It’s the Characters, Stupid

This book is going to be the death of me.  

Okay, that’s probably just me whining.  But it’s making me think about story in different ways than I have before and making me second guess myself.  I think that’s good, but it’s disconcerting.

So this weekend I did something very Bob-like: I set up a table for the major action events, divided by acts, and then analyzed all of them for character arcs and relationship arcs.  The tables looked like this:


Mine’s filled out, and I won’t actually be using during the rewrite much, but it did show me the holes in my character and relationship arcs. I did another one for antagonists, that was hugely helpful because none of them have PoVs, so they’re always working behind the scenes. Tying each major conflict event to the minion antagonists and through them back to the real antagonist and asking myself why the Big Bad would want something like that done instead of just following my nose through the plot? VERY helpful.

One thing I’ve noticed because of this table: that bit about the story starts when everything but the action is over? I absolutely believe that’s true, but I also think that the farther you go into the acts, the more everything melts away but character-in-action. Everything has to be established in the first act, pushing a boulder up a hill, and after that, it’s the boulder rolling down hill, picking up speed, all action. I need to look at Act 2 again because it’s a long act and I’m thinking I’m still doing set-up there and not enough direct action. I know they DO a lot of stuff in that act, but I’m not sure if it’s in direct action against an antagonist. I know I’m good once I get to Act 3, and Act Four is just one big sequence bringing down the Big Bad, but that Act 2 . . . (Why is it always Act 2 that sags? Mess in middle, bleah.)

But I’m feeling much better about all of this now. Not dead yet. I think I’ll go for a walk. (I quote that scene WAY too much lately.) I just have to remember that readers read for character. Well, I read for character. So that’s what I have to double down on now.

Dear god, I want this book finished. Again.

In other news, Krissie arrives on Sunday. YAY!

And now, back to work.

19 thoughts on “It’s the Characters, Stupid

  1. I’m very excited! I love that moment when you find a whole new way of looking at something, and with that new lens, the problem is diminished or resolved!

  2. “I also think that the farther you go into the acts, the more everything melts away but character-in-action. Everything has to be established in the first act, pushing a boulder up a hill, and after that, it’s the boulder rolling down hill, picking up speed, all action.”

    I’m going to post that in my room/library/office/hideaway/tree trunk. I need to write with that in mind.

  3. Yes, character, relationships, and then a dog, and I like to read about good meals. I love the beginning of Agnes, because it has chocolate raspberry cupcakes, which I can smell, and a big old dog.
    And character, of course. A great character.

  4. I, too, read for character. The plot is secondary (it can’t be stupid, but it’s secondary). It’s not just character and relationship that I like; being of a fairly solitary disposition, I always enjoy reading about the home and life the protagonist has created for her/him self, the arrangements, how the home looks (colors, furniture), the person’s habits, just how they live . . . even though that’s of course all on the verge of change as the book starts, I still thoroughly enjoy it.

  5. “We-ell,” he said, “it’s the end of the social Season, see? Time’s running out.”

    “What for?”

    “We-ell…could be all them posh women want to marry you off to their daughters who’re in Season…”

    NOT a Regency Romance – that’s dialog that could only have come from Sir Terry Pratchett. Feet of Clay, as it happens.

    Nothing whatever to do with Nita or editing, but I just had to share it.

  6. Questionable: what do those row headings mean? I’m intrigued.
    I need to do something like this with my mss.

    1. Really, they’re any way you want to structure the book or the problem you’re working on.

      The top half of the chart was my way of finding a pattern in the way Nick and Nita interacted when they were working.

      In the beginning, he tried to leave her behind and she followed anyway. By the end, he was following her, trusting she could do the job and able to share leadership with her.
      The second row is how they acted when they encountered the antagonist
      The the third row was a move they did the first time they encountered an antagonist, and how that morphed and sharpened through the arc of the story.
      The fourth row was how they dealt with conflic, Nita talking whoever it was down while Nick acted, usually with violence. By the end, Nick steps back and Nita acts to defeat the antagonist.
      The fifth row was who ended and won the conflict, which arced through the plot.

      It was just so I could break down the relationship pattern that I’d already written and then tweak it.

      The other rows were just overall moves in the plot arc, how the different partnerships manifested themselves and arced over the acts.

      In other words, you can put anything you want as row headings. I write in acts, so my column headings are always acts.

      1. I’m sure you know that later printers/producers divided Shakespeare’s plays into acts; he only used scenes.

        But he had the gut feeling for how the entirety worked.

        You are so cool.

        1. LOL. I’ve spend the evening telling myself what a mess I am, so that’s good to hear.

          You know, you can structure any way you want. Some people do it by chapters, which would make me insane. Some people don’t do it at all. Just depends on how your mind works.

      2. Thank you!!!
        You’re aiming to repeat the pattern that’s shown in the row headings in each act?

        1. More arc the pattern than repeat. And you have to be careful not to foreground it so that people get distracted by the repetition. It’s like the magician making you look over there while he does something over here.

          For example, at the end of Act One, Nick tells Nita to let him handle things and she says “no.” At the climax, they’re handing things together, and then he steps back to let her deal with the antagonist, working with her in case she needs help. The table helps me arc that shift in the relationship from him trying to take control to the two of them trading off leadership depending on what the situation needs. So I’m repeating the “who’s in charge” bit, but I’m arcing how it appears on the page to show how the relationship evolves.

          If that makes sense.

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