The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, June 09, 2006

Balancing Plot and Character

Working on the sequel to Great Sky Woman (publishing on the 29th of June!) I began to realize that there were a dozen different plot threads that I wanted to pull together, and it was starting to look a bit too complicated.

That deviled me on the original book, making large chunks of the writing process less than pleasurable.  So I’ve promised myself that I’ll do the appropriate work in the outline form, before I begin the actual writing.

One of the LIFEWRITING techniques I like is to select the single most important character, and run them through both the Hero’s Journey and the Chakras.  What I want to know is: what does this character want?  What do they need?  And what is the gap between these two things?

As I walk their journey with them, I have to deepen my understanding of who they are, and who they wish to be.  Now, it’s absolutely true that only when I write the actual book will I dive to the core of their psyche.  Once I’ve hit their core, and understand the character fully, I look again at the overall story structure, asking how the external story aspects dovetail with the inner needs, the inner journey.

The lead character, a medicine woman named T’Cori (which means “no name” in her language—the first book basically deals with the adventure that earns her a name!) is faced with a group of challenges: holding her people together, finding them a new home, preparing herself for the challenges of leadership, healing relationships, surviving danger, building a family, vanquishing her nightmares.  It’s pretty intense, and involves a  dozen fully realized characters.  My conscious mind can’t handle all of that.  So by paring it all down to a single p.o.v., I can see how the entire story looks from her perspective.  Once that works, and works completely, I can go back, weave in the other characters, and know that her story has the narrative strength necessary to support the entire book.

Once I know that, I’ll be able to start writing with confidence.  Along the way, I’ll discover massive amounts about T’Cori and her world, discoveries that keep the book fresh, and constantly surprise me…and therefore the readers as well. 

You should always strive to balance the known and the unknown.  To give yourself a skeleton to flesh, but also room to roam and grow.  This is the tension between the conscious and unconscious mind…and the basis for creative exploration.

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