who display real life human characteristics and personality traits make them more believable, which in turn will make your reader or viewer love them more. When we read a book or watch a movie, it’s the character arc or the character’s journey that draws us in and keeps us riveted to the page or screen. By exploring your story characters (whether it’s the prime villain or the hero) and highlighting their flaws and fears and making them face them, either to create conflict or as a conduit for victory, lies at the very heart of dynamic storytelling.

Creating Character Flaws

Strengths and weakness are important for creating compelling characters. No one is perfect, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, etc. So why should our story characters be any different?

Creating a super-hero who has special powers and manages to cheat death over and over is a little boring unless he has a weakness. Giving him character flaws also allows his ruthless nemesis to use that character flaw or weakness to taunt the hero. Once the hero has faced his weakness, he can then determine to rise to the challenge to overcome it.

Inner Conflicts and Tragic Pasts.

Any struggle, tragedy or trauma we face can ultimately make us into stronger, more indomitable and multi-faceted human beings. No one likes experiencing hardship, pain or suffering, but difficult events, circumstances, and people can transform us. This way something good can be born out of something bad. By allowing ourselves to grow through hardship, we are able to retain some control over the seemingly uncontrollable. It is the same for our narrative characters.  As creative writers, our dynamic characters act as our conduit through which we can reach and impact our readers.

Giving characters an inner conflict, a tragic past or a trauma can lead to their personal transformation. As we read a book or watch a film, we experience a character’s struggle, we feel and sometimes identify with their inner conflict caused by a tragic past and we want to see what lies ahead for them in the story. There can be no victory without a struggle and it is in the struggle that victory is won.

Facing Fear

Many times in real life we find we are immobilized by our flaws and fears, but creating characters can very cathartic, and can even motivate us to be better people and also break through the fear barrier.  We all have a hero and a villain inside us and we can choose which one we will follow. Our destiny can be determined by ‘who’ we choose to follow.

Examples of Characters that have Flaws and Fears

With hints of the ever increasingly popular anti-hero dominating our movie screens, it seems that the more flawed the hero is, with fears and doubts that we sometimes struggle with, the more they dazzle on screen and on the page.

The fear or doubt the character struggles with can be small or great: a hidden secret, a struggle with alcoholism, a struggle with feeling inadequate, or that life never works out. Some examples include Hancock, Frodo, and maybe even Bruce Almighty. But despite these flaws, they do not stay immobilized forever. They must push forward, recognize their weaknesses, break through the fear barrier, complete their mission, and achieve their goal.

In the story-world, the hero and villain, although polar opposites are necessary for narrative interest, complex character relationships, and their conflict is central to the story’s plot progression. They also have fears to face and choices to make and their choices will make all the difference to the story and to the audience.

Creative Exercise

Create two characters: a hero and a villain. Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. List their character flaws, fears, doubts, and insecurities. How will they overcome these flaws and fears? Once you have created your character profile, you can start to build your story-world around them.

By exploring your story characters and giving them flaws and making them face their deepest fears, will result in dynamic characters that will win the interest of your audience.

 

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Artist

Unsplash.

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Six More Creative Tips to Revitalise Your Writing

 

New and experienced writers can sometimes find themselves struggling to brainstorm new narratives. Our ideas pool looks like it’s all fished out and our once helpful creative muse has left the building. But never despair, when you’re faced with writer’s block and that blank computer screen seems to mock your inability to create, here are six creative tips to revitalise your writing and get you back into storytelling mode.

No. 1. Flash, Nano or Micro Fiction.

Specific word choice and brevity is important for a creative writer. Making each word count and telling a story well in the best possible way can distinguish a good writer from a great one. Writing to a particular word count can help you streamline your writing skills and can kick-start a lot of creative story ideas.

Flex your creative muscles by trying the Ernest Hemingway challenge: Write a Story in Six Words, or in 100 words. I like this style of writing mainly because it stimulates the creative side of the brain, therefore allowing new ideas to be born. A longer narrative can be born out of a Flash/Nano or Micro tale, so be brave and take up a Micro Fiction challenge.

No. 2. Re-write a Folk or Fairy Tale.

With so many folk and fairy tales out there you are sure to find one that is desperately in need of a re-write or refresh. Many of the female roles like the passive princess can be changed to a butt-kicking no nonsense princess. You can also change the story into a modern day setting with 21st century socio-cultural and political themes. Check out my version of the Rapunzel tale, The Tale of Ruthie and Grace in my free eBook, Exploring the Narrative World: Writing the Short Story

No. 3. Choose a Short Story and Write It Into a Short or Feature Film.

This is a great exercise for writers. The short story ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ was written by James Thurber in 1939 and was remade into a blockbuster film with Ben Stiller in 2013. The task of choosing key settings, events and characters from a work of fiction is performed by many successful Hollywood screenwriters. So why not take one of your favourite short stories or Google one and try transforming the narrative into a short or feature film.

No. 4. Interview a Parent/Grandparent and Write a Story Based on their Experiences.

Parents and grandparents have so many interesting life stories that are just waiting to be crafted into a story that can impact the world. The saying ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ can make for a compelling tale even more so that a purely fictional tale. This storytelling exercise can also benefit a lonely elderly person in a nursing home or retirement village. Once you have interviewed your willing participant, and have written the story, you can print it out and give to your real-life hero or heroine as a gift.

No. 5. Pick Five Everyday Items and Write a Short Narrative. (Give them human-like qualities. Describe them as if they were alive, and had feelings. Or choose one of your family pets and create a story around them.)

This exercise was originally a poetry exercise but it can also be used in narrative fiction. You can start by writing a short narrative about how the item, like a mobile phone, has human qualities and would feel about having to constantly supply on demand unlimited information.

Here is an example of an everyday item that has been endowed with human qualities.

A Mobile/Cellphone.

Her bright exuberant face tantalises me with the happy expectations of friends and unlimited social invites, none of which I am invited to.  As a solitary observer of the many delights and distresses of her daily existence, I am a constant companion, but I am no more than an expert supplier for her excessive demands for sometimes useless and unnecessary information.

My revenge upon this fanatical digital ogre who relentlessly taps away at my delicate silver skin is my shrill shrieks and incessant clanging when she would rather be snoozing. I am an electronic prosthesis that is also an extension of her inner life.  As she sleeps, I dream of an immanent future where I will have the power to invade her innermost being and control her body, soul and spirit.

No. 6. Write a Story with One Character or Write a Story without a Character. 

Although this type of creative exercise can narrow the boundaries of the storytelling world, it is a favourite with some writers.  

Write a story with the main character as the omniscient narrator/focaliser. Many non-fiction narratives use this style. Boris Glikman uses this technique a lot. Many of his short stories take on a metaphysical or philosophical outlook on life. You can view some of his stories in the Unearthed Fiction magazine.

I hope you find these six creative tips to revitalise your writing helpful. 

Happy writing!

 

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Six Tips for Creating a Dynamic Screenplay Design Plan

Last week I began a series on How to write a dynamic screenplay. This week I will provide six tips for creating a dynamic Screenplay Design Plan.

An effective screenplay is the product of good planning and design. Although there are many ways to approach screenwriting, I believe that if you want to produce a dynamic screenplay that will win the attention of your audience, then a Screenplay Design Plan will help. Just like an architect draws up his plans before attempting to build a house, a screenwriter needs to draw up a plan or blueprint before a film is made.

 

A Screenplay Design Plan will allow you to achieve the following:

1. Explore the overall premise /controlling idea or the MDQ (the Major Dramatic Question).

The MDQ is the question that is raised at the beginning of the film and is answered in some fashion at the conclusion of the film. The MDQ extends from our hero’s journey, and is subject to his moral choices, his battle with his inner demons as well as his battle with the antagonist/villain.

Here is a rough example of an MDQ. “When a young Hobbit is given the mammoth task to take a magical ring to a dark land that is ruled by an evil Lord, will he fulfill his destiny and destroy the ring in a fiery volcano?” I think you get the idea here.

2. Plan, select and organise the arrangement of the Key Structural Points in the screenplay from beginning to end.

These Key Structural Points contain scenes where the hero is faced with some sort of challenge like a character conflict or a stumbling block during his journey. Each level of conflict can be caused by a person or by the hero’s own inner frustrations or inadequacies. But regardless of whether these conflicts are small or great, they must always provide an opportunity for the hero to grow.

As you will see in the Screenplay Design Plan template that is available below, every scene must have some level of conflict leading up to The Finale.

Screen-writing Tip: Conflict is necessary for effective drama.

3. Design your screenplay like a puzzle the audience must solve.

The Opening Image establishes the mood, genre, story, and the hero of the film. From this Opening Image the structure of the film’s plot will start to unfold. The design plan also helps the writer to decide when to withhold information from the audience and when it should be revealed. A little ambiguity is always good. Keeping your audience in suspense (while providing little gems of information now and then) ignites their imagination and intelligence, and keeps them riveted to the screen until The Closing Image. 

4. Provide an overall structure that allows you to craft individual scenes that build with intensity.

As you plan each scene within the Design Plan, you can decide when and where your levels of intensity (creating and building tension) will take place. Being able to create and build tension that captivates an audience is the key to a dramatic screenplay and an award-winning film.

Good structure also allows your audience to follow the hero’s journey as it unfolds. An example of good structure is when the plot contains an ensemble of successes and failures right up until the story’s climax and its final resolution.

Screenwriting Tip: When you are crafting your individual scenes think of how you will engage the emotions of your audience. Strong action + strong emotion = a rewarding filmic experience.

5. Organise character relationships and answer the MDQ.

A design plan helps a writer to decide on how the hero’s primary and secondary relationships will intersect and play out. And once these relationships are sorted, the MDQ can be answered. The Major Dramatic Question is worked out primarily by the hero, but it is also the villain and the other secondary characters that provide the action and the conflict that is necessary to answer this question.

As well as the MDQ there are other important questions:

Will the hero accept his quest?

How will the villain react to the hero when the quest is accepted?

How will the villain stop the hero from fulfilling his quest?

Who will be the hero’s helper/s? How will the hero react when Dark Forces Close In, and will he survive The Dark Night of the Soul? The Screenplay Design Plan will help a writer answer these questions before writing the actual screenplay.

Of course the hero will take many actions during the course of the film, and the antagonist will provide many reactions, but there is one overriding action that provides unity. The many actions and reactions (big or small) that take place during a film should always point back to the arch-arching MDQ, the one major dramatic question that the hero is trying to answer or the driving action that motivates him and determines everything that happens in the film.

6.  Finish your screenplay with a dynamic action and image.

When we think of the MDQ and the hero’s driving action – remember Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.  Frodo’s most important and dynamic action was arriving at Mount Doom to finally destroy the ring.  There were many events and great actions that took place during this film but it was this one action that would determined the fate of Middle-earth.

Of course, Gollum had an important role to play in the all important and compelling scene of The Return of the King.  I find this scene (when Frodo arrives to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom) very interesting as it kept us in suspense. It seemed that maybe our hero (Frodo) was not going to destroy the ring after all.  If he did not complete his mission who would answer the MDQ? Someone has to! But with a little twist we still got our happy ever after and our answer.

Although the film had not yet been completed, this scene where the ring is destroyed is one of the most dynamic scenes in the movie.  Frodo had peaked in his character arc, and Sauron’s ring had finally been destroyed.  The screenwriter had created a dramatic and pivotal scene and image, which will continue to linger as one of those iconic moments in film history.  

So how you organise your scenes, explore the MDQ, and determine the levels of intensity, character actions and reactions, will depend on your Screenplay Design Plan.

 

What does a Screenplay Design Plan looks like?

Most feature films run between 105-110 minutes and one page of a screenplay equals to one minute of film. If you are writing for a short film then you would skip over certain points, but still address the Key Structure Points as indicated in the Design Plan below. The following Screenplay Design Plan is for a 110 minutes film and also provides a plan for a 15 minute short film.

You can view a Screenplay Design Plan here: Screenplay Design Plan Template for Creative Destination

 

Next week: More information on the ‘Structural Outline” of a Screenplay Design Plan.

 

Reference.

Screenplay Design Plan, Griffith University, Drama Screenwriting Study Guide 2012.

 

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How to Create a Dynamic Villain For a Story

 

This week we are talking about another important character in creative storytelling – the hero’s nemesis – the villain or antagonist.  Like the hero, a storyteller needs to learn how to create a dynamic and memorable villain.  

Our world is experiencing unprecedented attacks from many out of control villains, and it seems that many of these villains are escaping the true justice they so rightly deserve.  But in the fictional world, the villain will always get his just rewards and face defeat.  Evelyn from The Mummy got it right when she said to the comedic style villain, Benny,“You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance.” (The Mummy, 1999)

The fictional world is attractive to writers because it offers an author complete literary control.  You can be the master or mistress of your own special micro-world.  All of the storyworld elements: the plot, the characters, and story symbols are yours to command.

At the scratch of a pen or at the tap of the keyboard, the journey the characters take and the ultimate destiny they face – all of it is in your hands.  Being able to dictate who, when and where in the narrative world is a literary luxury that real life does not allow us mere human beings to have.

So anyway, let’s get back to the fictional villain.

Last week I mentioned that all of the storyworld characters (seven archetypes, remember?) revolve around the hero and his universe, and are designed to function as either a help or a hindrance to his journey.

The antagonist is the hero’s main opponent.  As our hero embarks on his journey he will have one primary opponent who opposes him – the antagonist or the villain of the storyworld. The antagonist is designed to provide the main source of conflict for the hero.

Creating a dynamic and terrifying antagonist is like gold for the writer, because this character provides the story with its necessary form.  And above all, the antagonist provides the opposition and the many seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the hero’s journey.  This opposition is important for our hero, because the greater the opposition, the greater your hero will grow.

Here are Four tips on how to create a dynamic and memorable antagonist.

1. The antagonist will have a strong moral argument relating to his narrative purpose.

Like the hero, the antagonist will firmly believe that his chosen path is the right way, and his thinking will be along the lines of – “it’s my way or the highway.”  This blinkered psychology, although hopelessly flawed, defines his characterization and cements his place in the narrative.

More often than not, the antagonist does not see himself as the bad guy.  He believes that he is right and consequently he becomes part of his own created myth.

Sometimes he will have a moral argument that sounds plausible, and this will create conflict not only for the hero but also for the reader.  This character-driven tension keeps us glued to the page or to the screen.  But at the end of the story, the antagonist’s real motives are revealed and his flawed argument falls to pieces.

2. The antagonist is cast almost as the hero’s double.

When I say ‘double’ I mean the hero and the antagonist will have certain similarities. They will mirror each other in some areas such as: having a singular vision, distinctive values or they have had a past traumatic experience.  Although these visions, values, and experiences will differ significantly, they work to define these characters and will propel them through the story.

3. Use the ‘double reversal’.

Another interesting technique that can be used for creating a dynamic villain is called a ‘double reversal’.  A ‘double reversal’ is when the antagonist has an epiphany or revelation towards the end of the narrative, which is contrasted with the hero’s revelation.  The ‘double reversal’ allows the antagonist and the hero to learn an important lesson from each other.

The antagonist’s revelation makes him appear stronger due to his apparent capacity to change, and also provides the reader or viewer with a chance to question this revelation.  Has the antagonist been redeemed? Will he turn away from the dark side of the force and become good?  Can both the hero and the antagonist live in the same world?

It is in this pivotal moment of the antagonist’s false epiphany that the hero is able to overcome his nemesis and achieve his ultimate transformation.

Every antagonist/villain has his vulnerable side – think Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker.  Here we are presented with an antagonist who has shown a sudden and remarkable capacity for positive and permanent change. The writer, George Lucas, provided hints throughout the film that signified that change was possible for this conflicted character.

Although he was menacing and terrified the other characters, Darth Vader had originally started off his journey well. As a young man, he had allowed himself to be ‘seduced by the dark side of the force’ in his quest for power and control.  And once he had been totally consumed by darkness, he wreaked havoc at every turn.  But when he was faced with the destruction of his only son, Luke, by the evil emperor,  he finally realized his mistake.  How unvillain like!  Of course, unlike Darth Vader, there are many antagonists who do not change.  They stay unrepentant to the very end.

4. Create an antagonist who generates sympathy.

As you begin to create your antagonist you might decide to create one who generates sympathy.

Again I am going to refer to the Man of Steel film.  Although I am not a big fan of the Superman films – a man with his underpants on the outside of his tights really does not appeal to me – but when it came to this latest film edition, I was impressed.  Not with the costumes, but with the characterization.

The primary antagonist – General Zod – was the epitome of the classic villain.  He was cruel, ruthless, driven, and passionate about his cause.  But he also generated sympathy. Why?  Because the primal desire that lay at the heart of his destructive plan for planet earth was to resurrect his native people who had been destroyed after his home planet, Krypton, exploded.  Sounds like a good desire – right? But at what cost to planet earth?  Do two wrongs make a right?

Although Zod was designed to generate sympathy and to keep the audience in suspense, he remained a villain to the end.  Zod was not interested in joining Superman in calling earth his new home. Or in letting go of his tragic past ( the destruction of Krypton). He was not interested in embracing a bright future like Superman had.  It was going to be Zod’s ‘way or the highway’.  His dark self-was hell bent on total genocide and there was no turning back for his megalomania.

But it was in this cataclysmic moment that Superman, our bizarrely clad hero, won his victory.

Again, like the hero, there is a wide range of techniques available for you to create a dynamic antagonist in creative storytelling.  I have only provided just a few.

Both the hero and antagonist are important characters within a story and it is their combined function to drive the story’s plot forward.

So what kind of antagonist will you dream up, the classic ‘evil to the bitter end’ villain or will you create a dynamic villain who generates sympathy?

 

Next week: Secondary story characters.

 

Image: 

Darth Vader

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How to Create a Dynamic Hero

Last week we were learning about how to create compelling story characters in general and how the best characters are those who are fully developed.  This week I am introducing the main protagonist – the hero – and how a well-rounded and dynamic hero is of primary importance to your story. So read on and discover how to create a dynamic hero that will bring your story alive.

“What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair? Who are these so-called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

We all love heroes; whether it be in the pages of a book, on the silver screen, or in even in real life. We are thrilled by their incredible acts of bravery and great sacrifice.  We admire those people who dare to shine like bright stars in a dark world.  So when it comes to writing a story, the hero or the main protagonist is one of the most important narrative elements in the fictional world.  It is the hero who allows the reader or viewer to primarily engages with the story.  It is usually the hero who bring us back to our favorite book or inspires us to follow a film franchise.

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”
Ray Bradbury

Out of all the characters in the story world, it is the hero who allows a writer to explore and develop their story premise or controlling idea.  All of the other characters revolve around the hero and his universe and are designed to function as a help or a hindrance to his journey. 

Without the hero, the story world would fall apart.  Now when I say hero, I am also including the all important female double, the heroine, but just to make it simpler, I will just use the patriarchal title – the hero.

To understand the hero’s narrative function, we need to understand the basic reoccurring characters types or archetypes that are unique to all meta-narratives.  The great Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp studied a wide range of folk tales in the early to mid 20th century and consequently developed a model upon which all archetypal (original) character functions are based. 

According to Vladimir Propp, all characters can be categorized as ‘spheres of action’ (Lacey 2000 p. 51) within a narrative structure and serve as stable, constant elements…” in a tale (Turner 1988, p. 69).  These ‘spheres of action’ are separated into seven archetypal characters: villain, donor, helper, princess (and her father); dispatcher, the hero (seeker or victim); [and] false [or anti- hero]” (Lacey 2000, p. 51).  As we are talking about the hero in this blog, we will disregard the other character types for now.

When we begin to write a story, it is the controlling idea or premise that tells the reader or viewer what the story is about.  But it is the ‘who’ – the all-important hero who outworks this controlling idea.  Right from the beginning, we follow the hero, we experience his struggles, his failures, and his victories.

In order to create a dynamic hero, we need to keep in mind some questions regarding a hero’s narrative function and specific characterization.  Who is the hero in the story?  What is his purpose? What are his goals?  What inspires or drives him to embark upon his journey?  What makes him unique from all the other characters?

The hero should be likable or at least invoke our sympathy.  We must care about him and identify with him on some level.  I am referring to human heroes here.  Although, animal heroes can also be endowed with human-like qualities: see anthropomorphism.

A good hero will be fascinating and possess some quality that catches our attention.  He will have an intriguing personality. He projects charisma. He is witty or brilliant.  He shows great courage in the face of great adversity.  For this example I will use a heroine – think of The Hunger Games protagonist – Katniss Everdeen.

A hero will have a strong desire and a primal need that connects him to his goal such as a desire for freedom, protection of loved ones, a love interest.  The goal should be simple and tangible, but there should be a world of complexity that surrounds it.

The hero possesses a conscious need or desire that is connected to an underlying contradictory unconscious need that stems from a deep seated wound like rejection, exclusion, or betrayal.  These hidden needs are a representation of the hero’s ego and also act as a metaphor for his search for identity and completeness.  It is these two conflicting desires that the hero struggles with throughout the narrative and his attempt to reconcile them creates interest and intrigue.

Endowing your hero with flaws gives him the opportunity to grow, to learn, to develop through the ‘character arc’.  As the hero begins his journey from a place of imperfection or a place of lack, he evolves into a well-rounded character with great psychological depth.  At the end of the journey, the hero is ultimately rewarded with the restoration of that lack: he wins the object of his romantic affection or defeats his nemesis.

The hero must be active, proactive and be an agent of change.  He may begin as a passive character, but at some point in the narrative, he must become active, and take back the control of his story.  It is his story that we are telling, after all! 

The latest Superman film, Man of Steel, is a great example of a hero’s transition from passive to active.  For quite a substantial section of the movie, Clark Kent tries to hide from his destiny.  Even his foster father tries to keep Clark from achieving his destiny as savior of the world or at least the city of Metropolis.  But it is when his foster father dies, and his arch-nemesis, General Zod, hunts him down, he is kick-started into action and this is when he really begins to shine.

Like all good storybook heroes, Clark Kent/Superman is firstly defined by a small action (saving the children in the school bus), which acts as a foreshadowing of greater things to come – an immense action – kicking General Zod and his army of supervillain’s butts.  Our hero should draw the reader or viewer in slowly, with a mix of internal and external conflicts, small and immense actions.

Above all the hero must undergo a metamorphosis or some sort of transformation.  But before he can achieve this transformation, he needs to be faced with a personal loss or tragedy that he feels he cannot reconcile himself to: think Luke Skywalker and the death of his father, Darth Vader/Anakin, in The Return of the Jedi

A hero’s tragedy or ‘dark night of the soul’ takes place in the final stages of a story and is considered to be the critical moment in the hero’s journey. It is this critical moment or final catalyst (although heartbreaking) that is designed as a necessary strategy to propel him forward towards his desired goal.  Although the hero faces defeat (and it must appear to be total), it is only a temporary defeat that allows him to transition into a new state of being and become a stronger character.

Finally, there are two types of heroes: the gung-ho adventure type who has no qualms about jumping into the action. Then there is the unwilling hero or anti-hero who is full of self-doubt and needs a violent shove by some outside force into a rip-roaring adventure.  Which hero type is your favorite? I’m a fan of the anti-hero.

Of course, there is so much more to be said about the hero.  So, I encourage you to seek out books, websites, YouTube videos about creating a dynamic hero.

Creative Exercise: Create your own hero/protagonist.

Don’t forget to leave a comment.  I would like to chat with you about your ideas for stories and characters.

Next week: The Villain – the heroes opponent.

 

References:

Lacey, Nick 2000, Narrative, and Genre: Key Concepts in Media Studies, Houndmills: Macmillan

Turner, Graeme 1988, ‘Film narrative’, Film as Social Practice, Routledge, London

 

Reading list:

Voger, Christopher 1999, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Pan, London.

 

Image:

Ironman

Heartywizard

Pixabay.com

Write a Gripping Ending To A Story

 

 

“Have you thought of an ending?”
“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.”
“Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?”
“It will do well, if it ever came to that.”
“Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”

J. R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

This week we are talking about how to write a gripping ending to a story.  Ending a story is always a difficult part of the writing process for me. When the final line has been written or typed, and there is nothing else for the characters to do, and victory has been won and the antagonist vanquished – I shed a tear.  You may think me to be a tad melodramatic, but I have just finished the first draft of my first novel.  And I feel a sense of satisfaction that is tinged with sadness. 

But all stories have to end sometimes, don’t they?  When it comes to your literary masterpiece, the question needs to be asked, “Have you thought of an ending?” (Tolkien).  So here are some tips on how to write a gripping end to a short story.

Like the beginning of a story, there are many ways to end a piece of fiction. You can choose to end your story with a satisfying conclusion – with all the loose ends tied up.  Most of us enjoy this type of ending. The neat and tidy ending is so popular because, unlike real life, a story can provide us with a guaranteed resolution of conflict. We can have our desired happy ending and everyone lives ‘happily every after’. 

But for those of us who choose to defy traditional story-telling techniques, there is the option of a ‘surprise ending’ or an ‘open ending’.  By daring to be different we can ultimately leave the reader desiring more. So let us go a step further and explore the different ways that you can craft your ending and leave an indelible impression on your reader’s mind.

The circular ending

 This type of ending is when the story concludes with a mirror image of the beginning.  It is a circular journey where the characters return to the same scene at the beginning, but they have learned some valuable lessons.  They may look or still be dressed the same but they have been transformed on the inside. 

The ending of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is one of the best examples I can think of.  Although the children do not enter Narnia in the first paragraph, but in the first couple of pages, the ending mirrors this section of the story.  As in the beginning, the children tumble out of the wardrobe and are met again by the sound of the footsteps of Mrs. Macready and her guests in the hallway.

The surprise ending

Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’ is a great example of a surprise ending.  In the beginning, Mrs. Mallard is notified that her husband has died in a tragic train accident.  The majority of the narrative focuses on Mrs. Mallard’s conflicting emotions over her husband’s sudden demise and reveals some interesting revelations about his abusive nature. 

As her ‘streams of consciousness‘ show her dramatic shift from the grief-stricken widow to a woman who has discovered the guilty pleasure of an overwhelming revelation that she is now free from her husband’s suffocating control, there is a clever twist at the end.  Brently Mallard was well and truly alive, and seeing him at the bottom of the stairs, not only fatally shocked his wife, but shocked me as well.  This kind of ending is not everyone’s ideal ending, but Chopin’s ironic and tragic twist contributed to the overall tragic mood of the story.

The ‘open’ ending

Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand is one of the best examples of an ‘open’ ending I have read.  Although I am a fan of defying traditional narrative expectations, I initially was quite shocked and disappointed by her choice of ending.  I really wanted to know what happened to the main character, Dick Young, who had become addicted to a drug that enabled him to travel back in time to the fourteenth-century in Kilmarch, Cornwall.  At the end of the book, Young is back in the safety of his home and under the expert care of the resident doctor.  But whilst on the phone to his wife, he suddenly looses consciousness, and this is where the novel concludes.  Du Maurier had left me high and dry and I was devastated.  I wanted to know what happened to Dick, did he die? Did he return to the past?  So many questions and absolutely no answers. 

But in hindsight, Du Maurier’s ‘open’ ending was another example of clever writing.  She had provided me with an opportunity to dream up my own ending.  As the passive reader, she was giving me some narrative power and inviting me to write my own conclusion and to decide upon Dick Young’s ultimate fate.

The trick ending

‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce is a good example of a trick ending.  At the beginning of the story, a man is being hanged.  Bierce provides quite a densely packed narrative about the man’s supposed dramatic escape. But it is not until the man reaches his home and family that we are told that he, “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge”. 

In writing this story, Bierce had drawn upon the idea that moments before death a person can be subject to hallucinations, and he uses this to trick us into believing that Peyton had cleverly escaped his death sentence.  With his trick ending, Bierce reveals that Peyton had only imagined that he had successfully cheated death!

The summary ending.

This technique is used a lot in film-making.  At the end of the film, the audience is shown a written summary that tells them about the final outcomes for each of the characters – they get married, they succeed in business, etc.  As in films, this choice of ending provides a feel-good ending for the reader. The hero or heroine are victorious, the villains are punished and justice is served.

I have provided you with just a few choices for the ending of your story. But whichever one you decide to choose, your purpose should always be to leave a lingering impression or a dynamic image in the reader’s mind.  As writers, we have the power to entertain and inspire the reader but to also challenge their literary expectations. Have fun writing your gripping ending for your story

Happy writing!

 

Next week: It’s all about the characters.

 

Image: Freeimages.com

Explore the creative possibilities of genre writing

The wonderful world of creative writing not only offers the writer limitless ideas for creating stories, but it also offers many different genres for a writer to explore.  The word ‘genre’ is probably familiar to you, but just to clarify its meaning; ‘genre’ basically means ‘kind’ or ‘type’.  Genre has become a central part of our society and culture as an influential tool in the construction of artistic classifications and related meanings.  So lets explore the creative possibilities of genre writing and how it can revitalise your storytelling.

David Bordwell defines genre within the context of filmmaking, “When we speak of film genres, we’re indicating certain types of movies.  The science-fiction film, the action picture, the comedy, the romance, the musical, the western…” (2010, p. 328).  Some genres are defined by their “subject matter or theme”, or by their “emotional effect” (pp. 328-329) on the audience like a thriller or a romance film. 

The film industry has even gone a step further, as there are many ‘sub-genres’ available, which provides the screenwriter or filmmaker with endless opportunities to push the boundaries of creativity.  Some examples are: comedy/ romance, science-fiction/western.  Genre classification can also help us when we are choosing a book to read or a movie to watch, or when someone asks us, “What kind of books do you like to read?” or “What’s your favorite movie?”.

Let’s go back to the discussion from the ‘Brainstorming‘ blog.  One of the suggestions was – Explore a tried and tested genre, like science fiction, and come up with a new scenario and characters.  A film comes to mind here.  It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s a good example of mixing genres: Cowboys and Aliens, which stars Harrison Ford and James Bond hottie – Daniel Craig.  If you have not seen it, check it out.  It offers an interesting, if not slightly bizarre twist on the Western film.

Our culture is so highly saturated with media texts, it can feel as if the ‘creative idea pool’ has been all fished out, but mixing genres can a helpful way of writing a story that is fresh and unique.  I have given you just a brief snapshot of genre and its usefulness in dreaming up crazy ideas.  So now it’s up to you to strap on your brainstorming cap and discover the possibilities of genre writing

Remember: It is never too late to kick-start your creative journey!

 

Reference.

Bordwell, David, and Thompson, Kristin. Film Art: In Introduction. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill International Edition, 2010. Part 4. Chapter 9. ‘Film Genres’. 328-348. Print.

Cowboys and Aliens 2011, Universal Pictures.

Image.

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