The TARDIS is, after all, the Doctor’s ‘Thing’. It’s what makes him stand out as a truly unique character. Many characters in fiction have travelled through time and space; many are aliens; many speak in BBC English but no one else has a space/time capsule disguised as a British police box. If anyone did, we would all cry ‘Plagiarism! A space/time travelling police box is the Doctor’s Thing!’
Almost all of the most memorable characters in fiction have a Thing. It might be a physical object they carry, something they wear or perhaps even something they simply say. When one thinks of James Bond, we imagine a man who carries a Beretta 418 (though in reality, he did occasionally use other weapons) and drinks vodka martinis, shaken not stirred. Batman dresses like bat, drives a Batmobile and operates from a Batcave; no prizes for guessing what his thing is. Even characters from history are often assigned Things that make them recognisable when they are portrayed on stage or on film today. For example, one of the first plays I recall ever seeing included a portrayal of Henry XIII, who spent most of the play munching a turkey leg.
Sometimes, I just can’t say it better than my fellow bloggers, and since it’s been a while since I’ve compiled a ‘list of things I like’ kind of post (in fact, I don’t think I’ve done it since the very first post I ever wrote for Penstricken; sigh) I decided that it was about time I did another one. And what better thing to list than some of the best story-writing related posts from other blog sites that I have found particularly useful or insightful in recent weeks.
In reality, there’s dozens of writing and fiction related blogs I like to read on a regular basis and there have been numerous posts I’ve read lately that I could include in this list. I could not even begin to list them all. This is just a selection of some that I have recently come across (not necessarily ones that were written recently) which proved invaluable to me.
Have you ever had a really great idea for a story that somehow seemed to die a little more with each word you tried to write? Ever had a thrilling plot with no obvious holes in it that you just couldn’t seem to get off the ground? Perhaps, in addition to your thrilling and seamless plot, you also constructed a world so detailed, so complex and so marvellous that it would give Terry Pratchett and J.R.R Tolkien a run for their money; an antagonist whose diabolical scheme is sure to keep the reader on the edge of their seats; you’ve even managed to weave in a romantic subplot (which admittedly still seems a little half-baked, but it’s showing real potential)… and yet still, you just can’t seem to really ignite all that hard work into a half decent manuscript.
If any of this sounds familiar, there’s a good chance that your story is suffering from a chronic case of what I have dubbed Phantom Protagonist Syndrome (PPS).
Since we talked about creating the perfect bad guy last week, I thought it seemed only meet that we should have a think about the character who (some might say) is the most important in any story: the protagonist.
Traditionally, the protagonist is the ‘hero’ and the ‘good guy’. Indiana Jones, Miss Marple, Romeo, Luke Skywalker, Sherlock Holmes, Matilda, Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Frodo Baggins, The Doctor and James Bond are just some examples of famous protagonists who defeat the bad guy, save the day, get the girl (or boy!) and generally overcome whatever obstacles the author feels like putting between them and their ultimate goal.
The six main categories of conflict are already pretty well established in writerly circles and I saw no point in deviating from it; however, to help you along, I have also included three possible examples of each. This is by no means and exhaustive list and I have tried to keep it generalised, but I hope you find it useful.
I decided it was probably time for me to knock together a little list of character goals… This list is a lot shorter than my list of motives, mainly because I’ve tried to keep these very general even though goals are usually very specific to the story, but I hope you’ll find it helpful.
Surface details are absolutely vital if you want to give your protagonist that perfect finish but they’re not the beating heart of your character. Whenever you’re detailing your characters demographic details or physical appearance remember to keep it relevant.
It’s time for part 3 in this little series of posts collectively entitled A Protagonist’s Anatomy. This week we’ll focus on adding another important layer which will take the words on your page and make them read like the written record of a real life person: character traits.
Put simply, a backstory is everything that happened to your protagonist before the events of your actual novel. More precisely, however, a backstory is whatever has happened in your protagonist’s past to make them who they are today.
And so for the first post in the series it seemed only right that I begin with the four things that form the beating heart of any good character: motive, goals, conflict and epiphany.