January 20th, 2010, 09:50 AM
In as much as I agree with you, the irony here is that I have a character from whom the plot is flowing such that that plot is being imposed on the other characters. If that makes sense.
Originally Posted by E_Moon
Actually, saying it that way has just unravelled part of the issue. Not in all cases, but in two or three of the stories where I've hit roadblocks that's precisely the problem: plot is being imposed on my other characters, while I'm busily following around where my MCs flaws take me.
The solution in these instances would then seem clear -- I need to spend more time with my other characters and see where their flaws take the story.
As in life it is in fiction -- life would be grand if it weren't for the people.
So in practical terms, the conclusion I come to is this (as general advice for writers wanting flawed characters -- Ms. Moon, Kat, Mr. Sprunk, Mr. Tolan, et al, feel free to tell me this is a stupid thing to say):
One way to keep your flawed character's peculiarities from overtaking your story is to place them amidst a host of robust characters, each with their own flaws. A large group of people will behave predictably, while an individual will not. Therefore, use group dynamics and human interactions to mediate the expression of a given character's flaws, and thereby mitigate the effect of a character's flaws on your story. In other words, a flawed character may require another flawed character to balance them out.
January 20th, 2010, 10:29 AM
Not sure...you still seem to be wedded to an initial concept of the story that isn't comfortable with your MC's dominance in moving the plot. Your creative process seems to be different enough from mine that I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what the problem is that you see with your MC's behavior affecting the others...to me, that's an "of course it does" given. But not to you.
The way I work (which isn't the only way to work and I know that) is that my character's peculiarities don't "take over" the story...they make the story. The story is that character's story (or those characters' stories) and they are as they are--my control consists in shaping a coherent story out of what such a person is likely to do, not in trying to change the character. I'm most interested in how a given set of personality traits and habits functions in the situations I throw at them, not in normalizing the character. At times I may force an action by pinpointing what in that character (as he/she is) will motivate the character to cooperate (isn't needed often, but once or twice in a book) and if necessary putting in pre-hooks to prepare the reader for the possibility that bullheaded charge-ahead character may actually stop and realize how stupid X is and do Y instead. But I don't try to control one character's quirks with another (though they do all have quirks, it's more fun to have them sometimes exacerbate one another's flaws instead of moderate them...feels more realistic, too.
Clearly that's not how you work, and thus my attempt to be helpful is likely to be useless.
January 20th, 2010, 12:19 PM
Actually, what you're saying makes a whole lot of sense to me -- I'm not sure our approaches are actually as different as the way we're expressing them.
Originally Posted by E_Moon
I took your last comment about driving the plot through character and assessed a few of the stories where I'm having issues -- I asked a simple question: are all of my characters driving the plot? And lo and behold, if I consider all of my characters as equally essential plot-drivers, then the problem exposes itself -- my flawed character is running the show, and the other characters are somewhere way in the back of the race struggling to keep up.
I mentioned earlier that a difficult issue with flawed characters is that they sometimes make your other characters seem weak. Well, turns out that in some cases my other characters actually are weak -- the problem isn't necessarily the flawed character overriding the plot, the weakness of the other characters means they aren't contributing to the plot enough. I figure if I beef them up and make them more robust and matched in complexity to the character who is stealing the show, then I can probably course-correct that way.
Might mean a more complex narrative overall, but I think I'd rather up the complexity of the narrative than deaden the complexity of the characters.
That's only one of the issues I'm having in relation to flawed characters, though, but thank you for helping me figure out at least this much.
January 20th, 2010, 12:32 PM
Have to give credit where due -- this point also contributed to figuring out that all characters should be plot-drivers. Given that virtually all of the aspects of the real world are the product of one person (or group of people) trying to control another (or group of people) -- and, indeed, the very basic principle of democracy is to promote centrism by eliminating extremism through increasing involvement in the system -- then one character running amok is probably due to weakly balanced characterization. Not enough chefs, rather than too many!
Originally Posted by KatG
It seems I've been trying to compensate for the overpowering character by forcibly adjusting the plot instead of just adjusting the source of the total plot -- all the other characters.
It's much easier to fake a strength than admit a weakness, eh?
January 20th, 2010, 01:23 PM
You're right that if there's only one complex character, the others will seem weaker in comparison. But for most stories, there should be a clear "I'm the MC" character who shows the most complexity, or readers don't know whom to follow. (As some people on this forum have said--there are readers who do not like "lots of characters" and especially characters of the same "weight" as the MC. But then there are people who don't like having one MC all the way through. Can't please everyone.)
You might look at your character list as a pyramid, with MC at the tip (and having the most depth, straight down), your one to three important secondaries to either side below, and then each layer down is less complex (but not one-dimensional until you hit that bottom line, where the nameless guy who has to be seen turning on the lights turns on the lights and that's it.) I'm forever getting into trouble by giving spear-carriers too much complexity (and sometimes editors even let me get away with it, alas--there's one in WC that I wish I'd trimmed, but he grew on me--we have a kid with developmental disabilities, so the moment I gave that character a kid who was lagging in school, I was sunk. Suddenly we have his kid, his wife, the school, all tangled up in there, when they have no plot function.) All he really had to do was notice an anomaly in death rates and report it, so a plot could be unraveled later on, but...) The thing to ask yourself, if you ever feel you're headed down that road, is whether every detail of the tertiary and below characters is plot-relevant. If it's not plot relevant--however interesting to you--then that attempt at humanizing is just doing to slow the story. If it is plot-relevant, then it stays.
Anyone you give a POV section to may try to run off with the story. Characters, like real-life people, love attention and want to talk too long (or, some of them do. Enough to cause trouble.) Troublemakers are particularly prone to wanting a POV section to explain why it's not really their fault, when it is. (Sorry, I say to such characters: your role is "whiny, passive-aggressive, 'it's-never-my-fault', interfering and boring troublemaker," of the type we all recognize on sight or sound, annoying and delaying the MC so he/she doesn't notice something we don't want MC to notice, and you don't get a POV because you're annoying and boring enough already. Say your lines can get off the stage. It's not your story. It's MC's story.)
There are tons of well-written, effective, just-complex-enough secondary characters in mysteries (mysteries are often skeletal enough that it's easier to pick out how things work)...though in long series, the secondary may overgrow the role. I don't know if you read mysteries, but you might try some just for the technical aspects of character balance. MC-sidekick, where the sidekick/secondary can be either in competition (equal rank/social class--say a police detective and a private detective, or two police detectives) or cooperatively subordinate (different social class/rank/whatever--very obvious with Peter Wimsey and Bunter, but also Inspector Lynley and Sgt. Havers, Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis, Holmes and Watson.) It's much easier to keep the secondary secondary if there's a social or official rank differentiation--you can let Havers have a demented mother or Lewis have a wife without risking them taking over the series (though Havers sort of does in the later books.) An example of near-equal pairing is in Janet Neal's (or is it Neel--can't recall) mysteries with a high-ranking civil servant (female) and high-ranking Scotland Yard officer (male), both of them highly complex characters.
January 20th, 2010, 08:02 PM
Possibly, but it's an option, not the answer to the question. An individual is not necessarily predictable, and when you're playing with a group of characters, especially if you are doing so organically, they may not be predictable or balance each other out.
Originally Posted by Fung Koo
What you have to look at is why and how the MC's flaw is "taking over" and why you regard this as a problem, and why you wanted the MC to have that particular flaw in the first place. Because the best option might be to change the other characters, but it might also be to change the MC's character or change the plot instead. Only if the writer understands why something is problematic for him or her can that writer find the solution, and it won't be the same option for each writer. (Which is why for an editor working with an author, the number one operating question is what is it that you are trying to do here.) So characters and plot interact and effect each other, (I did an article on this and just called it dancing,) but neither drives the plot -- you do. What do you want in the plot? Why that plot in the first place? Why these characters?
For instance, you say that now you're seeing that the other main characters are "weaker" -- what does that mean? Less interesting to you, so you want to make them more interesting? Less developed so the narrative seemed unbalanced, rather than the MC's flaw actually being a plot problem? Less in opposition to the MC's flaw than they need to be so that you can steer the plot where you want to go and keep the flaw?
You remember when we had an OP who was having trouble with writing the beginning of the novel, I think it was. And he was doing a mystery story, so I brought up how some mystery novelists work backwards from the end or half and half. A lot of mystery authors, including ones doing SFF mysteries, could not work the way Ms. Moon says she works. But a lot of authors do work the way she does, radiating out from the main character. So again, this is less about narrative theory than your particular process and your preferences in choices. And the solution you pick won't necessarily be the same for each story with which you are having this problem.
You seem to have partially figured some stuff out. You seem committed to your outlined original plot on one project, but you also want to keep the flaw you have in your MC. So now you're looking at how to stop the MC's flaw from killing him off, including moving other characters in to make that less of a possibility. But again, why that plot, why that flaw? Before you radically change the other characters, work out why you want what you want, would be my suggestion.
January 21st, 2010, 01:32 AM
I think perhaps the easiest way to create flawed characters as not to think of them as flaws but points of conflict. Motivation is the key. Make readers sympathise with a character who has a 'flawed' trait due to their motivation and reasoning as to why they are flawed. Nobody really finds purely good or evil characters interesting. But what I find irritating are some of the reasons as to why characters are deemed evil or irrepairably flawed especially when it's a cop out like their just psychopaths or they just want to see destruction or it's for the greater good etc etc.