Saturday, May 23, 2015

Character Arc, part 2: the Lie, the Want, the Need

In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.

Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.

People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.

A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money. 

The next leg of the character arc is what Weiland calls What the Character Wants/What the Character Needs. It is related to The Lie.

Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.

At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.

Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.

Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Character Arcs

A question came up in my writer’s group. One of my critique partners asked, would not my main character behave differently in that particular situation? That led me to wonder where the MC is along their character arc, which in turn caused me to ponder character arcs in general.

What the heck is a character arc?

For the simple answer, I turned to a favorite expert, KM Weiland. Her Helping Writers Become Authors site is excellent chalk full of great advice on many aspects of the craft. But Weiland’s stuff on character arcs was not simple at all, rather a fifteen part series on the topic. 

Weiland says character evolution is at the heart of any good story. Whether the protagonist is changing herself or the world around her, character arcs are the whole point of fiction. The journey from one spiritual/emotional/intellectual place to another is the story of humanity. The author’s primary job is to learn how those fundamental changes work in real life, then present them in fiction with enough realism to connect with readers.

There sometimes is a debate among writers as to the importance of plot vs character. Weiland says they are connected. “The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.”

But that is not all. Plot and character are related to theme. The three of them are symbiotic and can’t work alone. Weiland says that the character arc is the theme. 

There are three type of character arcs. In the positive change arc, the protagonist starts with varying levels personal dissatisfaction and even denial of the lack of fulfillment. As the story proceeds, she will question her beliefs about herself and the world until she finally defeats her inner demons. In flat character arcs, the MC tries to change the world around her. She is already a hero operating from high moral ground and are often a catalyst for change in others. The negative arc is similar to the positive arc except the MC changes toward a more darker side.

Writing a great character is more than just a character changing over time. Writers need to learn how to structure a character arc. Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

In the next few weeks, Weiland’s fifteen part series will be boiled down and presented here. Clicking on the above link above will get you to her site where she can explain the whole thing in full detail.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When Your Writers Group Grows Up

I'm in a group that has had a sudden explosion of success. With one writer (out of five) having published a few books now, and two others recently finding agents, the need of the group is changing. We still do the standard critiques, but it has changed. There's sometimes more time pressure, or at least one writer is too busy making a deadline to dedicate much time to a traditional group in a certain week.

With these kinds of changes and under these kinds of pressures, some groups might collapse. Not us. We're changing though. We're more about support, providing feedback when needed and not necessarily in scheduled get-togethers, cheering each other on, pushing each other to write in scheduled or impromptu writing sprints, and encouraging the two members who are still trying to join the success party.

This creates some growing pains, but we've been together long enough that, so far, we've weathered the changes. It's almost a new group with the same people, and we continue to make adjustments so we can keep helping each other. It's been interesting to watch, and it will continue to be interesting as the group matures and evolves in the face of success.

For those of you who have been through similar changes in your groups, what advice do you have? How have maturing and success affected your groups?

Monday, April 27, 2015

I AM

I Am

Where are you from? they ask.
Your moms from here. Your dads from there, they say.
Im from here, from today, same as everyone else, I say.
No, where are you really from? they insist.
I ask Abuelo because he knows everything,
and like me, he looks like he doesnt belong.
Where am I from?
Abuelo thinks. His eyes squint, like hes looking inside his heart for an answer.
You come from the Pampas, the open free land, he says.
Youre from the gaucho, brave and strong. From the brown river that cleanses and feeds the land that gives us the grain for our bread, the milk from the cows.
Youre from mountains so high they tickle Señor Cielos belly,
where the condor roosts his family
 and the jaguar prowls the night.
But youre also from the warm, blue oceans,
and the elegant palm trees that stretch their fingers to caress the waves.
Youre from a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep.
Youre from hurricanes and dark storms.
From the copper warriors that rode the ocean and worshipped the silver moon.
Youre from sea explorers, from their courage and their maps.
From two cousins that escaped war in the land that Jesus walked,
 From these new shores where they built a home for all of us.
Youre from the grandmothers who look for their grandchildren, waiting, always waiting  in a plaza, their white handkerchiefs wrapping the sorrow of their thoughts.
Youre from Pacific and Atlantic, Mediterranean and Caribbean.
You come from the sunshine that lights our path in this world and the rain that washes away our mistakes.
But Abuelo, I ask, Where am I really from?
Abuelo laughs. You want a place?
Then know that youre from here, he points to his temple,
from my dreams of freedom and books.
He points to his heart,
 Youre from here, from my love and the love of all those before us,
those who dreamed of you, free to ask questions and have a future.
Youre from all of us.
I am.
Im not from here, and Im not from there. Im from dreams and hopes,
from hard work and love. 
I am.


Yamile Saied Méndez was born and raised in Argentina, but has lived in Utah half of her life. She's a mother of five, lover of futbol, Irish dancing, and books. She's a free lance writer and a MFA candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her musings can be read at www.yamilesmendez.com 

Monday, April 6, 2015

30 Day, 30 Stories: The Beast

Today's contributor is Miranda Snow. It is a wonderfully told harrowing tale.

                 Like the candle sitting before me, my fire is slowly fading and thus, my friend, I write to you now. The first signs of the sickness are upon me, my head burns with fever and the painful lumps are beginning to form. Given the examples of my peers, I would guess I have but a week.
                  The night before last I had a dream. I believe it was to warn me of this oncoming affliction. It started out as a beautiful dream; I was in the wood among many animals. We were happy there, enjoying the sweetness of the morning air that brought with it the smell of flowers. I laid down to rest among my animal friends but when I awoke everything was different. It was the same beautiful place, but it seemed as if darkness had fallen upon it. I looked up and realized my grandmother was standing in a clearing before me. At first I was elated to see her but as she walked towards me I realized something was very wrong.
                  The ground beneath her feet rotted and died with each passing step, her skin was a pale gray and the air around her sizzled as if she were the sun itself. Dark blood-filled lumps covered her body and as she came closer I saw that puss and blood leaked from them.
                  Her face is what brought me to tears; it was laden with pain as if all of the hardships of her life were expressed in this one, fatal, moment. As she stepped into the wood the trees around her wilted and formed hideous flesh like lumps, much like her own, and died. I wanted to run, but the strength had been sucked out of me. Instead, I was possessed with a need, a desire, to help her and found myself standing but how I came to be I do not recall.  I reached out my hand toward hers but as our fingers met I let out a scream as I too became covered in painful boils and lumps over the extent of my body. It was then that I awoke to my grandmother's screams, it was that very morning my grandmother died.
                  Despite my knowledge and experience in healing, I have never seen anything like this heartless disease before. I have tried numerous methods to rid us of this plague, from bloodletting to forced vomiting, but none has seemed to work. It is as if the earth itself were hungry for the dust of our bodies. 
                  There are many theories surrounding this affliction and where it came from. Whether it is the waters, the meat or from the angry wrath of God himself; I do not think we will ever truly know why this has happened.  
                  I write to you now my fried to record the events of this plague for those after my time, for those who seek comfort that they are not alone, and for my loved ones already fled to the countryside. Perhaps they will find you and know that I did everything in my power to rid us of this beast.
                  It started almost a year ago, in the year of our Lord 1348. All it took was a single man to kill off over half the city. He was sick upon arrival and though the local physician and I did our best he died a few days after. It was then that everyone began feeling ill, the first victim a mere babe.  I can still remember its mother's screams, I think if I could go back and save even one it would have been that babe.    
                  The first of the symptoms was a headache, then chills and a fever, which left them exhausted and prostrate. They then experienced nausea, vomiting, back pain, and soreness in their arms and legs.
                  Within a day or two, the swellings appeared. They were hard, painful, burning lumps, on their neck, under their arms, and on their inner thighs. Soon they turned black, split open and began to ooze puss and blood.  
                  After the lumps they began to bleed internally. There would be blood in their urine, blood in their stool, and blood gathering under their skin, resulting in black boils and spots all over their bodies. It was these very boils that had earned this fearsome disease its name - the Black Death.
                  When the Pope left in May many followed him. Some of my fellow plague doctors took it as a sign and ran also; whether or not they are still alive today I do not know. But perhaps they were the wise ones.  If only we had known that this disease was beyond any of man's tools, we would have all fled to the countryside then.  Perhaps if we had, my grandmother would still be alive today.  
                  When everyone left they left their dead and their dying where they lay. They were afraid and they had a right to be, but to leave their dying behind, to die alone like that…there are times I can still hear their haunting screams echoing down the now empty streets of this cursed city. Now that I myself am in their position I understand just how much more painful it is.  
                   Most would not go near the afflicted, priests stopped giving the dying their last rights, the dead were left where they lay in their beds, and even most physicians would not dare to help. That is except for us, the plague doctors, how could we just let them die? To let those children die? I suppose I am paying for that decision now. As you read this, know that this plague has brought out the worst in humanity but in a select few it has brought out the best in us. We stayed; we fought the dying battle, and while we may have lost perhaps my story, our story, will inspire others.  

                     If those traveling through are speaking the truth then more have perished than I could possibly fathom. If history has its way it will be cruel and erase the memory of our lives. So, my friend, I write within your tear sodden pages now to try and defeat history's cruel wrath. To those that read this I have died, perhaps long ago, but I plead with you now to remember our story. Remember us.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

30 Days, Not Too Many Stories

The April 30 Days, 30 Stories needs your story.

We’re a children’s writers blog, but it does not have to be a children’s story; any audience level is fine. Most genres are encouraged: poetry, prose, memoir, or cartoon. Illustrators can share their work, too. 

If you were considering sharing, email me at bruceluck@ymail.com to set up a day. 

Utah is blessed with some brilliant writers and April is the month to show it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

30 Days, 30 Stories - Writers Beware

The first of our annual 30 Days, 30 Stories comes from Marion Steiger. It is a humorous account of a different kind of writer’s block.

WRITERS BEWARE
Get your head in the right place before you have surgery on your hand. Prepare for your dermatologist to tell you not to use your computer after he removes a Squamous cell carcinoma planted on top of your right hand. Yes. Right hand. Of course I’m right handed. Four to seven days minimum without writing is killing me. It hurts worse than the incision site.
Another warning. Don’t wear jeans with a zipper and metal button. I unbuttoned and unzipped after a short struggle and made it to the toilet in time. (You get to figure out the bathroom stuff on your own.) What I couldn’t do was re-zip and button up. Sloppy pull-on sweat pants worked after I balanced on the edge of the tub and inched them up one leg at a time. Warm socks came after the pants, big toe first, then more pulling and pushing, all wrong handed. 
 Don’t wear a tight pull-over T-shirt for surgery. You’ll be begging for help when your head gets stuck in the neck hole and you’re tired and a touch weak in the knees. My only suggestion for bras—wear one and have someone waiting to unhook it. Same for putting it back on. Either forget it or plan to be hooked and unhooked. 
TV, even previously recorded shows, and reading and free time are huge disappointments when they’re all you’re allowed to do. Left-handed writing is unreadable. Texting worked a touch better after I remembered my stylus, but still slower than a snail. I gave up. 
Ever opened a can of Diet Coke or bottle of water with one hand? Even with the right hand? Forget it. About eating—forget that, too, after the numbing goes away. It hurts to lift a fork or spoon. Knife? Ha. No glass of wine before and after surgery. It makes for more blood. 
If I have a third surgery, I may show up totally sleep deprived. Oh, arrange your pillows before bedtime to keep your hand elevated. And avoid rolling over if you want to keep the covers from capturing your arms and legs. Untangling wakes you and anyone sleeping beside you. Maybe sleep alone and keep the peace.
Expect to wear out your left index finger when you sneak out the laptop, which writers must do, and type with your wrong hand. Also, don’t expect your computer to read your needs. It’s smart, but refuses to text. Plan to put in your own apostrophes and capital letters and clicking the space-bar twice won’t automatically add a period. 
Here are my serious suggestions. Well, mostly serious. Don’t grow up in Florida. Don’t move to Utah to ski in the snow and on the water. Don’t hike the mountains; the altitude puts you closer to the sun. Never forget the sunblock, which we never had when I sunbathed on Jacksonville Beach.
And if you ignore these warnings, never forget to visit your favorite dermatologist regularly. Thank you Dr. Hinckley for taking great care freezing, cutting, and stitching my skin problems without scolding me once for ruining my skin.
Also, thank you to my understanding husband for never fussing about my whining and complaints and helping me with all but one problem. You figure that out.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the thin, flat squamous cells that make up the outer layer of the skin.

We still have plenty of days open. Email me at bruceluck@ymail.com if you would like to contribute a story.