Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Whys and Wherefores

You get a bonus post this week, because I want to get back to the story in progress for Friday, but I don't want to sit on this until next week. I received two questions, and I thought they were unrelated enough to each get their own post. This question was about two pages long so I've just picked out the pertinent parts.

"Do you set a guideline of musts or cannot's will not's do you ever think about the objective of these characters and where you want them to end up. … How do you pick the objective when you come up with a character or do you?"

I think characters always need to have some motivation or objective that drives their story arc. I also think that maybe I don't always know what it is when I first start out. Starting with last November's NaNo novel, I've really tried to outline my story more, so I'm not so much making it up as I go. As it turns out, outlining didn't really help all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it did force me to examine the goals of my main character a little more.

The main character of that story, Daniel Sheridan, had just been framed for an assassination, and his end objective was to clear his name. Simple enough. Along the way, he wanted to stay on the right side of the law as much as possible, so he couldn't, say, kill anyone, or steal anything. So he had to try to survive, on the run, while still remaining an upstanding citizen. Since he wanted to prove that he was innocent and not a criminal, he couldn't become a criminal in the process.

In general, I think most of my characters have at least some end goal. Usually there are subgoals along the way, because something has to drive the plot. Otherwise, random things happen, and characters just react to them without ever really trying to accomplish anything.

I guess I'm just going to give some examples of character objectives from my past scribblings:

  • Unknown Soldier - a man wants to live up to the example set by his mythical hero
  • To Hell and Back – a guy wants to rescue his friend from the Underworld
  • Secrets of Sterling City - a kid wants to unravel the mystery surrounding the local mine
  • Locking Up the Sun - a man with a superpower wants to be left alone, but in order for that to happen, he must first save the city
  • The Edgelands - a man wants to find a way home from the alternate dimension he's fallen into
  • The Midnight Carnival - a girl wants to escape the demonic circus she's trapped in
  • Secrets and Thieves - an ensemble cast with a variety of goals:
    • An orphan spoon thief wants to find his own past
    • A teenage heiress wants to escape an arranged marriage
    • A narcoleptic gunslinger wants to do some good with what he believes will be a short life
    • A neo-Bedouin wants revenge for his murdered family
    • And several others
  • A Conspiracy of Ravens - the aforementioned frame-job wants to clear his name

And that's saying nothing of the antagonists of these stories. Even bad guys need motivations. They can't be doing it just for the evulz. That's just an unsatisfying way to go. The above listed stories aren't even all of the ones I have. There are several more where the objectives are not so clear, and it's more like "crazy things are happening, let's all try not to die." I mean, that's most of my plots anyway, but I try to have a little more than that.

I am by no means an expert of any kind. I'm just throwing words together and hoping something cool happens. But I am trying to be better. By having to justify things here, it's going to force me to try a little harder, and put a little more effort into things like plot, setting, and characterization. Hopefully I'll be able to produce something that people like and want to read.

As always, leave me comments, ask me questions. I will probably answer any open-ended questions in future posts, so if you want me to ramble on about something, ask away. We'll be returning to our prison train adventure on Friday.

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