Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Driving Force of a Story

     Whether it’s a an epic novel you’re writing or a short story, one thing that drives readers to continue reading is an engaging cast of characters. I’ve always allowed the characters in my books to dictate the storyline, and not vice versa. This is solely due to my own writing style. What always works for me is to figure out the ending and allow the cast of characters to take you there. A prime example of this is the first book I wrote in the Tales of Averon series, The Dark Army. I effectively knew that I wanted a huge battle scene at the end that would affect the animals living in the forest, and also the pack of foxhounds hunting the foxes that dwelled there. This image was clear to me from the beginning. I knew where I was heading and what I wanted to achieve. I’ve done a number of workshops and classes dedicated to creative writing and I always find myself giving this example; writing is much like running a race. It doesn’t matter how long the race is or what type of race you run, but how would you know where to go if you didn’t know where the finish line was? So, what I did in the beginning and effectively have done ever since is to discover exactly how I want my story to finish. Once I have this set out, I simply let the characters take me there. With this technique I genuinely believe you can create some truly believable and fantastic characters with little effort, as the ending of your book will allow you to manipulate each character naturally to get there. This enables me to make natural decisions for my characters and shape their traits to help drive the story onward. It also helps you to build a bond with each one you create. 
     I always remembered a piece of advice I read a few years ago in an article by an author I have neglected to remember. In it, the author stated that if the writer did not care about their characters within the book they were creating, how could they expect the reader to do the same? This stuck with me, and it was from that point that I decided to let the characters evolve for themselves. All I purposefully give them is a name and a sex, unless of course it’s a Tales of Averon character where they also require an animal group to belong to, and effectively let my story do the rest. For instance, Baal, the general of the Dark Army that hunts the foxes across the countryside, began life as a sly, cunning character within my mind, but as soon as I gave him a war wound his complexion changed drastically. I knew he was going to be a key character in the war of Averon, and as I wrote him more I became more and more engaged. It was Baal and what he wanted to achieve that shaped his development in to an almost aggressive, paranoid schizophrenic type mind set. This worked wonders in driving the story to the battle at the end, as his one quest to hunt the fox that eluded him brought about every other thread within the book. I still receive emails from people who inform me that he is their favourite character, and I take pride in the fact that Baal developed his own being. I just gave him the platform to do it.
     When development is natural you can play with character traits and tweak them to your own liking based on what you feel is necessary. A great example of this is the four Forest Guards within the Tales of Averon. The Forest Guards are a group of rabbits used to gather reconnaissance and Intel from around the forest where their warren is located. It was clear from the beginning that the Tales of Averon was going to be a dark adventure from the outset and across the series, and I knew that somewhere I would have to lighten some adventures in part. I never intended the Forest Guard to become the beacon of light within that darkness, but again it happened naturally. Each rabbit in the company had their own character, and I learned quickly that I was writing them as a military unit. To me, this made sense due to the nature of their role within the books. The more I wrote them the more they became comedic in parts, which made any achievement they succeeded in even more meaningful. One night I was watching television and an old episode of Dad’s Army began playing out. I remember being completely taken in at the comedy and thought, ‘that’s exactly what Apollo would be like if he was a human soldier,’ or ‘Coinin would be exactly the same in that situation,’ and so I found myself basing some particular traits on the characters from the television programme. Granted, I wasn’t writing them in the comedic situations that Mr Mainwaring and his men found themselves in, but they did serve as a great way to break some tension and brighten up the theme within the books from time to time.
     I think that as writers we can use reality to help shape our characters, but if you do try to use this technique I’d say have an understanding of your character’s development and future traits before you do this. For example, if you find your hero naturally developing towards a quiet nature it would be odd to build them as an attention seeking protagonist just because they are leading your novel, and you want a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air type character in there somewhere. Critique yourself and your direction and ask if this is best. In The Tales of Averon, I found Baal speaking with the very distinct voice of actor Hugo Weaving, who to me was the soul of the character. This allowed me to base his speech and sentence delivery as the actor does whilst talking on screen. I also found myself doing this with the character Cameron Drake in Haunted, only this time he was based on the actor Andrew Lincoln. These were the strongest references I had through the five books I have written. Baal always spoke with Hugo Weaving’s voice, and Cameron Drake took up some mannerisms from Andrew Lincoln’s acting style.   
     I believe that knowing your destination and writing freely will allow threads and plots to establish naturally. I meet so many writers who spend hours and hours planning their characters and plots before writing. My advice to all authors out there, just try this one exercise. Set yourself a short story but decide what the main plot will be at the end. Maybe someone’s cover is blown? Maybe a missile sinks a battleship? How about a phobia conquered, or whatever it is you can think of. Embrace this ending as you’re only certain plot and write from the beginning without thinking of the start or middle, just know where you’re heading. See what happens and let me know how you did!

4 comments:

Rita Bay said...

I'm a professed plotter but the concept of having the image that defines the story is critical. Most of my stories evolve from a single vivid scene. Thank you for sharing. Rita

Rita Bay said...

I'm a professed plotter but the concept of having the image that defines the story is critical. Most of my stories evolve from a single vivid scene. Thank you for sharing. Rita

Alan Keen said...

I think as writers we all have our own unique style. I'm a believer in experimenting with different styles, but myself i enjoy keeping everything open, as you never know what pops in to your mind as you plough forward! thanks for reading

MandyB said...

Can I link this piece to my blog today?
Thanks
Mandy Eve-Barnett
www.mandyevebarnett.com