Storylines, plots, and characters

Books on writing, writing classes, seminars, and most authors will always tell you how important plotting is and how important storytelling is.  Their advice is good for most writers, especially new and first-time authors.  But it’s not the way I do things.

I put characters above plotting and story telling.  Essentially, my stories are character driven.  In my first E-novel, “Sky Knights”, my main character, Hector,  loses his father  when he is twelve.  His mother is a cold, intellectual scientist who doesn’t know what to do with him.  So Hector has trouble saying goodbye to people.  He holds on to people.  He’s driven to find a home and a family of his own, to make up for what he lost and what he didn’t have.

Now, we all know or at least understand, that all heroes are basically good and kind of boring, and that all villains are evil and mostly boring.  What brings heroes to life are their flaws and their needs or desires.  The same is true of villains, except it’s not their needs or desires so much as their humanity that makes them more than one-dimensional characters.

So, initially, Hector’s need is for a family.  And that’s where the conflict begins.  Oh, there’s the greater conflict of flying space craft against an alien race bent of slaughtering the human race.  Yet, it’s the conflict between the characters that make’s the story interesting.

Hector proves he’s a hero by risking his life to save the innocent.  But he loses his home, his squadron and friends, when jealous leaders kick him out.  He also loses the young woman he loves but who doesn’t love him.  That’s just two chapters.  Becoming a hero and being punished for being one.

Then, after a period of searching for a new home, he’s assigned to a new squadron.  But right off the bat the new squadron leaders don’t like him and want him gone.  He makes new friends and new enemies.  He falls in love with a new female character but finds he’s in competition with another pilot for her.

And, as things get worse and then better, I twist it up.  On a combat mission he witnesses an a wartime atrocity which sends into darkness and fear.  Everyone knows the enemy doesn’t take prisoners.  But Hector finds out they do.  They take prisoners to kill them.

Hector fears for his new friends’ lives.  He decides the best way he can protect them is to kill as many of the enemy as he can, until the enemy just gives up.

So, you see, this whole story is about Hector’s needs and desires.  First he desires love and family.  And then he struggles with how to protect his family–his friends and lover.

And that, for me, is what’s important.  Everything that Hector does is driven by his needs and desires.  He risks his life and career for strangers.  Then he risks his life for his friends and his lover.  And things never quite work out as he wants them to because other characters are seeking and striving to meet their own agendas–including the aliens, and that gets in the way of Hector meeting his agenda.

The most important thing to remember about plotting is to keep tightening up the tension and conflict.  Make it harder and harder, until things are on the verge of breaking, for the characters to complete their agendas.

And as far as storytelling goes, for every stumbling block a character overcomes, give him/her two or three more.  And make many of those stumbling blocks either other people or the character’s own flaws.

 

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