Character

A good character is key to your book. If you have poor characters there is nothing to rescue the book.

These tips come from a writing course and I’m hopeful will be useful in improving your characters.

“Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.”

(The principles of screenwriting by Robert McKee) Bookfinder 

McKee

Character ‘Dimension’

A quote from p.p.  377-8 of the above book:

‘Dimension’  is the least understood concept in character…Some years ago a producer pitched me what he believed to be a ^three-dimensional’ protagonist in these terms:   ‘Jesse just got out of prison, but while he was in the slammer he boned up on finance and investment,  so he’s a expert on stocks, bonds, and securities. He can also break dance. He’s got a black belt in karate and plays a mean jazz saxophone.’ His Vesse’ was a flat as a desktop – a cluster of traits stuck on a name. Decorating a protagonist with quirks does not open his character and draw empathy. Rather, eccentricities may close him off and keep us at a distance.

A favourite academic tenet argues that, instead,  fine characters are marked by one dominant trait. Macbeth’s ambition is frequently cited. Overwhelming ambition, it’s claimed, makes Macbeth great. This theory is dead wrong.  If Macbeth were merely ambitious, there’d be no play. He’d simply defeat the English and rule Scotland. Macbeth is a brilliantly realized character because of the contradiction between his ambition on the one hand and his guilt on the other. From this profound inner contradiction springs his passion, his complexity, his poetry.

Dimension means contradiction:  either within deep character (guilt-ridden ambition) or between characterization and deep character (a charming thief). These contradictions must be consistent.  It doesn’t add dimension to portray a guy as nice throughout the film, then in one scene have him kick a cat…

Dimensions fascinate; contradictions in nature or behaviour rivet the audience’s concentration. Therefore, the protagonist must be the most dimensional character in the cast to focus empathy on the star role.  If not, the Centre of Good decanters; the fictional universe flies apart; the audience loses balance.”

Plot and Character

A Plot led structure

If your story is about the robbing of the bank – you still need to care about why the character is robbing it.

Plot led structures are found in crime, thriller, horror and where there is suspense in action.

A Character led structure

Character led structures are found in romance, family drama and anywhere suspense is found in the character’s internal struggles.

You may not know what structure you’ve got until you’ve written your first draft. (Outlining in sufficient detail may help).

Plot Structure

  • Give your character a huge problem to resolve.
  • In the process throw loads of obstacles at them.
  • Your character needs to come up with a solution and redeem themselves.

What is your characters main dilemma?

What is the most exciting action line or crisis or major discovery?

Does this serve to highlight your character’s dilemma?

Is your character’s dilemma rooted in their personality?

Character

Normally there is one main protagonist.

This is the character whose story you are telling.

Aim to create a struggle within your character. Struggle reminds us that we are human.

Create a dimensional, real, character with their own wants and needs.

The outer goal is what they want recognisably to achieve.

The Inner goal is why they want or need to achieve those goals.

What is at stake if the character fails to achieve their goals?

What is stopping the character from reaching their goal?

The inner and outer goal should be linked. This is the basis for the reader’s engagement.

During the story the character “finds themselves” and this is the resolution.

Levels of conflict

Relationships – other characters, family, friends, antagonists

Societal – organisations, murder, rules

Nature – forces of nature, disaster,

Supernatural – monsters, God, aliens, ghosts

Character Building

There is a good questionnaire for this here https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/interviewing-your-characters/

  1. Where does your character live?
  2. Where is your character from?
  3. How old is your character?
  4. What is your character called?
  5. What does your character look like?
  6. What kind of childhood did he or she have?
  7. What does your character do for a living?
  8. How does your character deal with conflict and change?
  9. Who else is in your character’s life?
  10. What is your character’s goal or motivation in this story or scene?

You should really know your character.

This is a slow process building up from small details.

Gradually build up the intimacy between them and the reader.

Take time to allow them to get to know one another, time to care about what happens to the character, time to allow the reader to root for them to achieve their goal.

 

I was set a task of exploring a character and came up with the following which I hope you enjoy:

Story

Cigarettes, how he hated getting the cigarettes.  Here he was in the “sad bastards” ten items or less queue at Tesco’s.  Everything in the basket evidence of his vegetarian “live healthier” lifestyle and then Gary has to ask for cigarettes.

Of course he could never say no to him.  One inkling of that cheeky smile and the lights went on inside.  He felt like some school girl giggly and shy.

If only the eczema would give up he might try to know him a bit more – hand cream it was a euphemism really.  Try “whole body cream” and you would be closer to the truth. The red-scaly patches could rage up at any time and cause him wakeful nights; his flagging will-power all he had to stop the damn scratching.

It was easier to stay awake – a bit more coffee, a chunk of Bourneville and a late night weepy.  He hoped the checkout assistant wouldn’t stare again – the patches on his cheeks were bad today – if only he could send out for shopping.

Still it was his only activity outside his self-imposed prison.  Exercise was the rowing machine and work was always by email and by telephone.

Hopefully the Soya would be enough for the lactose intolerance.  The doctor had said IBS – then he had said that in his opinion IBS was “all in the mind”.  Well he’d try the Soya and avoid the bloody doctor.

How could anyone fancy him like this, especially Gary?  He tried not to think of it, best not to cry just as he was handing over his clubcard.

 

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Book Planning Pt. 2

I am quite taken with plans on the theme of hell and this is one of those.

Sadly the plot questions and other aspects highlighted in the last post have been lost such that I just have the beginnings of a plan.

I still find myself quite fascinated by this idea so perhaps at one stage I’ll evolve it out and see what happens with it.

In the meantime I hope that you enjoy it.

This follows on from the first entry on book planning https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/08/book-planning/

It turns out that I have further book plans which were prepared (presumably with the aim of expanding them into books) and which got no further.

Start of the Plot

James is an ordinary auditor. He likes to be well turned out; takes his time in Marks and Spencer; likes suits for the fuller figured man, even though he might make a waif look over-fed. James likes to spend time in Clarks examining shoes. These are always size 12 (even though he might be considered to be an 11), wide fitting, and lacking any high shine. James selects his ties from John Lewis and always opts for something muted in a diamond pattern or occasionally a pale stripe.

James is diligent in his work, each day carefully noting the time that he has taken and striving the very next day to better his performance. He ticks off each stage in the audit that he has completed and reports his progress weekly to a demotivated boss in a tired and dusty office.

He departs each evening on the 06.35pm bus and sits an exact 3 seats from the rear on the right hand side. In 25 years no one has yet felt the need to sit near to him. He scans the headlines of the day’s Guardian newspaper in silence before alighting 20 minutes’ walk from his uPVC front door.

James in fact is perennially dull. From his mousey-brown hair, the washed out ash-coloured eyes to the greying pallor of his skin there is nothing remarkable about him.

He arrives home each night at an unremarkable 7.07 pm. He takes out the tin of whiskers, today the tuna; tomorrow the chicken. He strokes the cat a regulation 5 times before turning to the freezer for something in the Tesco-finest range.

James turns to the BBC and watches the weather before turning in each evening at 9.30pm without variance. He reads a chapter of his book on audit and governance – the latest from the institute before extinguishing the light.

People like James; he is invisible. He listens carefully to what they have to say, nods appreciatively in the moments where it is expected and then passes on. Whilst they like James, they do not remember him. James in fact has no friends, no companions and no one has seen the inside of his house since he took up residence 25 years ago.

People who James audits find themselves confessing all the aspects of their working lives they should conceal from auditors. They tell him where the frauds are committed, who isn’t monitoring their budgets, where the money is wasted. In fact James is very effective at his job.

There is no sign at all in fact that James is a demon.

Of course James is completely unaware of this. He is unaware that 25 years ago he emerged into the world fully-formed, already moulded into the perfect auditor. He received a house at an impossible price from a distracted estate agent. He walked into a job at the local bank without interview, job description or Curriculum Vitae. James is as ignorant as his down beaten manager.

James in fact is not a demon that one would wish to have conduct audits, travel on the bus with one, or shop in one’s store for tins of Whiskas.

If his true self were to be revealed it is unlikely that the lady at number 22 would talk to James about the weather, smile in a distracted way or return inside (forgetting completely that she has ever spoken to anyone).

It is likely in fact that the lady at number 22 would be screaming in rank hysteria. Thankfully for her briefly as the experience would be almost instantaneously fatal.

James in fact is a career demon, member of the high council, noted for his abilities in the infliction of pain and the manipulation of terror.

In any other circumstance James would be wandering the corridors of horror. He would monitor the efforts of minor demons to make the suffering of the damned more intolerable. He would administer random acts of cruelty just to keep his hand in.

It is in fact fortunate that when walking out of hell 25 years previously James managed to excise all memories of his former existence. Fortunate for everyone else that is.

Sadly, today James will not be catching the 7.24 and purchasing the Guardian from a kiosk on his way to work. The lady in Accounts, who had revealed that the budget for Christmas entertainment was completely unmonitored, need not fear the arrival of a report from James pointing out her error.

It was easy, too easy in fact, Moloch had no need of sleep and wandering the flame lashed world he had plenty of distractions. There was always new tortures to devise, new accounts to be kept, level of suffering expressed, depth of despair that sort of thing. Moloch of course rarely sullied his hands with those details now. He had been in the business so many millennia that he had only to think a request and leagues of minor demons would hurry to do his bidding. Encouraged no doubt by memories of what happened when they were less willing.

Moloch in fact was bored; it had been 50 centuries at least since he had really enjoyed what he was doing. This morning for instance he had a man repeatedly impaled with red hot pokers. There was the screaming of course, the pointless pleading, the whimpering, but what was it all for? He began to wonder what was the meaning of it all, what was the purpose in his existence?

If tomorrow he simply had to cause the suffering of another few million lost souls, why was he even here? Surely there were demons equally qualified, perhaps better qualified to do the same thing. Moloch sighed.

Moloch had thought often in the last few hundred years of his lack of mortality, often he had wished that it was possible to die. It wasn’t the constant pain; Satan knows that he had grown used to that, many centuries ago. No amount of extra torture could really make things any worse for him. No, Moloch had developed that most self-defeating of needs, unique so far in the demon race. The need for a purpose in his existence; Moloch wanted to know why he was here; he wanted it all to mean something.

The need had been growing in him. Growing like the cancers that he sometimes grew on the damned for the amusement of it – what little amusement could be had nowadays.

It had started as a small seed of discontent; a feeling that perhaps he was not as good at the job as previously he had believed himself to be. Each day brought many thousands to him, several really adept at the task. Encouraged by pain it was often moments before the mild started to behave like psychopaths with a penchant for mutilation.

Moloch was not immune. He had gained the job himself by demonstrating the inefficacy of his predecessor.  His predecessor was now welded to the walls using his own flesh.

In fact the discontent brought him closer each day towards an ever more intolerable eternity. As the years progressed, it was apparent to Moloch that he could not bring himself to care.

He began to experiment with doing less, with being absent more. At intervals he took to daydreaming and not about new methods to terrorise the inmates.

The vast libraries of hell were accessible to him. He began to research items that were not in his job description and that he couldn’t have accounted for if anyone could be bothered to check

Moloch saw to it that self-monitoring regimes were instituted. Failure to perform was rewarded with disproportionate acts of cruelty. These regimes ran completely without his interference. In fact, he realised that if the methods were available he could absent himself entirely for lengthy periods and no one would regard it as strange.

During his researches he began to read of the human act of suicide. It was something he had a passing familiarity with already. Several of the inmates had arrived via that route. Amongst their pleas for mercy would bemoan the act that brought them there, sometimes in great detail.

Eventually Moloch began to seek out those who had chosen this way of ending their life. He encouraged them in some quite inventive ways (even though he said so himself) to relate what had happened, when and why.

Nine centuries passed in which Moloch could be said to have taken an interest in anything but his work. He occasionally looked in to ensure that the full meaning of hell was being explained to those in his care, but these visits grew less and less common.

Eventually Moloch came across Michael; Michael had been a suicide, a soul with the misfortune to come into contact with Moloch. When Moloch explained to him the nature of his researches Michael was very willing to explain his whole life story in a very detailed and helpful manner. He would do this often in high screams or deep despairing sobs. These were the communications that Moloch was used to and they suited him.

Michael it appeared had been an auditor, a man with no friends and a deeply obsessive personality. Moloch liked that. Indeed as he discovered the nature of Michael’s former life he determined that he liked it a great deal. Michael it appeared was empowered to make everyone’s life miserable. He had no friends and was disregarded by the world. Michael lived alone with a small carnivore. This carnivore liked to torture even smaller mammals despite Michael’s best efforts to persuade it otherwise. Moloch liked that too.

Michael had become disenchanted with an auditor’s life. He failed to see any point in his existence, in which he was basically invisible, in which no one remembered to send him a Christmas card. No one could remember his name.

For the first time in his existence Moloch began to draw comparisons with his own experience. The years spent engaged in pointless activity, the lack of any options, the inability to escape. All of these rang true for him, Moloch was so enraptured with the tale he almost forgot to drop Michael into a vat of boiling oil.

What distracted him the most though were the things he could not understand, despite endless repetition. Moloch had been forced to skin him – purely for the sake of form of course. Michael had maintained that just prior to the end he had not cared if he lived or died. Moloch did not understand this. One morning Michael had slipped down to the platform. Instead of catching the 5.38 to Kings Cross had instead jumped in front of the express train destined for Edinburgh.

Moloch had heard many million such tales and dismissed them as the normal hubbub of souls desperate for surcease. But this time, intrigued, he began to wonder if it could be true. How could anything vested with life not care about that life? Look what happened when you didn’t care – Moloch came to visit – often.

Moloch finally had what for him was a defining epiphany. If a human could arrive in hell merely as a result of not caring whether he existed – maybe the gateway to hell could be opened in exactly that way. Of the millions of souls he had encountered not one had not cared. In fact by the time he had spent a short time with them they cared a great deal. Normally they cared about the agony they were in, how wretched they felt, about the inability to escape. In fact he could not remember one soul that simply did not care.

Then there was the act, the symbolic severing of the soul from that which they no longer cared about. For Michael it had been straightforward, any number of lethal devices lurking about on earth. Moloch reasoned that if a train hadn’t been available a large truck or even a suitably high building would no doubt suffice. People of Earth really had nothing to complain about in terms of the methods available for symbolically calling it a day.

Of course calling it a day simply caused them to change plane of existence, today an unregarded auditor tomorrow a soul in torment. Simple translocation, not much in that, the challenge was to cause it to happen in the opposite direction.

Moloch sat a long time meditating over that, deliberating and calculating, as the centuries passed he finally reasoned that he would never be able to abandon all caring, no matter how purposeless the existing had become. However there was nothing to prevent him using the experiences of Michael to his advantage.

As for the thing that would be the act, the symbolic act to end his existence in this realm? Moloch had come to that as well. To attempt to depart the gates of Hell was the daemonic version of suicide. The beings that people that pathway would render him into innumerable fragments. They would populate the passageways with his suffering. No demon had ever ventured that way and not one would ever consider it.

Moloch was ready; a simple matter to collect Michael from where he had hung him on a meat hook for safe keeping. Using a technique learned in the long years of study in the library he merged the two of them into one. Critically for Moloch, one in which the memories of the two beings remained.

Travelling to the gates would not be straightforward. The governance of Hell was absolute. No demon could wander far from his designated paths, to stray into other sectors of hell, to attract attention, this was unwise. Moloch was aided in that now he had the appearance of a soul in torment. It would be straightforward to wander if he was prepared for the many innovative tortures that they would have ready for such a soul.

Many centuries elapsed, many tortures were meted out, but Moloch had been through so many it was hard not to yawn. It intervals it became hard to show an interest. At these intervals he let Michael surface and rode along on his more expressive approach to suffering.

Finally Moloch could see the dark passages leading down to the gates and the shadowy figures that peopled them. This was it – the ‘Suicide’ he had planned. Finally he delved into the depths of Michael’s mind and pulled to the foremost the experiences of his last day. The utter hopelessness of it, the pain, the need to escape, the worthlessness the conviction that existence was not worthwhile. At the same time he wandered straight towards the largest and most brutal of the guardians of the gates.

The guardian turned, grasped him, and tore him apart in a shattering agony. Impressive in that despite the many agonies he had suffered this still got his attention. A being emerged from the fragments; striding unseen, unregarded from the steaming maw of hell.

It had worked! James now emerged into the damp and misty autumnal dawn and caught the 07.24 for his new job at Michael’s old bank. Sadly for Moloch the translocation was not complete. The shattered fragments still held nearly all his memories (and most of those of Michael). He was alive in a new plane of existence but unaware of what he had done. For a short time, this was what saved him. That lack of awareness, that empty-headedness meant that the demons that walk the earth observing, manipulating, destroying could not determine that there was anything remarkable about him. Occasionally something remarkable would happen. James could cause incidents to happen (such as house available for a month’s salary) which should not be possible. But these incidents barely rose above the normal criminal activity of the average day.

In fact James briefly had the life which he had hoped for, mundane, unimportant, with sufficient malice to make it just interesting.

That was until Wednesday…

As you can see there is just the start of the plot so far. If any of these plot ideas cause people to think they might want to read more let me know and I might put some more work into them.

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Book Planning

Planning a novel should follow the monomyth.

The character is boring unless they are also wrestling with conflict. The conflict should have a purpose – the character returning to life transformed by it. To maintain interest conflict should start early in the book.

When working out your book plan – planning around 20 chapters is a good average to start with. The plan should include the basic plot which you then use to write the book from.

In previous blog posts we have considered the seven basic plots https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/23/seven-basic-plots/ and the framework of the novel https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/06/the-framework-of-a-novel/. So we have covered the monomyth and the seven basic plots already.

Choose which of the seven basic plots you would like to plan and work out your plot.

“Work out your plot” sounds a bit too easy. So it proves – these are some questions I asked about my attempt from the writing course:

Plot Questions

Start with the premise of someone who will not/cannot adapt to society.

In what way can they not adapt?

(Work, rules, joy, happiness, communication, memory, interest, importance, holiday)

Perhaps they have a sense of isolation –a self-constructed cell that has no walls but which permits no escape.

What kind of a world should it be? Not too different to this one.

It sounds like an illness – what kind of obscure illness should it be?

What are the sanctions to this person? Where/who do the sanctions come from?

Why do they have to hide?

What if people find out about them? (Will they be concerned? Will they betray them?)

What do they do if they still don’t adapt?

What kind of lack of adaptation would cause complete shunning of them by the rest of society?

Where can you run when the whole world is owned? What if the effort to own is too much? Where can you go with that? What if the competition is too much?

As you can see working out the plot causes many questions. I only had time to list some on the course but the longer that you spend the more questions you will have. I also think that having lots of questions will fill better fill out the plot and lead to more interesting characters.

Start of the Plot

Given the above preparation I arrived at this as the start of a plot:

At the age of nine comes selection. Thomas had always regarded himself as different and shuddered now in the line.

He saw the days before as carefree. Days in which games and laughter as much filled the playrooms as the careful instruction to comply, to serve, to address the ills that an unregulated and unconforming world could only bring.

Thomas has been raised like all children (since a time that no one alive would now remember) in a crèche away from interference and distraction. Loved and managed by Nana who’s warm smoothness had sheltered them when babies. At night time she ushered them to sleep as they grew.

Nana was the kindest machine Thomas had so far encountered and he loved her as he loved no one living.

Thomas had never felt the same about the others, those his own age with which he shared a nursery, sleeping, eating, playing. To Thomas they were all different, something he always kept closely to himself. Thomas never wanted to fit, he didn’t want to be selected, but when he told Nana this she had dismissed it. Everyone had to be conditioned – why wasn’t he more like his crèche mates.

He had learned to speak no more of it.

He had wondered if he was special and in darker moments if his parents had been criminals – the few for whom conditioning would not take.

The future – after nine – had sounded so dead, without play, without Nana…

The other children were so happy that they would be allowed 21 days a year to go to the sun, to sit on beaches with other conditioned people. They were happy to fit a normal life, performing their function.

Thomas couldn’t imagine any future could be worse – all of life given to a function, no more games, no more Nana.

With the selection he would be one of many allocated to a discipline for which he was best suited. His brain activity analysed, his aptitudes scanned and evaluated, it would not take long – Nana said it wouldn’t hurt.

So far Thomas had to agree, it was boring, staring at the back of someone’s head. He was wishing in that he would not get taken inside, they’d forget somehow, that he wouldn’t have to serve.

The selection booth seemed quiet, apart from a muted background hum. Thomas didn’t feel happiness, didn’t feel peace. This chamber felt like a threat to him. He felt fear trembling in his legs and thudding with rapid repetition in his chest.

The door behind him closed, there now seemed no way back – only forwards.

He slid to the ground and began to cry, would he have to work? Would he never be able to run around Nana screaming with happiness?

As he sat the helmet levitated from the inner room – the place where he was to arrive – but he had resisted. It passed unseen overhead as he huddled inside the door and descended onto his bowed head. With a puff of anaesthetic the electrodes engaged.

Thomas was conscious of the analysis but felt no need to attempt to dislodge the device. His body now lifted and set in a chair. Electrodes strapped over him reading wishes, desires, aptitudes.

Somewhere behind it all was Thomas. He wanted to avoid allocation, to be without work, to run outside again, free.

The machine reading the purpose for which he was best suited. It engaged the first stage of programming – coercing the mind into a path which was most suitable.

It hadn’t taken long. Thomas emerged now. A technician – training downloaded, programming embedded. He was ready for a contented life in service, keen to embark on a lengthy apprenticeship to fulfil his true purpose.

Machines are not perfect. The design of the programming helmet is to smooth neural pathways. It is to direct the growth of learning and to remove old memories. In fact to remove anything that would hinder the future happiness of those who came within its attention.

Outwardly Thomas was now a keen young technician destined as he was for 10 years of training, acclimatization and conditioning. Life much easier than ever before: regular breaks, true holidays and downtime. He was programmed to meet those which similar machines had designated appropriate. With some of whom Thomas could produce future generations of adapted technicians.

The machine though had missed something. One of the thinking traits was out of the ordinary. Thomas’ great faith that he did not fit had produced a self-fulfilling circuit…

Thomas had the neural seeds of discontent sowed within him.

Outwardly the smiling face of just another happy employee but in fact gradually that seed would grow, and each night emerge in dreaming.

The Thomas not in technician’s uniform. The Thomas not working at all, running along a rainswept shore. The Thomas unlimited by 21 days of annual leave; the designated holiday-destinations in approved-hotels. The hotels where Thomas would meet with those who reaffirmed the importance of a technician’s life.

How vital it was that he put in those 39 hours a week monitoring, maintaining, fabricating.

Hidden to those around him, Thomas’ growing awareness that this life was not for him.

 

 

This is just the intro to the process which might give you a few pointers but as you can see there is quite a bit more to it.

 

 

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The Framework of a Novel

Outline plans (the framework) come in different shapes and sizes dependent upon your preference. Guidance indicates that spending a great deal of time on an outline plan is worthwhile in preparation for writing.

On one of the writing courses I attended there was an introduction to producing an outline plan. However the approach taken would be scratching the surface. The depth of your own plan would almost certainly be much more extensive than achieved here. But it might give some pointers to people who want to do an outline plan themselves.

This was an outline plan produced for a novel on one of the writing courses I attended. I haven’t done anything with it subsequently but it might give some insight into the start of the process. I would then spend much longer understanding the outline before diving in and commencing to write. Your Mileage May Vary.

Taken from the seven basic plots https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/23/seven-basic-plots/. This outline is based on the idea of the quest which has this basic structure:

  1. The call
  2. The journey (archetypal figures)
  3. Arrival and frustration
  4. Final ordeal and last battle
  5. The goal, treasure, prince/ess

The plot can have as many subplots as you like. Subplots are similar in theme but do not have to be the same as the plot.

Every character that you choose to include will be overcoming something as part of their progress in the book.

Subplots can be resolved part of the way through the book.

Each character will have a subplot and this tends to result in a large novel.

The average novel is 75,000 words but there are some that are over 100,000 words.

When planning a novel this should be along monomyth lines.

(Joseph Campbell Bookfinder

the hero)

The Monomyth

The single story through which we understand all stories (Joseph Campbell)

  1. Hero in ordinary world
  2. Call to adventure
  3. Reluctance to accept call
  4. Encouraged my mentor
  5. Crosses the threshold
  6. Enters the special world
  7. Encounter tests, allies and enemies
  8. Cross another threshold: inner most cave
  9. Endure big ordeal
  10. Takes reward
  11. Flees back down the road
  12. Cross 3rd threshold – resurrection/transformation
  13. Return with elixir – a treasure to benefit the ordinary world

 

My outline plan to reflect this was:

  1. A 9 year old boy has to be selected for a future life and to be configured for the best fit for that life.The configuration is also constraining in that once configured realistically that is the only life that he could expect to lead from that point onwards.However he feels himself to be unique. He starts to fight the selection process.He would like to escape configuration and have a life outside the constraints of the normal rules.
  1. The boy is taken for configuration anyway and is unable to escape. Configuration is successful and he enters an apprenticeship willingly.One of the aspects of configuration is that it also ensures compliance with expectations around for example occupation and behaviours.He leaves behind his child life and aspirations. He forgets his desire for a life which is different to other people his age. He departs his home and we next see him in training.
  1. The initial frustrations with existence have subtly altered the mental pathways in his mind. This is unknown to him. Overtly the configuration has taken successfully. But over time he finds himself increasingly unable to adapt to expectations.He becomes increasingly concerned that his behaviour will be detected.He has seen others who have failed configuration disappear. Those who disappear are not seen subsequently.
  1. Eventually the problems of configuration are detected in him. However the delay has given him time to prepare.He runs.There is a running battle.Ultimately he escapes from the training zone into an area of “misconfigured” people.

    Although the mental configuration will not take in these people an alternative strategy is employed.

    These people are physically adapted which means that they still fit the social norm.

    Through subterfuge he is able to exist in this area of the “misconfigured”.

    He determines that members of “the misconfigured” have no value.

    They are not monitored – they are disposable.

    After a great deal of time with them he starts to learn something of the configuration process.

    Eventually he amasses sufficient expertise to reprogram some of “the misconfigured” who have so far managed to survive.

    In doing so he causes their deaths.

    However he is able to use their deaths to completely escape the training programme.

  1. This means that he has to go on the run again.Because “the misconfigured” have no value the deaths are not investigated. This means that he is able to obtain the freedom from constraint that he dreamed of when a child.However he gains this freedom at the cost of guilt for those he has killed.Outside of the training zone resources are in short supply and his survival is impacted due to the absence of food, skills and other resources.

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Beginnings pt. 3 – Beginning at the End

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This beginning seems the opposite of what is expected – the first paragraph of the story begins where the story ends. The rest of the story is then leading up to this point.

For the author the advantages include knowing exactly where the story will end up and so carrying that clarity through the rest of the story.

It is often said that an effective beginning cannot exist without knowledge of what the end will be. In this situation the writer creates both in the same paragraph.

For the reader it can build an intriguing atmosphere which causes them to want to read on (if done well).

However if you deliver too much with the beginning there will be little cause to read on. An insufficiently fascinating end/beginning may cause the story to hit the bin.

This is further to my earlier blog posts on beginnings:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/02/beginnings/

and

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/09/beginnings-pt2/

I have been relaying some of the items I learned from writing courses about the options available for beginnings of stories.

All of these are story beginnings which I have created for different writing courses so they are not examples of perfection.

When creating these beginnings I focused on one character “Dave the Effective Detective” and I got quite fond of him.

However if there is a story for him I do not appear to be the man to bring it forth. So this is all we are likely to know about him.

Beginning at the End

A fly buzzes around the lamp.  The lamp still lit in the middle of the day but no one will switch it off.  On the bed, the long cool body darkens in the heat and the missing space that once held an accountant’s brain is now sprayed upon the wall.

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Seven Basic Plots

From another writing course the idea that there are just seven basic writing plots.

(Originally Christopher Booker – 2004 Bookfinder seven plots)

I am not clear how valuable it is knowing that there are seven basic plots. I imagine that you are trying to write something unique and new.

If you see “Award Winning Writer” in your future I cannot imagine you getting there by following a pre-prescribed route.

However it might be useful to see what has gone before – here are the seven basic plots.

Overcoming the Monster (e.g. The Hobbit, Cloverfield, Dracula, Harry Potter)

    1. Anticipation and call
    2. Dream stage – thinks overcoming will be easy
    3. Frustration – face to face with monster
    4. Nightmare stage – final ordeal
    5. The thrilling escape from death and death on monster

Rags to Riches (e.g. Jane Eyre, Great Expectations)

    1. Initial wretchedness at home and call
    2. get out into world – initial success
    3. The central crisis
    4. Independence and the final ordeal
    5. Final union, completion and fulfilment

The Quest (e.g. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit)

    1. The call
    2. The journey (archetypal figures)
    3. Arrival and frustration
    4. Final ordeal and last battle
    5. The goal, treasure, prince/ess

Voyage and return (e.g. Sinbad, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, James and the Giant Peach)

    1. The fall into another world (ie. Alice in Wonderland)
    2. Initial fascination – dream stage
    3. Frustration stage – dark shadow figure
    4. Nightmare stage – its dominating looks like dark force will win
    5. Thrilling escape and return to normal world

Comedy (e.g. Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, Witches Abroad)

    1. Shadow of uncertainty and confusion
    2. Confusion get worse – disguise men/women
    3. Confusion gets resolved and lives happily ever after

Tragedy (e.g. The Martian Chronicles)

    1. Anticipation stage
    2. Dream stage
    3. Frustration
    4. Nightmare
    5. Destruction

Rebirth (e.g. Jonathan Livingston Seagull)

    1. Hero is cursed by dark power
    2. Dream stage – talk of a curse
    3. Curse takes hold and imprisons the hero
    4. Nightmare stage – no way out, no hope until hero turns up and relies someone else to save the day
    5. Miraculous redemption

 

Free Writing

A technique which appears to come up rather often. Variously termed free writing, timed exercises, stream of consciousness writing and so on.

Some people practice this as a distinct form of writing, which I had not considered as an option for example:

https://ashortconversation.com/about/

Both writing and counselling use this technique. (It is likely it is used elsewhere as it is so useful).

When used as part of counselling automatic writing is about whatever comes to mind. The idea being that this may access thoughts which are otherwise hidden.

It may also be used as part of a mindfulness practice.  Writing tends to slow the thoughts and enable a person to observe their own thinking. This practice may make it easier to manage that thinking going forwards.

Expressive writing involves an allotment of time (say 20 minutes). In this time a person writes down their thoughts about a challenging aspect of their life. The writing should fully explore how they have been affected by it. The idea being that it helps the person to deal with the situation.

Evidence suggests it is effective for example in conditions like anxiety.

It is also used for assisting clients to deal with difficult situations from their past.

From the perspective of the author this is a time set aside for writing practice without preconceptions or plan. It is designed to assist in bringing out ideas. It can be used to try to help a writer become unstuck.

The very act of getting words on paper can bring out solutions to problems that you have been wrestling with.

There may be as many ways of attempting this as there articles about it.

I have this approach from one of the writing courses that I attended. It is as effective as any other method:

Decide in advance how long you would like to give the exercise and set a timer (smartphones do this very well).

Ten minutes, twenty minutes up to an hour are usual amounts of time. This is dependent upon how long you believe you can sustain the activity. (It might be easier to start with shorter amounts of time and build up as you get familiar with the process).

Once you have allocated the time, you have to write for the whole time. The main rule is that you do not stop, get up or in any other way interrupt the practice once you have started.

Observe certain rules to get the most out of the exercise.

  1. There is no pausing once you begin. No reading what is already written. No stalling or gazing out of the window.
  2. There is no editing during the process. No crossing out, punctuating, substituting words or similar.
  3. Even if something is obviously wrong do not remove it. This includes things you did not expect/intend to write, poor spelling, punctuation or grammar. The writing can be as scrappy as you like including failing to respect ruled lines or margins.
  4. Pretend you have no control over what you are writing – this may help you be more creative.
  5. There should be no time for thinking – disengage brain and write.
  6. If the writing turns out to be scary too self-exposing (or in any other way taking risks you’re unhappy with) go with it anyway. The idea is to use this energy.

The aim is to get to your truest writing self. This is where you no longer censor yourself but write what you are truly feeling and thinking.

Here are some of the exercises I completed on my course. I never worked out the characters any further than this so I doubt they will appear anywhere else:

Exercise

And I have found that the majority of people that I meet have skills which I have no experience of. I have no idea how they learned or why I didn’t.

I do not see that things that a person wears. I do not remember the look in their eyes, detect the tone in their voice. I do not remember that yesterday their hair was grey and today it is boot black.

The truth is that I do not detect the importance of these things. I am not clear that the investment of effort and of time yields the results that others, gleaming eyes, inform me of.

I believe that it causes a great darkness of gossip and inward looking. I am not clear that the knitting psychological effects do not offset this. I cannot be clear unless I develop the skill.

But this part of the brain is missing. I think now only of events of changes and of developments. Identifying things, items and moments has always been far easier more diverting. I have to relate that I find it impossible now to invest any energy in the skills that I do not have.

I am a parody of a person. Now an actor in which the outer shell is a charming soul who listens, perceives, comments and applauds. Internally I am mechanical. A whirring set of gears designated to achieve only the outcomes which I have selected important. A manipulator content for others to smile whilst I manoeuvre into a position that takes me where I wish to go.

And yet oiled and tuned as the machine has become I remain thwarted unsuccessful limited. I reflect upon those skills and wonder if the outer signs are not subtly detected. The dark inner facets of my soul displayed to those I seek to charm.

Exercise 2

Awareness, working and silence. Dark with the dull red gleam of the alarm clock humming oldly beside the bed. Then again a twitch and the bed shudders like the dying spasms of a large fat animal.

Damn 2:15am again. Pain across the eyes. The struggle upright and look at the ground. Vacant greyness as the cogs start to whirr. Carpet focusing and defocusing until finally he accepts – awake again.

Shuffling silent descending and mumbling through the early rituals 2 ½ hours early

No steadiness, no rest, no silence. At last angry at accumulated sleeplessness. He sits TV sound off and allows a vacancy to permeate his brain. Waiting for the drum drum announcement of heating water which informs him at last that day can officially begin. The routine scramble for leaving can finally take over.

The greyness now seems inside as well as out. Each action harder, each thought more tenuous. Minor accidents now creating great depths of anger disproportionate to their effect.

The heavy needles of warm water serve only to remind of sleep opportunity lost and long day to come.

Regret no less than annoyance – why no sleep again.

The journey is too difficult too trying. Each vehicle a personal slight on him. Too slow; too fast; too hesitant. An excuse for overheated annoyance to swelling bombasity.

Watch that. Quell it. Have control. Slip quietly back. Slow. Watch yourself. Quietly does it

The heavy mist lays down around the park. Silent trudging marks the finals stages of the journey. Miserable damp sticky. A wait for the self-important guard to release the security door. At last he reaches the place of all his concerns. Wheezing the final steps till he makes an arrival.

Exercise 3

Your careers teacher tells appalling lies. “There is nothing that you cannot do”; “Aim High”; “The World is your oyster”.

Pretty soon you determine that you can’t depend on your careers teacher unless you already know what to do.

You turn up and stare blankly at one another. Until, in desperation, you come up with a random idea. Which he/she sets to with relish as if it were part of some life plan for you.

Of course you may follow this through in the absence of any better idea. But beware if you hadn’t an idea beforehand. Following someone else’s idea is even worse.

Your parents will become amateur careers advisors the moment that they recognise the fix that you are in.

Be wary.

This is lies too.

Formed from good intentions no doubt. But of absolutely no use to you. “You need a trade” “it doesn’t matter what you do just do it well” “we’re proud of you whatever”.

This is not helpful.

Lastly do not pay attention to any of your friends. “Working in this job is easy”. “Why don’t you try what I do I hardly ever put in a full day’s work”. “I started in April and already they’ve given me a pay rise”.

Utter tosh.

You will find the truth yourself. Many aspects of that truth will cause you to resent those lies. It will cause you to doubt advice from that point onwards.

You are correct to question that advice. Indeed any advice. For what other person has any idea of how you think, believe, react.

http://skepdic.com/autowrite.html

https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/expressive_writing

https://www.mindful.org/a-writing-practice-for-those-who-like-to-keep-doing/

http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/writing-as-therapy-a-silence-that-speaks-louder-than-words

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-power-of-writing-3-types-of-therapeutic-writing/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201308/writing-therapy