Tag Archives: Character

Ending a Series

Years ago, I started Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series. The first book, Mister Monday, was so great. Intriguing, strange, fun and imaginative. It set up so many mysteries that I could hardly wait for book two to come out. Then book three…

But after that my attention waned. The plot become convoluted. I struggled with the fact that each book posed more questions, but did not answer them. By book five, I didn’t bother to read it until a friend had reminded me that it was out. In the end I finished the series. Monday through Sunday. Seven books. The first two or three had captured my imagination. The rest tried to soar, but didn’t get far.

By the time I got to the last book, I remember distinctly giving the great big reveal—the thing we’d been waiting for since Arthur had been dragged into this whole mess by Mister Monday—a slow blink.

Really? That’s it? All this trouble, and ruining this kid’s life, for…that?

Now I’m not here to diss on Garth Nix, because he’s pretty much brilliant. What I’m here to address, is the difficulty in keeping a series going. A multi-book character journey is not as easy to write as one might think. Because your characters need to grow and learn each book, but they still can’t be perfect. They still can’t quite get over it, because if they do, then there’s nowhere for them to go at the end.

How many of us were slightly disappointed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Either because the Hallows seemingly came out of nowhere, or because the big reveal didn’t shock us? Again, I’m not putting J.K. Rowling down. She’s amazing, and somehow kept her sanity while writing seven books of one of the most successful series of all times.

Think about it. How many times have you been let down by a series finale? Either on Netflix, in a book series or a last movie?

I used to wonder why that was, but now I have a few ides.

I started my Jagged Scars series four years ago. I was vaguely familiar with this problem, so I combed through the internet to find answers. One woman had a brief synopsis of each Harry Potter book and Harry’s character arc in it. This was most helpful, and I used it as a guide to outline Wendy’s journey through Jagged Scars.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Fractured Memories: After a bitter betrayal, Wendy learns to trust others again.
  • Severed Ties: Wendy learns to trust herself.
  • Shattered Dreams: Wendy finds love, and feels worthy of it.
  • Crippled Hope: Wendy has to face the fact that not everyone wants to fight their way through life, and that that’s okay.
  • Broken Worlds…

Well, I had a plan for book 5, the final book in the series. I thought it was brilliant, but as I started writing the book, it felt forced. The journey I thought I wanted to take Wendy on turned out to be someone else’s journey, and I literally spent nine months writing the book four times—each time finding at the end that it lacked.

People around me accused me of needing the perfect story, and that it was probably fine. After round four, I sent it to my beta readers…and as I had suspected, they hated it. Every conflict I had tried to shove in felt forced, even to them.

So I started again. Only this time I decided that the book was a finale, and I didn’t need a big character arc for Wendy. I’d write the dang book and then see where it took me. Which I did. And as I did, I realized that I’d let Wendy grow too much in the other books. She’s gotten over her fear of the Skinnies, and of the monster inside her head telling her to be horrible. She can think about her dad again and she loves people—something she couldn’t do at the beginning. She’s even started to understand others when they’re not like her.

I’m still not quite finished with the book, but I think I understand how to fix it. However, the next time I start a series, the first thing I’m going to decide is what the main character’s overall arc is going to be. Once I figure that out, I’m going to make sure I have a really good, but hard, place for the character to go in the last book.

Because the reason we read books or watch TV is to see people overcome, and the stories that stick with me are those in which the character overcomes themselves, in addition to the big bad. The moment when the character chooses teamwork over winning the big game. The moment when he/she chooses family instead of fame, or the moment when they let go of their hate, and learn to love.

 

 

 

 

Balancing Multiple Viewpoints

AvengersOne of the coolest things about a series is also one of the biggest challenges for the author: managing a large cast of characters.

One film that I think managed a large cast of characters well is the original Avengers movie. There are a lot of strong characters, and somehow they all got good screen time and some memorable lines. Part of me wonders how successful the upcoming Infinity War movie will manage the balance, now that the cast of heroes has grown so much.

As authors, the challenge of balancing our cast of characters can be even harder because it takes longer to develop characters in book form than in a movie. Precious words must be dedicated to the effort. Luckily, there are many options available to us.

Depending on the story and choices the author makes, the entire series may be told exclusively from the main POV character. For example, I can’t remember any scenes in Harry Potter not from his perspective.

Other series are told from multiple viewpoints, or even from an omniscient point of view. The popular Rangers Apprentice series has such an omniscient POV, with the focus flowing constantly between characters. Then there’s the Warded Man series from Peter V. Brett, in which each book has a different main POV character.

Each approach has pros and cons, which the author needs to understand to make sure they’re leveraging their story for best effect. Some of the advantages of using multiple POVs include:

  • Deeply exploring different aspects of a central theme from different points of view.
  • Leveraging multiple, different story threads and weaving them together into a more complex plot.
  • Exploring multiple socio-economic aspects of society that would be impossible to do with a single POV.

When done well, stories with multiple POVs enjoy a depth and complexity that is hard to rival. Unfortunately, handling multiple POVs is hard to do. Some of the disadvantages include:

  • For every major POV character, you need to spend time developing their voice, their plot, their character arc far more than other supporting characters. You’ll likely need to add at least 10,000 words to the length of your novel for each major POV character you decide to use.
  • Weaving multiple compelling plotlines is hard to do. If you start your story with a teen-age boy with a snarky, rebellious voice and attitude, your readers will grow attached to him. If you then try to weave that story with a middle-aged, reserved woman trying to protect the status quo, will your readers lose interest or grow confused?
  • Those emotional connections you’re building with your readers are fragile, and the more opportunities you give readers to break away from your story or lose interest, the more of them you’re likely to lose.
  • Can you bring all of the various plotlines to a satisfying conclusion through the final climax? Will readers who feel most connected to each of the POV threads all feel like their favorite character was given enough screen time?

Set in Stone CoverIt can be a daunting challenge but it’s doable, and the payoff can be amazing. I love big, epic stories, and I write multiple POVs. I personally find it’s useful to focus the majority of the story on the main character, and develop alternate POV threads with caution.

In my Petralist YA fantasy series, Connor is definitely the main character, but I decided early on to make three other characters POV characters too. Each of them needs to get enough focus to develop their stories and satisfy the fans who love them the most.

The temptation to keep adding more POV characters can be insidious. As a reader, I hate it when big series I love get bloated with too many side stories that interrupt the flow of the main narrative.

So imagine how embarrassed I was when my editor pointed out in my first draft of my latest novel that I havd over eight POV characters. Oops. Although each POV shift had seemed reasonable during the writing process, the benefits of those additional POV characters did not outweigh the cost to the story. So I went back and re-wrote those chapters, restricting the number of POV characters. It made the story flow better and carry a more powerful emotional weight.

So decide carefully what story you’re going to tell, and make conscious, deliberate decisions about how you’re going to craft your story. Will it be first person, or third? Omniscient narrator, or maybe deep penetration into one or more main POV characters. Study authors who handle similar stories well and analyze what they did.

In the end, you have to decide. If you’ve got solid reasons for your choices, your story will be stronger for it, and your readers will appreciate it.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank MorinRune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Contemporary Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Finishing What You Start, Or Not

When I first started writing fiction in 2009, one of the first things I learned were Heinlein’s Rules. While they all have a place in the heart of every writer, the one that sticks out the most to me is “Finish What You Start.” It’s the single most often prescribed bit of writing advice I give to aspiring authors. The ability to sit down and finish a story, good or bad, is critical to learning the craft. However, I’ve also come to understand (and experience) that there are simply times when you shouldn’t finish what you start – you should put it down and walk away.

I’ve had an idea for a novel in my head for the last several years and I’ve toyed with outlining it here and fleshing out dialogue and characters there and I decided that I’d sit down on really focus on it last year. My intent was to write about 10,000 words and really determine if the story was something I could commit to fully. While it sounded good to me, and I was pretty sure I could write it, could I make it an authentic story? Could I answer the most important question in every reader’s mind – “Who gives $&@#?” I believed I could and I promptly sat down wrote about 8,500 words and stopped dead – seriously, like in the middle of a sentence.

At the time, I believe the words I spoke to myself were “What in the hell are you doing, Kevin?” My great idea wasn’t as great as I’d believed it to be. From my reading and occasional instruction of outlining and character dynamics, I realized that while I had a fun premise to explore, my character was simply horrible. I’d designed goals for them and tried valiantly to put them into some type of story line capable of captivating an audience. On paper, everything was a fit, but I realized that I didn’t “love” my protagonist. In fact, I kinda loathed them. Every time I wrote their dialog in that 8,500 starter, I cringed. It got to the point at the end that I threw up my hands and said “I’m not finishing this.”

A few years ago, this would have bothered me tremendously. Having learned that finishing what you start is critical to success as a writer, my younger self would’ve pressed on and turned out something vaguely akin to a novel that was destined for the circular file. Instead, I realized that while I’d seemingly done my homework, outlined and plotted the story, and built my character in a way I thought would work – the whole mess didn’t come together. Was it a result of my talent? Or my motivation? Or did I just not believe in the story anymore? Your guess is as good as mine. What mattered was that my brain said it was time to stop – that I wasn’t getting anywhere fast and that I was laboring over a first draft instead of letting the ideas around my outline flow. That story went into the dark recesses of my hard drive likely never to be heard from again. It simply didn’t work. I didn’t need to send it to my first reader or any beta readers – I could sense that the story was dead on arrival and I stopped.

I recently went back at looked at what I’d written in the 8,500 word, suddenly truncated start and completely agreed with my decision. In some similar cases, I’ve looked at something with fresh eyes and starting typing anew – pushing that gestated idea to finalization. As I read the first chapter, I thought I might be able to do just that. By the end of chapter three, I knew it was a lost cause. That character, and their storyline, went into the experience file. From there, I went back to another one of Heinlein’s rules – “Write something else.”

I’ve been busy ever since.

Plotting by Character Arcs Instead of Outlines

Plotting. Plodding. There’s a reason those words look and sound similar. Sometimes, plotting a novel can take all the fun out of actually writing the thing. With every move and event preordained, what’s left to surprise the writer while writing?

If prewriting is getting you down, I offer you an alternative: prewriting by way of character arcs.

If prewriting isn’t getting you down and you’re hardcore geeking out over it, I still recommend these books by K.M. Weiland: Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel.

Character arc. What is it? Simply, it’s the journey the character takes in a story. Expanding further, there are three types of common character arcs, according to K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs: Positive (what we usually see in movies, books, and television, also known as the hero character arc), Flat (wherein the character does not change but has the wisdom of what is right throughout the entire story, an example being the main character’s teacher or mentor), and Negative (this could be an antagonist’s character arc, or a character arc in which the character destroys others and themselves as well).

Let’s say you’d like to write a Positive Character Arc for NaNoWriMo. What does that look like? Let’s go through K.M. Weiland’s Positive Character Arc structure.

  1. Exposition – The Lie Your Character Believes
    • Where does your character start the novel, internally speaking? Is everything perfect, utopian? Does everything suck? Does the character simply believe everything is perfect (aka the character is lying to themselves)? Set up a characteristic moment for your reader that displays your character’s…eh, character. Set them up in a fairly normal situation or normal day. And also, organize your character’s internal storm: what does the character want? Now, what does the character need?
  2. Exposition – Your Character’s Past
    • Weiland calls this the character’s ghost. What happened to your character to make them believe that they need what they want and ignore what they truly need? Why does the character need to change?
  3.  Act One
    • Set up your character’s life in this act. Make sure their motivation(s) is clear. What is he after? What does she want?
    • First Plot Point – something happens here that expands your character’s mind and vision. “The point of no return.”
  4. Act Two, Part One
    • Adventure! That’s what your character will be doing here. Fumbling around, trying to figure things out, and definitely failing.
  5. Midpoint
    • My favorite part in a story; the character’s realization. Maybe he’s in over his head. Maybe she realizes there’s a lot more than meets the eye. It’s the turning point not only in your story, but in your character’s thinking and possibly motivation.
  6. Act Two, Part Two
    • This is the part where your character starts taking control. What does your character need to do to take charge?
  7. The Third Plot Point
    • Your character’s low moment. What happened? Is morale down, did they lose something as big as a battle? The character can no longer evade the truth, they must look at it in the eye and accept it.
  8. Act Three
    • The ramp up before the climax! Intensity, speed! Thrusters on full! In one word, your character is: determined.
  9. Climax
    • Weiland describes the climax as the reason for the story. This is where your character realizes the truth was worth the heartache and pain along the way. The reason for the journey.
  10. The Resolution
    • Now you can show the character living the truth instead of living in the lie they first believed at the beginning of the journey.

Instead of writing your story around what happens, with this method, you’re writing your story around what your character does to push the plot. I personally find these stories more engaging than stories where events happen to the character. I like to see the main character in control, messing up, making amends, and patching things up on their own.

I’d like to take a final moment to remind you that there is no wrong or right way to pre-write. The way that works for you IS the best way, whether that means a big, juicy outline, a short outline, pages and pages of character arcs, or jumping right in. In the end, we all must eventually jump in and write.