Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week 5 - Plot and Characters

29 Jan - 4 Feb

I like to think of plot and character interaction as a sport's event, any sports event.  The story may be a tactical game of darts (an intense, character-focused story) or a rigourous game of soccer (an action-packed, plot-driven story).

In my mind, then, plot and character interaction is like a slide scale where the proportion of influence of each element changes depending on the story type and author's intention.  These proportions may even change within the story (there is an errant dart that pierces the opponents leg or the football field is hushed by serious injury).

Let's look more closely at the soccer game:  the playing field is the plot outline; the rules of the game are like the basic rules of writing; and the football players trying their best to score points using the skills taught to them by a coach, are like the characters in a story, using the tools of the writer.  Like the football game, a story has players that have stiff opposition, players that stand out as exceptional, players that make mistakes, and the player that scores the winning goal and makes the crowd go crazy.  Or just one player that represents all of the above. 

Readers, of course, are the spectators that must watch to the end of the game; that are on the edge of their seats during a nail-biter finale; and that might actually pee their pants because they dare not visit the restroom during the final minutes of the game.  Thank goodness the good book can be taken with us to the bathroom!

Every spectator knows, then, that a game is nothing without its players (ie. the characters), and the players are nothing without the game (ie. plot).

The coach, of course, is nothing without both.

Exercise 9.  Choose and outline a sport or game that will represent your story and its characters.  In the outline, start with any special setting requirements (eg outdoors, indoors, ocean, air), describe the type of playing field (eg. equestrian arena, bowling alley, chessboard), chose a main competitor and opponent and mention supporting players if relevant.  Briefly describe or dotpoint the competition highlights and the final outcome.  Now, parallel a story on this scenario.  

Exercise 10.  Build an imaginary relationship tree. Start with two or three characters (for shorter stories) and add more characters as your story gets more complex.  Join the characters with lines and arrows and describe each relationship. Be as simple, serious, morbid or as ridiculous as you like. Jot down brief descriptions (looks, personality traits etc) and go on to outline a plot with chronological detail, based on your relationships.

Week 6 will look more closely at character development.

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