Tag Archives: tendency

Dec 01

Mary Deal Discusses Plot Driven versus Character Driven Stories

Plot Driven or Character Drive

by

Mary Deal

A book writing format includes numerous topics and fine points, many of which I have already written about. However, two writing objectives include knowing if your story is plot driven or character driven. Writing topics can sometimes dictate this but the story itself will identify into which category your story fits.

Plot Driven – We mystery writers or genre writers create plot driven prose. Early in the story, the mystery is introduced. Readers know that ultimately the mystery will be solved; it’s how the writer brings this about that drives the plot.

A recent example of a plot driven story is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Another example from a little while back is Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton.

Putting the characters through their functions is what adds suspense and tension to the story. Whatever the characters stir up or endure all feeds into the plot. In order to keep these stories from feeling one or two dimensional, the writer must make the characters exciting in such a way that the information about each character enhances the plot. You can enhance your characters all you want, but if the information doesn’t enliven and enhance the plot, cut it. Find other ways to make your character three dimensional and that also make the reader feel they needed to know this or that about a particular character in order to further understand the plot.

Character Driven – Most nonfiction writers produce character driven fiction. Whatever the character says or does directs the story and the action. The character leads. You’ve heard the saying that the characters wrote the story, right? That is character driven. We are more concerned here in what the characters do and say that propels the story forward and creates new action. A plot may or may not exist, except to be created by the main characters actions and responses to story developments.

A good example of a character driven plot was Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden.

The fine line between the two – plot driven or character driven – is that plot driven contains a predetermined plot with the characters interacting in the story line and the story comes to a conclusion. In this sense, since no one knows how the characters will react, the characters lend a blend of character driven action to a plot driven story.

In nonfiction, even literary fiction, the story evolves from the character’s thoughts, emotions and decisions and where he or she will take the action. If the desired ending is strong beforehand, this lends itself to a bit of plot driven scenario, though character driven stories usually find their own endings as the story evolves.

A problem with character driven plots is that a writer may proceed to a certain point and realize they want the story go proceed toward a certain ending. From this point all the characters follow or feed into that end. This has a tendency to distort the part of the character because it’s easy to have your character do something that isn’t cohesive with the personality you’ve established for them. If at some point in the story, you see the ending and you make all the characters move in that direction, your story then becomes plot driven.

One of the main problems I’ve seen in some of the stories I’ve edited is the inclusion of a prologue. First, this represents the writer unskilled enough to work back story into the present plot. But more than that, plot drive stories don’t always allow for the characters to contemplate or think through their actions. Plot driven usually moves at a fast pace and characters react spontaneously or compulsively.

In character driven stories, characters are contemplative. We get to know their inner thought processes. It might be easier to work prologue into these types of stories because showing a person’s inner workings allows us to realize their back story and resultant motivations.

So the problem I recognized while editing is that writers do not know if their stories are plot driven or character driven. Understanding the difference between these two categories will make writing a lot simpler.

Distinct differences exist between plot driven and character driven. In actuality, a polished writer will create a unique balance of the two.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Nov 19

All the Way from Australia, Please Welcome Narrelle M. Harris to Mike Angley’s Blog

MA: My guest today, Narrelle M. Harris, is a multi-talented person. She’s a Melbourne-based writer with four novels, one play and several short stories under her belt to date. Her latest book is The Opposite of Life, a vampire novel set in Melbourne. She is about to launch a new iPhone app, Melbourne Literary, a guide to books, writing and literature in Melbourne, which was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Narrelle lives in the city centre of Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Tim Richards, and their apartment-bound cat Petra.

Welcome, Narrelle. Please tell us how your involvement with writing began.

NH: I think I’ve been writing pretty much ever since I knew how to make the letters. I even recall one of my brothers and I getting a tape recorder and telling a story about the life of a little germ, which we made up as we went along. I don’t remember much about that one, except that at one stage the germ was having a great time tumbling out of a carton of milk and swimming around in a bowl of cereal. He was a fairly harmless germ, as I recall. Anyway, I always loved assignments where I had to make up stories, and I wrote them to entertain myself in exercise books as well. Eventually I discovered science fiction TV shows and fandom, where stories you wrote could be published in fanzines and people would write in with feedback. That was fantastic, a great training ground on developing technique. Eventually I got too restless writing with other people’s characters, so introduced a lot of new ones of my own, and that morphed into writing my original fiction.

MA: It sounds then, like writing novels was not a difficult transition for you.

NH: Novels came about as a natural extension from the short stories I’d been working on – I was enjoying world building and I liked my characters and wanted to do more with them, so over time the plot ideas and themes I had grew more complex and needed more time to explore.

MA: Tell us what you’ve written so far.

NH: I’ve been a bit all over the shop, really. My first book was a crime thriller called Fly By Night. It had two novellas in it with the same characters, Frank and Milo, musicians and a gay couple. That was published by Homosapien Press in 2004. (The two novellas are now available separately on Kindle). Then I wrote the two fantasies, Witch Honour and Witch Faith. Like Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books, they are fantasy with a touch of an SF back-story. They were published in the US by Five Star. Then I was inspired to write a book about how being a vampire isn’t as sexy as its reputation would suggest, and wrote The Opposite of Life, about a girl who has suffered a lot and a short, chubby, geeky vampire called Gary. That was with Pulp Fiction Press, and there’s a sequel in the works.

My latest project, though, is a non-fiction iPhone app, Melbourne Literary, which is a guide to literary Melbourne. I’ve done other non-fiction – I had an essay on what’s called The CSI Effect in a true crime collection called Outside the Law #3, about whether watching too much forensic TV affects juries. I’ve also been working on some short stories lately, mainly in the comic-horror genre. One, about a girl whose brother gets turned into a zombie and she’s trying to fix him before Mum finds out, will be published later this year in Best New Zombie Tales Volume 2.

Comic horror seems to have become a bit of a thing since The Opposite of Life, which has a lot of humour in it, as well as an exploration of what makes life worth living even though it can hurt beyond bearing sometimes.

MA: With so many projects, how do you go about developing your characters?

NH: Characters in my earlier books were often inspired by people I knew, or at least amalgamations of people I knew. The Opposite of Life was different, in that Gary the Vampire came up as a response to being tired of seeing all the thin, glamorous vampires in all the films. I just wanted to write about an ordinary guy who was really uncool and didn’t get any cooler just because he was undead. Lissa, the female protagonist, arose out of the kind of story I was telling. I wanted her to be young, a bit funky but also a someone outside groups because her experiences of loss and grief had left her not quite fitting in anywhere completely. She’s a librarian mainly because I thought someone who had lived her life would find great comfort in the escapism of literature, and that she would love the idea taht she could maintain order in some part of her life, at least. She’s one of the few librarians who really loves cataloguing and shelving. She loves imposing order in a tiny corner of her chaotic world.

MA: Are your characters as superhuman as they sound?

NH: I try to make all my characters very textured and human, so they have different kinds of flaws. Frank, for example, gets impatient and can be bad tempered while Milo has a tendency to just sail through life and be a bit thoughtless. He’s not intentionally mean, but he just doesn’t think sometimes.

Gary’s flaws – well, he’s a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. He’s a nice enough guy, really, but he just doesn’t always know what’s appropriate in conversation. He didn’t have those social skills when he was alive, so he can’t blame being a vampire for that. But as the story develops he learns to be more thoughtful. He’s a very straightforward guy too – I don’t think he knows how to lie. It’s one of the things that Lissa likes about him – she might not always like what he has to say, but she knows he’s honest with her. Lissa is courageous and loyal, but also stubborn and a bit impetuous. It gets her into terrible trouble. She has to confront one of her worst flaws by the end of the book – she’s a bit self obsessed and everything she goes through forces her to come up out of the grief and anger she’s been lost in. Both of them, really, have to learn how to engage more with life.

MA: Any recurring nemeses?

NH: The Opposite of Life is written in the style of a crime novel, so the ‘bad guy’ is the person or persons who have been killing people around Melbourne. It’s obviously the work of a vampire, and the vampire community isn’t pleased by that – they try to live under the radar these days. But while there’s an actual bad guy doing bad things, I guess the real bad guy is thematic, the idea that you can avoid life’s pain by withdrawing from it, refusing to engage, and the kind of person that decision makes you become.

MA: I assume you’ve not had any real experiences with vampires (wink), but did your life inspire your writing in any way?

NH: My books are full of real life things, from characters being inspired by friends, to things I’ve read in the news becoming part of the plot. I put a lot of landscapes in. The Opposite of Life is full of places I love (and sometimes loathe) in Melbourne. The Witch books contain landscapes that I travelled through or lived in when I spent three years abroad. I lived in Egypt for two years, and in Poland for one (my husband and I were teaching English as a foreign language) and so much of what I saw and did there has been incorporated into the stories.

MA: Given your prolific writing career so far, I take it you aren’t finished yet, right?

NH: I’m working on some short stories at the moment, as I’ve been invited to submit some to a potential anthology project. I want to write three books about Gary and Lissa as well, so after the current sequel I have to start work on the third. I have ideas for a third Witch novel and some more Frank and Milo stories too. I also have an idea for a rather more complex crime type novel. I’m also planning to create a few more iPhone apps once Melbourne Literary is out there. I have note books full of ideas too, so I don’t think I’ll run out of things to do for a while.

MA: Very interesting and varied. Anything else you’d like to add?

NH: One of the things I’ve been doing, to entertain myself as much as anything, is using Gary and Lissa outside of their books. They are huge fun to write, and their (most definitely not sexual) friendship comes out so well in their conversations. Gary actually collects vampire films and books, and Lissa as a librarian has a lot of comments to make on fiction generally. This meant that when I see vampire stuff now (or sometimes just interesting things, like art exhibitions) I get a triple viewpoint. There’s what I think of it, but also what I think Gary and Lissa would think of it. I started writing up their observations and now I have a semi regular part of my blog called the GaryView, where the two of them discuss pop culture from their rather unique point of view. Gary mainly complains about how most vampire fiction is nothing like the reality of being a vampire. Surprisingly, a certain amount of their back story gets revealed this way, and sometimes these funny little reviews get unexpectedly poignant. They’re a popular part of my blog, but really, I do it because it’s fun and because it’s a really useful writing exercise.

Gary and Lissa also have Twitter accounts, for the same reason that it’s an interesting writing exercise. They occasionally have tweet-chats with other people. That’s fun because I don’t know what people are going to ask, so again it’s a good exercise to consider how Gary and Lissa might respond to issues that I might not have previously considered. It was through doing the tweets that I realized that Lissa never goes to the cemetery to visit the graves of her loved ones. That’s the place where she had to say goodbye to them, and it gives her no comfort. Instead, I realized that she would go and do the things that she used to do with them while they were alive. She might go to a particular cafe to spend a moment thinking about her Nanna, or to a library where her eldest sister used to find books for them to read.

MA: Thanks, Narrelle! Please visit Narrelle’s website: http://www.narrellemharris.com
and Blog: http://narrellemharris.wordpress.com
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Mar 31

Mary Deal Talks about “Writing in the Dark”

Many people have asked for a way to catch that spark of creativity as they wake from sleep.

History is full of writers and people of science and other fields, who have said they receive inspiration in the wee hours of the morning. Some of my most creative moments were when I woke in the middle of the night, so I decided to emulate these great people.

In the past, I lost a lot of sudden inspiration by allowing myself to toss and turn with an idea before returning to sleep, thinking I’d remember it in the morning. History teaches us that we should write down insights and creative flashes on the spot. So I placed a pen and pad on the nightstand. Still, turning on the lights felt like robbing me of sleep.

After a while, I gave up the idea of writing on a pad and decided to go directly to my computer since keying is faster than handwriting. That required waking even more and I found that fully waking sent my muse fleeing. Too, walking to another room, half asleep, and waiting for the computer to boot, I’d forget why I was there!

Handwriting in the dark proved the best way. I got used to the idea of not turning on the lamp or waking fully, and to sitting in bed under the warm covers. The best ideas came and were easily captured when I was only partially awake. Once the notes were jotted, I went back to sleep or lie back to wait for more inspiration.

When writing, the shape of the white paper shown by moonlight, or by the dim light of the street lamps filtering in through the window. Never mind trying to follow those barely discernable blue lines on the paper. I never saw them. All I saw was the shape of my hand moving across the area of white, and my pen, depending on its color. I just wrote.

In the beginning, it helped to imagine each letter of each word. It kept me focused just enough to keep from falling asleep while sitting up. It also helped me write legibly. The tendency—and I’ve heard this from other night writers—is to write hurriedly and the letters and words end up being only partially formed. The writing is difficult to decipher when re-reading later. I soon learned how to write readable letters and words without having to concentrate on each. I didn’t write small. In fact, it was best that I wrote large and got the idea on paper legibly enough to read in the morning.

And forget about hand printing notes. The following morning all you may see will look like chicken scratching! Not only were my printed separate letters haphazard on the paper, but the individual parts of each letter were disjointed and scattered. So, deciding to write only in script, the problem left was how not to write on top of what was already written.

It’s easy to add more notes, not knowing where on the page you left off. You’ll most likely end up writing over what was already there. In the morning, if you wish to keep the valuable information you took the time to jot, you’ll had no choice but to try to decipher the over-writing. So at the moment you’ve finished writing one thought, even if you used only a portion of the paper, turn the page. If more notes are added later, they won’t be written over earlier inspiration.

Another way of avoiding over-writing when finished writing one line across the page: Place the opposite hand over what was just written. Cover each line as they are added and that takes care of that problem.

When stopping writing for a while, attach the pen to the edge of the next blank page. When fumbling for the notepad in the dark, the pen allows a fresh start on a clean page.

Always use a bound notebook. I tried loose pages once but that was short-lived when, in the dark, everything fell to the floor and I didn’t know what was written on and what was not. What a mess! Not to mention being totally distracted and losing my brainstorm!

Any bound notebook will do. You can also punch holes in computer paper used only on one side and put it in a binder. It’s a very thrifty idea. When I run proof copies of my stories and edit, then go back into the computer to make changes, I am left with pages of paper used on one side. Nocturnal note taking can make fullest use of that paper before it’s finally discarded.

Writing on both sides of the page is difficult to do, depending on how each sheet folds backwards. If you use a pre-made notebook, once you reach the last page, and certainly if you need to keep writing, close the book and turn it over. Begin again from the back of the book by writing on the backsides of the pages you have already used.

Sitting up in the dark to write seemed arduous at first. Inspiration can be easily discouraged by the need to sleep. To accomplish what you wish in your writing career, accept creativity whenever your muse presents it. It’s a matter of dedication.

Most practiced writers I know who wake during the night say these techniques have proven invaluable. But the one quality that everyone must have in order to make these techniques work is incentive. It is one thing to wake with glorious information and marvel at the wonders of our minds, then return to sleep. It’s another to want to record some of the best ideas our own brilliance has produced. We must have the incentive to sit up and write in the dark and persevere till we’ve developed the easy habit of doing so.

When I get those great bits of information now, I seem to sit up even before I begin to awaken. I jot my ideas till I think I’ve said what I needed to. Sometimes I merely write the skimpiest of notes and sometimes complete sentences because we all know how fickle the muse is. Recapturing an idea is never the same if we are forced to try to remember details hours later. After writing everything I need to, I lay down knowing I’ve not lost anything and I can sleep in peace.

Only to wake again.

And again.

And….

Sidebar

A common practice to remembering information that fades upon awakening is to do what dream therapists suggest for those wishing to remember dreams.

Assume the same position you lay in when you woke. Place your arms, legs and head where they were. If you were laying on your side, back or stomach, stay in or turn to that same exact position. The dream or that brilliant idea will usually reappear as you relax.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.
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