This week: Choices, ChoicesEdited by: Jay -- Thank you, ANON!
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What do your character's choices have to do with the shape of your story? Everything!
Character decisions are made in several different ways when you're writing. They might be predetermined by the plot you've already crafted, or they might dictate the shape of the story itself, if you prefer exploratory writing over heavy outlines. (There is no "right" way; whatever works best for you is good!) The important thing is to pay attention to what these decisions mean about your characters.
Depending on the types of characters you like to write, this may or may not be something that you pay a lot of attention to, but as I'm very character-focused and I like to write stories that often involve some character growth, I spend a lot of time thinking about the kinds of decisions my characters make. It's especially important to note how those things may be drastically different in the beginning, middle, and end of my stories. I like to write people who mess up (they're more fun than perfect people!) but I also like to show them learning from their mistakes--often in unexpected ways.
To that end, a lot of times my story-building process focuses on the character arc. I like to use decisions--choices!--for this purpose, because it's a more active and dynamic way of illustrating what a person is like. If a character chooses to take action, what are the consequences of that action? Building up these sequences helps me to map out the story so that each decision makes sense even if it has an element of surprise for the reader in the end.
External circumstances are fine as a mitigating factor when it comes to the choices the characters make, but ultimately, for the reader, a character whose actions are invested in the outcome of their story, for good or ill, is more interesting to read about. There are always exceptions to this, but in terms of character creation, you can be much more certain to draw in your readers by making the characters make choices than by simply having bad stuff happen to them at random.
With that said--character choices need to make sense for the character and for the story you are trying to tell, but may not factually be good decisions on the whole, and in general, in terms of storytelling, audiences prefer the gutsy bad decisions that pay off later. (Think of something like Star Wars--A New Hope wouldn't be half so interesting if Luke made good responsible decisions, right?)
Character choices are a vital way of showing character because they're active. Decision-making is a process that can be knee-jerk or done with deliberation; choices made in haste may need to be undone with a clear head later. Likewise, even good decisions can come with surprising consequences or emotions--don't be afraid to use an unexpected negative emotional reaction to a positive decision, for example.
Choices are illustrative of our greater character--so be thoughtful when using them to define your fiction and reap the results!
Until next time,
Take care and Write on!
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Comments and questions from "Experiencing a Story Different Ways"
Disney retells a lot of old tales, adjusting for political correctness or new agendas. Movies retell novels, and they are always different. You can almost never compare them. A Thousand Acres did a fairly good job telling the King Lear story and took even longer doing it! Bible stories are retold with regularity, sometimes going far afield and mixing them together.
These are all fantastic examples! It's all part of the process, I think, finding ways to make ideas come together.
Thanks so much for including my flash 'Starting out' in the newsletter.
Masterclass student writes:
THERE ARE NO NEW PLOTS I'm just putting that out there. How many times have we seen movies remade? They're tweaked a little here and there to update the setting and story line. I have an author I love. I'm taking her character's lives and abilities and making a new group of people. My handle is what they are called. The Kindred.(I wrote the first novel already) I also took a concept from an author who's book never became a best seller. I may work on updating the story with a new look and new plot. Most stories we write are from a plot that may have been written elsewhere. My first novel is based on an incident I read here on WDC. I changed everything but the incident that has fascinated me and my readers. Good luck!
Yep, adaptation and reimagining are all part of making classic plots work for new audiences! Good to hear how it is working for you.
Elisa, Stik 20K! writes:
I used to think my version of Midsummer Night's Dream (set in Miami a year before the Great Recession with a racially mixed trove of characters) was an adaptation, but it seems to veer into reimagination territory. Perhaps it's a blend of the two?
Based on what you're describing, I'd call it a reimagining, depending on how tightly it cleaves to the original play! Especially if it's going to a new medium or format.
Got a question, comment, or an idea you'd like me to talk about in an upcoming issue? Let me know!
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