The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, June 12, 2006

Playing Cards

A reader recently asked how you maintain the balance between plot and character.  The answer is that it will never be perfect, and if you have to err, err on the side of whichever aspect of story appeals to you more personally.  But remember that plot is the revelation of character in a specific circumstance—the two are inextricably intertwined.

Imagine a movie scene: a bank robbery. Standing in line to cash his check is Clint Eastwood.  We all know how this scene is likely to play out.  Now imagine the same scene, and standing in line is Woody Allen.  The scene will turn out a very different way.  So take care to balance the aspects, but remember that that balance will never, ever be perfect.
I spent  the weekend taking everything I know about the Great Sky Woman sequel, Shadow Valley, and putting it all on 3X5 cards.  It made a stack of about 130 cards that I wrapped with a rubber band, and carried with me everywhere, taking every spare moment to just roam through the cards.  All of the main character’s scenes were on white cards. The major antagonist’s scenes were in red. The second lead’s cards were in green.  I’m just letting my subconscious marinate in the entire story.   I look at it backwards: where does the story end? What is the most important climactic scene?  Do I build to it properly?

Where does it begin?  What is the inciting incident?  What is character X’s moment of greatest despair? 

I’ll ask myself these questions endlessly, until I feel that my mind can answer all of them. That no matter what direction I view the characters from, their world makes sense, is organic to their nature. 

Then I will take the next step…

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