Sunday, May 27, 2007

Writer's Block

So, continuing my previous post:

2. Writer's Block
I have suffered as much as any man. My woes are deep, my distractions shameful - sorry, wrong story. Writer's Block, I now understand, hits a writer (of any ilk) for the following simple reason:

The writer doesn't have a full understanding of their characters.

Sure, that's very simplified when you consider exactly the multitudes of problems a writer's faced with on a word by word basis. In fact I could list specific situations in which the writer finds angst:
  • Do I describe this here?
  • What POV should I use?
  • Am I giving away too much?
  • I hate this scene!
  • I can't think of how to describe this setting!
  • What did my character have for breakfast?
For me, I have identified this problem with the help of Dramatica. I have quite literally spent an extended weekend getting to know my characters through a process of analysing my 4 Throughlines and mapping my characters according to the roles I have set them... Checkout the image:

On the Motivation chart my character's motivations behind their actions are laid out - this is what drives them - for example, my lead:

Sam Baker (as played by Mr. David Tennant) is in the position of:
  1. Consider (he is leading the adventure so must deliberate over the best course of action), in also in the position of:
  2. Pursuit (he must seek the story goal, whatever the outcome is and/or will be good or bad), also the position of:
  3. Conscience (my protagonist has taken on the responsibilities of his friends and families because his backstory has led him to guilt. He wants to keep everyone safe and make everything work out well for them), continuing in that frame he is also in the position of:
  4. Support (Sam supports everybody, but this is working against him, because he's spread too thin. He's trying to be everything to everyone, and no one can do that... he's failing), and finally for Motivation, he's in the position of:
  5. Hinder (in order for Sam's character arc to be complete for the pilot episode... perhaps I'll split the pilot episode in two! For his arc to be complete he must learn to let go of that responsibility. He must allow friends and family to learn from their mistakes and grow).

So, considering that is just one of four quads - the others being: Purpose, Evaluation and Methodology - I will have a very definite grasp on each of my characters and their roles.

And these aren't archetypes either. If I were using archetypes, one would be...

Okay, let's take Sam's wife, Claire Baker (as played by the rather lovely Rose Byrne). She is currently opposing Sam's friend, Mark Morgan (played by ever hilarious Kris Marshall) in the top two quads. First the top-left, Claire is Feeling and Mark is Logic. Feeling is warm-hearted emotion, Logic deals with cold, hard facts.

Next, in the top-right quad, Mark is Uncontrolled and Claire is Control. Uncontrolled being someone unable to resolve themselves... oh you get the point.

Right then. In Star Wars, Princess Leia plays Logic and Control. She takes control, keeps her emotions in check, knows what she wants, where she's going, and is a fairly practical gal. Chewbacca plays Feeling and Uncontrolled. Chewie is ruled by his emotions. Threepio and Han both warn of a Wookie's anger, and how many times do we see the shaggy carpet running amok, smashing things, throttling someone, and coming over all mushy?

Well Logic and Control is one archetype (we're just taking Vogler's mythic archetypes as ported from that other guy - his name will come to me... answers on a postcard). One of the Protagonist's allies, who supports everything he does, but plays the straight man (Tinman in the Wizard of Oz?).

The other ally is the archetype of Feeling and Uncontrolled. You see, these pairs are destined to be together, aren't they? (Scarecrow from Wizard of Oz?).

Through Dramatica I have been able to realise my characters first as archetypes: Sam is the Protagonist (easy), Claire, his emotional wife (she's having his baby don't you know), and Mark, his logical friend (a programmer - very knowledgeable).

But, then you just give it a little twist, change archetypes into conflicted, complex, deep characters, and you give your audience a little bit more to enjoy:

Claire is Feeling. She's Sam's caring, loving wife, made emotional by the hormones from her pregnancy. She worries, she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is a bit fraught with life.

Mark is Logic. He's Sam's business partner, and programmer. He follows logical processes, hides his emotions in wit and sarcasm.

However, Claire is also Control. She keeps her life in order, Sam too. She knows right from wrong and never strays, berates her husband for doing wrong, spreading himself too thin, or giving too much to his brother's selfishness.

Mark, on the other hand, is Uncontrolled. Whilst he should be partnered in with Control, he's not... because, he just won't take anything seriously. Not Petersen's business, data or threats. He's lazy, thinks too much of himself and without Sam, would have gone under long ago. He needs Sam to play straight man to his flights of fancy. It is this Uncontrolled nature which sparks the descent of the story.

Mark and Claire sit in opposition to each other in every aspect of their lives - they really wouldn't get on well in the same room together... so, thinking about that, why haven't I put them together? That would make a great scene!

So you see how creating complex characters we can really give you food for thought with your characters and their plotlines?.. hang on, wasn't this post about Writer's Block?

What I've been meaning to say is that by planning out your characters, really investing some thought in their roles, and who they are inside, their backstories, motivations, purposes, the methodologies that they carry out, you will know at all times what you can do with them, and this will help you in those dark hours of Writer's Block, because you can fall back on your character's roles, and ask yourself what would they do, why would they do that, and is that relevant to them.

1 comment:

esruel said...

Funny you should say that, Rich, because that's exactly what I've done with my latest work. Each person in the tale has been laid out, with their roles and personalities described. I've always maintained that if I crystallized my thoughts about each, then this story would write itself. I've even done this with locations, too. I think I'm sparring rather a lot with the beginning, worried I don't get it right. Me being me I tend to stick with it until I've got it right. The true beginning, of course, may be apparent later, though I like the two beginnings I've done. They may be interchangeable with other chapters. So all is not lost or wasted.
A good friend of mine (Noel, a brill proofreader) and another good friend (Solvey) have both said write it up and see where it leads. Make decisions on more information. Top advice, as is yours! Three good friends! I can't fail.
Just on the edge of diving in. So far, so very good. Just picking my moment.