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A Story of a Story – Part 3

# 5 Characters – Part 2

Detailing ‘Em – or Sketching

This can be fun … and sometimes this can be painful!!

Fun because you get to spend a lot of time with the characters you create. Painful because at times these creations of yours refuse to speak to you!

I know there have been times when I’ve wanted to throw something heavy directed at Joshua Grant’s head – a character from one of my stories, called ‘Suits Me!’ (which isn’t really what I want to call the story– but I need something to work with!).

Anyhow – Josh as I say is rather moody. He is by nature a confused chap – very indecisive. Upto a point it was okay for me to think of him, picture him, and imagine him. But then, Josh didn’t go much further. For chaps like him – on the face of it, look superficial. At the time, I was new to writing and was researching material on creating characters and how to make them fuller, meatier.

There was a neat trick – Interviewing your character.

It meant I’d put Josh in front of me and ask him questions, and Josh should answer.

Example:

Me: Josh, your full name, please?

Josh: Are we in court? I’d clarify that I haven’t done anything and whoever said whatever I did is lying.

Me: Josh, your full name, please?

Josh: *looks at me closely* Ah! I see! You like me, is it?

Me: Do you even remember your full name? Or is last night’s hangover still on?

Josh: *offended* Joshua Grant, I remember very well.

Me: Your age?

Josh: You ARE interested in me! Just say so, sweetie, I’ll tell you all about me.

Me: This is not going anywhere! Get lost, Josh!

You see how Josh works. I had to add another angle to this. I contacted his family and friends.

Me: Mrs. Grant, how would describe Josh, your grandson?

Mrs. G: If you hadn’t added ‘your grandson’, I’d still have known Josh, my dear.

Me: *can’t believe this* Okay, how would you describe Josh?

Mrs. G: *feeling pride* Ah! My grandson!

Me: Yes. Describe him.

Mrs. G: A very handsome and an equally confused man.

Me: Good statement but I know that. Anything else?

Mrs. G: He’s the last one of the line and I want him married, but there are issues.

Me: Like what?

Mrs. G: He’s dated half of London, and the other half has heard the stories!

Me: I know that too. Anything else?

Mrs. G: Do you like him too?

Me: *gives up* I need someone from a different family!

These two helped me see how the grandma and grandson were, how they thought, how they behaved. Those two statements about Josh by Mrs. G were nice and I have actually used them in the story.

Then I got Clay – Clement Davis, Josh’s only friend.

Me: Hello, Clay. A word about Josh?

Clay: One word? Erm…

Me: Thank you. That works!

Clay: *laughs* I know what you mean. He’s confused. But he’s not a bad egg.

Me: You’re a very good friend, Clay.

Clay: I mean it, Josh isn’t a bad egg. Maybe a cracked one, but not bad!

Me: Josh calls you his Good Samaritan.

Clay: That’s because I happen to get him out of tough ones.

Me: Is there anything you dislike about him?

Clay: Dislike is a very strong word. There are things I don’t like – but I shan’t say I ‘dislike’ them.

Me: Examples?

Clay: I wish he’d be more stable in his decisions.

Me: Any particular area?

Clay: Girlfriends.

Me: What’s the issue there?

Clay: Won’t you say 21 was a touch too many? Or 22 rather!

Me: Do you agree with his latest decision?

Clay: I would if he’d stick to it.

Me: Would you tell him you agree?

Clay: *smiles* We both know the answer to that. I definitely would, but no one lets me. Including you!

Me: If I let you speak Clay, that’ll be the end!

So, we were talking of Josh, but I also get to see a lot of Clay here.

Interviews are one of the very interesting and fantastic ways of delving deeper into a character. They are not only insightful, they give a dialog level sensitivity to the character – that is, you get to see how this character talks, what words they use, what’s their tone, and their attitude towards the conversation subject.

~*~

Another useful bit is in Naming the character.

This requires some research some time – into the name databases. It is easier these days with the internet.

I had started with finding names that seemed to fit the character I was writing. Any name that seemed to agree with the person, their stature, their general personality.

However, then I started to write a fantasy. Now I needed names that would not be the usual names. Either I could make up names (and I was not good at this. The names I made were weird of the serious variety) OR I could hunt unusual names. But then, just on the basis on their being rare, I could not name the character.

That’s when the KI – the Key Identifier (that we discussed in the Part 2 of this series) – came into play. Instead of searching names, I started to search the meanings with names. And names from several languages of the world showed up. Wow!

I had names like: Cybele, Charisse, Faylin, Asta, Kyros, Estrallita, Aleda – I was one happy Dudette! (that’s a name one of my very old pen friends gave me.)

In trying to find good names for this story, I realized that naming the character was a crucial part of character definition. The name is one of the first things about a character that becomes known to the audience, and they may form a mental image of the character beginning from the name.

Thereafter, there hasn’t been any character who’s been names just because – there’s a reason and rationale behind every name.

#6: Visualization

This is – I think – the MOST beautiful part of story-telling – whether it is before writing or during it. It’s my favorite part!!!

However, even though it is interesting, care should be taken that this doesn’t stretch beyond need,, because this has a tendency of going on forever – it is seemingly endless if not watched.

Visualization is what brings the character to life. This is what I see in my mind when I see the character, or a scene, or a place or an interaction.

For example, when I picture Joshua Grant, I see in my mind what Joshua looks like.

I see his body structure, his height, his hair, his eyes, his skin color.

I see his usual body posture while he sits, stands, walks, drives, talks.

I see where he lives: the street, his house, his room, his favorite part of the house, his favorite chair, or TV show or whatever.

To what level I see this for any character, also depends on the story.

For example, for Double Bind, Ian Maxwell’s house – the Maxwell Manor – is an important tool in the story. It is the condition of the house when he moved there, when the story starts, and as the story proceeds – that plays a key role in showing Ian and bringing him out.

So when I see Ian Maxwell, in addition to seeing him – the person – it is also important for me to see his house, his room, his library, his car.

Now, seeing it in your mind is one thing. Being able to save the image is a totally different ball game. If you want to store and save something, trust me, the mind isn’t made for it. Especially my mind – it works splendidly as a sieve.

I picked up a terrific trick from a fellow author whom I used to know about 12 years back. Bless her!

She’d go ‘Google’ on everything.

So, I hunted down manors and mansions, till I found one that pictured near to perfect what Ian’s house looked like.

Did the same thing with his car, his library, his woods.

I repeated the exercise with other characters.

My author friend also used to hunt up people – actors or models – who’d look pretty much like she’d imagined the character.

What this does is – it brings up the images in your mind before your eyes. They become remember-able and relatable. Till the Maxwell Manor was in my mind – my sense of direction was very poor back then – I forgot what wing he lived in, right or left! And going by the story, this was important for me, if not crucial. I’d have to put myself in the Manor in my mind and use my arms to go … okay, this is right because I write with this hand; Ian lives here.

You can’t believe the stack of images I have with me of Maxwell Manor, Shefford home, Ian’s car, Ian’s woods, the lake within the woods – the whole area. I even have images to show me what Ian’s estate looked before revamping and after it. I needed to relate to it so that Ian could relate to it.

And I have this stack for most stories that I have actively worked on.

The task becomes more daunting, and more interesting when the story isn’t set in the current time. One of my stories was set in 1800s. OMG! I had to research their clothes, their hairdos, their vehicles, their what-nots!

But – because this is SO much fun – the danger is that it can carry on forever.

For example, I can drive me mad if I go in search of Ian’s bed, Ian’s bathroom, Ian’s clothes, Ian’s shoes, Ian’s chair, Ian’s whatever!!

We need to visualize – but we don’t need to overdo it.

That’s it for now!

Catch you around in the next issue – till then, cheerio!

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A Story of a Story – Part 2

#4: The Plot

 

I love this phase. It enables me to see my story – with all its twists and turns, highs and lows – in a single linear view.

A plot can begin with writing a synopsis, but to me – it gets fun when it begins to expand into every possible direction. I find it is good to let the thing expand as it will – for a while – keeping the aim or the premise of the story in mind. In time, I could see what was useful and what can be chopped off. Much like a plant – when it grows, it spreads into all directions. However, once it’s achieved a certain level, the gardener begins to prune it.

 

For me, it would generally begin with jotting down a few points on how I want the story to proceed.

 

The Plot Outline, the Plot Map & the Plot Diagram…

… Call it what you will – if you’re serious about finishing your story and doing it well, you got to go through this.

It is said that one needs to have the plot ready before one starts. While that is an important guideline – however, at times, this can be thought of as a bit ‘blocking’. If you have an idea, write about it – and very soon you’ll realize the need and importance of a plot line.

 

The idea itself doesn’t take the story anywhere. After you’ve managed to scribble the idea, you’ll discover that now you’ve no idea where this goes from where it’s at. There is a concept, an idea, but then… what happens? A story doesn’t happen unless something moves. If it is not moving, then a cause is needed for the story to keep moving. If there isn’t one, there’s no story.

For example:

 

1. A man loses everything but holds onto a coin given by his grandfather and the memories thereof.

Seeing it from this one line, the man is already facing a lot challenges. How I want to take him through the challenges and whether – based on the aim I set for this chap – he sees victory or failure; and how – internal victory, but external failure? Or externally he succeeds, but internally, he remains empty — plotting these events (based on the chosen genre and the aim for the story) and the man’s reaction to them is what takes the idea forward to the end.

 

2. For Double Bind – the first scene of the story I saw in my mind was Ian Maxwell sitting in his study and staring out of his window to the woods. When I wrote it, I talked about this man and all that he could see and then, ended it on why the most perfect place made no sense to him anymore. Okay, so far so good – now what!? Then, I had to sit back and think of what I wanted to happen thereafter. That thought process became an outline, a roadmap of the story.

 

The Timeline

Another thing I enjoy is setting the events on a timeline. It sets a completely different perspective to the story. It brings in a reality & feasibility factor to the story.

 

Now if the minister who takes up being Dad for 7 kids is in for the deal –

  • When did this happen?
  • What is the designated duration for this story?
  • What triggered it?
  • How long is it going to last?
  • When does he change his mind or his feelings regarding this new state of things; that is, if he initially hated it, does he end up loving it, or if he initially loved it, does he end up getting exhausted of it and yearns for his old life?
  • What events cause it and by when must it happen, or by when the problem must be solved, or by when the minister will have done what he needed to do in this story?

 

 

I like to think of it more like a colorful 3-d model of the story. There isn’t too much detail but the whole story is visible with its mountain peaks and valleys, ridges, unexpected turns, and perilous paths.

 

Now, here’s the twist!

When you’re done with the plot (no matter how detailed), do not think you’re done with the story. Don’t – for goodness’ sake – ever fall into that trap! You may been very well planned, but you don’t know how a story really ends, till it actually ends. And most times, you might end up surprising yourself if you weren’t keeping track.

For these very frequent situations, there’s invented a fantastic word – Rewrite!

 

 

#5 Characters – Part -1

 

Wherever the story might be set, whatever it may be about – the writer usually gets hold of an ‘object’  (as I call it) through whom/which they tell their story. At times, this object is where the story starts.

 

These are the carriers of the story. The story may be about an event, an era, a country, a war, a discovery, a crime – it doesn’t ever move anywhere at all without these special people called, Characters.

 

Every story is either about a person, or is being told through a person. This main person is called the Protagonist. The events of the story are told either as done by the protagonist or as impacting them. That is – if something happens, either this main person is doing it, or it is being done to them. At times the story may have two of them (and in some cases – multiple!).

 

This someone is a fantastic person. They may be uber cool, larger than life, having super powers, determination, grit and gumption, OR … they may be a very normal, nothing special somebody – but this is their story and something fantastic about them, something they did, or that which happened to them.

 

These people are involved in the story at most times. These are the people who hold the story and all its elements together – in short, everything revolves around them. Remember, we talked of The Aim in Part one of the series? The aim usually belongs to this main person: it is something they must do, or achieve/obtain, or become, or come to understand. The story actually is in danger of losing its thread if the focus moves away from these people; never move focus from these people – not for too long in any case. Everything that happens needs to be for them, relevant to them and their aim, about them, impacting them, or derived from them – directly or indirectly.

 

One of the most intriguing things about a ‘Character’ is that it needn’t be a human being. It may be an animal, a tree, or any living or fantasy creature. It can even be something non-living – a cloud, a rain drop, a computer, a kitchen appliance, a robot, a house, a car, a planet – whatever! The incredible thing that using a non-human or a non-living thing as a character does is that it brings life to them. It grants them feelings, desires, thoughts, reactions, perceptions, aims, responsibilities – in short, it humanizes them.

 

Defining a Character

Usually, the first thing that a writer may note down about a character is the one striking quality that makes them the chosen one. This one quality is something I call the Key Identifier – a trait name that would define the character for me in a few words (as few as possible – makes it crisp).

 

So when I think ‘stern minister’, my mind draws me an image that goes with it – that suits him or her. The KI being ‘stern’ and ‘minister’ tells me what I’m looking for. When things begin to move in the story, this key feature of the main character helps me determine how this person might react. Of course there are other factors, such as, the kind of stimulus, the situation, the other character in the scene, their own feelings and moods, their personality, their memories & expectations from the situation, etc.

 

This is just a defining the character. The definition of definition is: ‘A concise explanation of the meaning of a word or phrase or symbol’. Let’s not confuse this with the character sketch (which is quite in detail). This is merely a starting point and a general guideline about the character.

 

For example:

When you hear ‘ruthless, arrogant, shrewd businessman’ you see someone that resonates well with ASR in the first episode of Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon (if you’ve seen it).

When you hear ‘a cheerful nun passionate for music and reckless adventure’ you’d remember Maria’s first song in the Sound of Music (if you’ve seen it).

When I first saw Ian Maxwell, I had one word for him – he is ‘Lost’.

 

The KI is so crucial that if the character loses it, their definition changes. If the reader has built a rapport with the character based on their KI, and then midway along the story it changes, the reader can no longer identify with the character.

At times, the goal or aim of the story is that the character’s perception, or understanding, or actions should change. However, it is very rare that a person (in real life) would change their basic psychological make-up.

For example:

The nun may stop going for recklessness if she sees it endangered others or if it’s against her life as a nun; however, somewhere in her heart she may yet yearn for it. She may come to the understanding of being careful and slow, but the way she would react or portray this understanding would depend on her basic nature.

 

Arnav Singh Raizada didn’t believe in rituals and marriage. When he fell in love with a girl for whom rituals and marriage were paramount, he agreed to follow every single ritual for marrying her. However, even though he agreed, he never hesitated to recount that:

  •  he didn’t believe in them,
  • he did it only for the sake of the woman he loved,
  • he wouldn’t mind overriding them (in fact, he did override some of them in his own ‘technical’ way or showed her how they’d already been through ‘rituals’ earlier, but didn’t realize it to be so), and
  • he still believed in his own viewpoint that ‘his feelings for his lady love – that fact that they’re in love & how much they shared and gave up for each other – were more important than rituals’, which he considered a social requirement.

His basic character trait did not change, even though he came to an understanding and agreement with a different and even opposing point of view.

 

Once this briefing is done – it looks enough, doesn’t it! Yeah! I thought so the first time.

 

‘I want this guy to be a quiet and morose.’ – I thought. And then there was a situation in which the guy was facing something extremely funny, and he couldn’t possibly react either quietly or morosely. He must either break into a smile – at least, or get irritated with it.

Now – how would I proceed with this guy if he lands in a situation where ‘quiet and morose’ doesn’t work! Then we work out the character details – the background, the life, the experiences, the reactions, the mindset; the personal details, such as, the hobbies, the usual style of clothes, the appearance, any diseases or health issues; as a plus, the family, the friends, the relationships and how they deal with it… long list of Whats, Hows, and Whys answered about each main character to form the sketch.

 

So, the first word for Ian Maxwell may have been ‘Lost’ – it certainly wasn’t the last. This description expanded into … Well, let’s just say he was ‘found’ using his character & personality make up.

 

Detailing a character’s make up becomes more urgent as the outline is developed. As you begin to thrash out the story in detail, it’ll become evident that you really need to know the people in the story. You must define who they are, what makes them tick, how they function, what are their motivations, and of course, by now you get my drift.

 

We’ll continue with this discussion on Characters in the next segment. And, also a very interesting and perhaps my second favorite phase; the most favorite one being the actual Writing itself – before we move onto elements and tastes.

 

A Story of a Story – Part 1

A seed planted, nurtured, grown, and enjoyed – It’s called by many names: narrative, fable, parable, tale, biography, novels… etc., A story. It can be about a person. It can be about an event. It can be about a phenomenon. It can simply be a series of linked events.

 

The essence of a story is in being told. Like any other fruit, it must be shared to be enjoyed. And there comes the StoryTeller.

I love everything about writing a story: right from forming an idea to telling the story. And here in this one, I’m thinking aloud.

This is a story of a story. Er… Part 1.

 

 

#1: The Idea Cometh

 

A story idea is an interesting thing. It seems to occur when something out of the ordinary happens.

 

A laid back person is thrust into adventure.

A boy meets girl and falls in love.

A stern minister inadvertently switches places with a father of seven kids on a vacation.

A man loses everything but holds onto a coin given by his grandfather and the memories thereof.

A tragedy occurs when trains collide and many lives are changed forever.

 

Ah! The story idea arrives.

 

Once it arrives, it must be looked at. Sometimes, it must be stared at for hours, days, weeks before any cracks appear on that egg. There have been times, when it is years before a hatchling makes an appearance.

 

And then the writer’s journey begins. Things look like an accident, but they are pre-planned by the one who is holding the pen (or the keyboard :)). Why? How? That’s what the Aim or objective decides.

 

 

#2: The Aim

 

Me 1: Ok, so it hatched. Now what?

Me 2: Make it fly!?

Me 1: How?

Me 2: Does it not depend on the bird where and how it flies?

Me 1: Ah I see what you mean: If it doesn’t fly, it’s an emu!

Me 2: Or if it does, it’s an eagle?

Me 1: I guess! No?

Me 2: Well, you could have a story about a non-flying emu!

Me 1: Yeah, all stories need not be about a flying eagle.

 

The thing is, a story idea flies or not flies depending on whether it is meant to.

Even a flying idea may not take off, if it didn’t have a target and a direction attached to it.

 

You may have the stern minister who becomes a reluctant dad of seven kids, but — Then what? Does he love it? Does he hate it? Does he eye their fortune and control them by tricks? Does he pity their situation and decide to put up with them till another help arrives?

 

How does it proceed depends on what aim does the writer have for the minister.

 

Is it purposed that the minister learns a lesson in love? Or see a side of life different than what he is used to? Or perhaps, show how the minister chose a way of life not meant for him – to have him discover that he is a better dad than a minister, and happier too?

 

Any aim chosen, would direct the minister on a predefined path that would help him achieve the aim of the story.

 

 

Ah — something like a Yellow Brick Road leading to Oz.

 

But if we look closer, Oz is not the destination, neither is the wizard. The aim of that story was for Dorothy to return to Kansas with Toto, back to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em.

She yearned for bright colors and exciting surroundings, but when she found it, she yearned for the dull, gray Kansas praries. She discovered her family meant more!

 

Neither Wizard nor Oz is able to keep Dorothy there. She goes on with her journey till she gets back to dull, gray but loving Uncle and Aunt – until she is back home.

 

 

#3 Bends (on the road)

 

A story is full of choices – a choice that the writer must make at every step. What choices the writer makes depends on what they want to achieve out of the story. If at any given point, the writer makes a choice that was or wasn’t obvious – it is called a twist, and sometimes, an anti-climax.

 

The choices that are made along the way, determine how the story progresses, what route it takes, how the story’s environment (people, situations, events) reacts to the choice – and eventually it leads to an outcome that the writer had intended when the story idea was birthed.

 

In a way, the story is a collection of a lot of – what I like to call – bends: ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, ‘what-ifs’, ‘or elses’, ‘maybes’, and the like – you get my drift!

 

Each decision taken on any of these bends can change the direction and outcome of the story. It can change the way characters may behave. It can change cliches to unexpecteds. It adds to the elements or characters in the story or take away from it.

It can change the purpose or objective of the story, and as a result – it can change the very audience who’d read it.

 

These bends are fun, if used well; they ensure the reader meets the unexpected and keeps glued to the story. They can also ruin the story if the handling is way too risky for audience’s general digestion.

 

For example: Let’s run a case of What-ifs –

 

* What if: Dorothy decided she loved Oz and now that the wicked witch was dead, she could live there and be merry.

Does the story end? Oh no!

It’s simply no longer about Dorothy’s journey home. Now, it’s about her adjustment to Oz and her new lifestyle, her dreams of a colorful and adventurous life coming true.

 

 

* What if: the minister decides that he loves being the dad of seven kids, but it’s too much work and he’s much too lazy.

Does the story end? Nope!

Now, it’s not about minister learning any lessons. It’s probably about a pathetic man too lazy to enjoy what he loves most.

 

 

* What if: Thakur hired Jai and Veeru as Reformation Counselors to Gabbar Singh.

Would the story end? Probably not!

But then it would not be Sholay – not even a spark! There might be lot less gunshots and lot more couches. And, Jai might live and marry the girl in white.

 

 

* What if: ASR found out about Khushi’s engagement before it happened and blocked it out of jealous possessiveness?

Would the story end? Nope!

It might lead to either a pre-mature discovery of Shyam or alert him to Arnav’s interest in Khushi and cause further issues between them. In either scenario, it’s initial aim of freeing them from their past would be lost and it would become a normal run-of-the-mill love story.

 

 

So, what do bends or choices achieve? They achieve conflict. They give the story some bumps that must be sorted out. They give the characters challenges that must be met and won.

They provide a sense of purpose and direction if used well.

 

If bends are used just for the sake of using them – it dilutes the storyline and the aim is missed or delayed.

 

In the next parts, I’ll think aloud about characters, elements, and tastes.