Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Adventure tale vs. character study

At a recent writers' group meeting we had an author come speak to us. He talked about characters and the importance of knowing what kind of personalities they had. It was very interesting and eye-opening for me. The speaker handed out a sheet showing what I am going to call a personality wheel. On this wheel one of the pieces of personality pie was labeled "leader." Across the wheel in the opposite piece of pie was a slice labeled "follower." The speaker said that you should be able to place your characters in one of these slices. And for a story to work well it's best to have characters opposite each other on the wheel.

As he was talking I was thinking about my WIP. I hadn't written any of it yet, but was thinking about it at the time. I knew who my main character would be. He was going to be a broken leader. Someone who'd given up long ago on doing the right thing. He had accepted the changes to the world he lived in and had made the decision to do whatever it was he had to do to make ends meet to take care of himself. He's a former cop who, in the deepest part of his gut, wants to do the right thing but is able, now, to justify doing things that he knows aren't right. It's for survival.

The secondary character -- a guy I've named Berger -- is a follower. He's the opposite of my protagonist. He's still principled, wanting to do the good thing, not the bad thing. Notice, that I didn't say right thing. I think there is a difference and it all comes down to interpretation. It comes down to what you consider good. It's more subjective than right and wrong. I think most all of us can agree on what's right and wrong. For Berger it's not about that, it's about good and bad. He wants to be a good guy and he's having trouble coming to grips with the idea that life in his changing world may make it hard, if not impossible, to do the good thing all the time. But he joins up with the protagonist -- a guy I've named Rexall, although he hasn't been named so far in the story. The protagonist is Berger's leader. Joining with Rexall gives Berger someone to follow, someone to listen to. He likes Rexall and can see that Rexall is essentially a good guy, someone who has allowed himself to do what he has to to get by, but at his core is a good guy. And listening and taking orders from Berger lets him justify some of his bad actions. He was just following orders, and that's a good thing.

So, even though there are guns, a little sci-fi technology and a fallen government, the story I'm working on is essentially a study of these two guys and one man's struggle with holding on to his principles while also needing to survive.

Thanks for letting me ramble on about that. It's something I was thinking about as I did a first edit on part one yesterday. I needed to get it written down somewhere and this seemed like as good a place as any. I've got one more thing I've been noodling on -- the difference between doing good and doing right. I covered it a bit here but there is more to it. I've worked it out in my head and it makes sense to me, but I'd like to share it with you all to see if I'm thinking straight.

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