Tag Archives: elements

Static versus Round

Every storytelling aspect can be applied to real life, in different ways. Tropes, climax, conflict, heroes and anti-heroes, and, most of all, round (or dynamic) and static characters.

I found this particularly true for the round and static character explanation over the past several months, but it got more into the dynamics and elements of storytelling itself with some fundamental things changing or being different than normal.

Static characters are not typically in the forefront of the story, for example. Every main character I’ve read has had a change of heart or a change of life and has handled it differently in the end than they would have in the beginning. They are round, and called such for the change, the fact that they are always curving and turning when you zoom in on the lines.

I digress, the fact is that there is a shift in view or perspective for those dynamic characters, they learn and in turn their actions change.

Recently, though, I realized that a friend of mine hadn’t changed much or at all, and her perspective, her reactions, her general disposition had all remained the same. When asked a question lately that she’d been asked years ago, her answer was the same.

People who are immovable in many ways are usually the secondary or tertiary characters, or in the background somewhere. They matter less because the main storyline relies on a lot of change, it relies on conflict creating a different view, it’s why you read the story in the first place, to see how something progresses. The definition of progress is ‘movement to a goal or further to a higher stage.’ How do you get there if your sights are in the same place?

Could a story technically still survive with a static character in the front? It becomes more about their struggles and their daily life and how they handle it. Sure, because you’re highlighting the way of life, there’s a message in there somewhere.

Then again, if that’s all you wrote, wouldn’t your writing become very limited?

Someone who is not open to learning or change is stifling the ability to become a better version of themselves. I mean those who outright refuse.

There is a story to be told there, but, as the name suggests, dynamic characters have a lot more possibilities.

I have to admit that I’ve never met someone so stubborn and unwilling to change, someone so against the idea. In 25 years, I’ve met one or two who don’t fully grasp the concept of learning and being shaped by ideas and the world around them. They understand it plenty, but they refuse to let it take hold.

The thought had me wondering about main characters, about stories and novels, and how many of the main characters don’t budge, don’t change or get shaped by the way their world moves. What kind of story does a character like that make for?

In contrast, a lot of my characters tend to be like me in that they thirst for knowledge. Some, like secondary or tertiary characters, aren’t given that much dimension, so they remain static. So there’s a difference there between refusal and not being given the chance.

Usually, how you hear about static characters is by the fact that they aren’t the ones the story’s changing is directed at. They aren’t going through conflict. They simply look on from the sidelines. They are a stationary piece of the puzzle themselves.

Which reminds me of Welcome to Nightvale’s deep quote from the other day: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.

Whether it’s a story you’re writing or your own story, static and dynamic characters are everywhere, and each have a place. Just as it is in what we write, our life has lessons for us, if we choose to see it that way. We are what the story makes us, if we’re willing to accept that.

What kind of character will you be?

-The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: Start Big or Start Small, But Where it is Becomes Your Call

(Meant for yesterday.)

Morning folks.  Whether you have 0 words or 500, if you’ve hit your first roadblock, or the wordcount just isn’t coming as fast as you’d like, it’s time to look at what you’ve got and seeing if you blew through the easy words in your rush to get rolling.

That first hour of writing on a blank canvas can be deceptive; you put down the first stuff that comes into your head and burn through your Big Idea, Premise, and Opening Lines pretty quick.  But once the initial framework is on the page, the inevitable ‘Now What?’ comes into play.

If you’re feeling a little uncertain where to go from here, there are two paths you can take today: (insert Phil Keoghan of The Amazing Race impression here): Stall, or Start Walking.

  • In Stall, you look back at what you’ve already written yesterday and add some details.   Add colors, sounds, smells, extra features, musings, impressions, extra dialogue to give your first characters in their first scene some more depth of focus.    For example, this year I started off with a brief sketch of a crime scene, and then pulled back a little to tease at the timeframe — the distant future.   I originally described the devastation of an explosion as simply ‘lots of bodies’, but when I doubled back, I added in damage to the building, the parking lot, and then described the era in more detail.    I actually described the main character as something more than a gender and ethnic background, and gave the secondary character some more lines so that he wasn’t introduced just to walk off and get coffee for my detective.
  • In Start Walking, you want to think ahead to what’s on the horizon,or, to wit, ‘where is your next scene going to take place?’    This is not a one man, one room play you’re writing here, odds on.   Whether you’re writing a Hero’s Journey or an Everyman/Everywoman slice of life tale, or a Superhero(ine) Saving the City, they’re not likely to be in the place they were when you wrote on Day 1.   Ask yourself, ‘where do I need to get the main character next?’   And start writing towards that direction.  Do they need to make any special preparations?  (An odd reverse example is Mr. Rogers, who fascinated me as a child by having the odd ritual of changing his shoes while talking to the audience after he came into the house.)    Do they tell anyone where they’re going?   Will any of the scene 1 characters be coming along, and are they opposed to doing so?

The point is that right now, today, Day 2, you are building potential. Potential energy, potential wordcount, and potential motion, along, of course, with potential plot.   Being able to lay tracks ahead of you or buy time to figure out where you want to be is still wordcount; the goal here is to breathe life into your novel by giving it enough detail and brea(d)th so that you want to keep writing in this space.

Eventually we’ll be setting things on fire (not necessarily literally) and maybe blowing stuff up, but it doesn’t have to be today.   Days 1 and 2 for me are usually reserved for either detailed worldbuilding, or meeting the main character, or setting up the stage where the main character will walk into any moment.    Or any combination of the three.

Hope this helps, and feel free to suggest a topic for a future guest post….

Read, Write, Learn

On my way in to work this morning, I heard a commercial for Bic on the radio. It was a “conversation” about “get writing,” with a Bic pen, and how writing can help your creativity, your reading capability, and something else I can’t think of at the moment.

I grinned after I heard it because I had just been thinking about what I was going to write today, and ‘reading and writing’ was right up there. So I decided the commercial had made up my mind for me.

Reading and writing go together in the most obvious, passive ways. You read a sentence you’ve just written, whether during an exam or on your own, you read instructions on a manual, you write notes to people at work or to clients, inner-office notes. They’re hand in hand, no matter what the circumstance, pleasure or production.

It goes too, without saying, that the more you do, the better it expands your mind and your ability. The more books you read, the more style you take in of other authors, the more vocabulary you learn, the more you see and understand with different possibilities and your imagination just expands and expands. This can help non-fiction as well as fiction.

I will admit that there is a set of books that transformed my reading, and helped transform my writing. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is not only a gorgeous trilogy of thrillers– murder, police, and politics respectively– but it has so many themes and underlying messages that it was like literal headcandy for me. It is the most recommended set of books by me, and I think that will continue on for quite a while. Stieg Larsson had created an incredible set of characters with dynamics that blew my mind and development that was beautiful to watch. The situations he put them in, the mystery he wove, the little hooks and callbacks, every little detail was perfect.

To me, he was the first story teller I had really fallen in love with, and he helped me see the intricacies of the art a hell of a lot better.

When you shut the book completely after finding out a major plot twist, I think the author is doing their job incredibly well. I still remember how shocking that was to find out.

In that, you can see what difference reading makes for us. Seeing things in vivid detail brings out certain points and elements that maybe we hadn’t noticed before. It makes you pay attention, it brings you in and doesn’t let you go.

This goes for all good stories. They show us what we need or want to see, they open our eyes and give details we didn’t think of to put emphasis on before. They teach us. They show us the way. They help us become better writers, the way we want to become.

They also help us become story-snobs. When you read a story that hasn’t utilized all of its elements for good, is obvious and not terribly cohesive, you can tell, but even that can help us. “What not to do,” in some cases, and for example: Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’ll roll this lesson in too because I’m thinking about it. On the topic of Fifty Shades, and as I mentioned before, vocabulary and word choice is important in that it helps shapes the story, it helps us bring out the color in the story. It brings the images in our head to the forefront on a page.

I always joked that you can tell when an author learned a new word or found a new word they liked, because you’d see it more in the book in a certain section. I’d always vowed to write in a way that I wasn’t so repetitious, to have good word flow and sentence structure that was as colorful as the rainbow and then some. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s more difficult than I realized at first. Writing a book with no repetition within it whatsoever, 3-400 words of constant flow can be difficult. The trick, at least, is to make sure that you’re varying the word choice, keep it going.

One trick I learned was not to use the same word twice in the same paragraph, articles and some nouns excluded. ‘As’ and ‘just’ especially only should be used once.

Let me go back to Fifty Shades, where I’ve heard– and briefly seen– the word choice is about as staggering as it can get. It is an easy read, quick, something you can simply devour if you’re in the mood for it, because who really worries about vocabulary when you’re taking in literary porn?

For those who are more picky about what they read, who read for a good story and stimulation just as well, the word choice that the author uses can be what kills the mood and the desire to read more. If it’s poor, badly executed, it doesn’t engage, and it’s more of “meh,” reaction than an “ooh, 2:00 a.m? Who cares!” reaction.

On the other hand, that could bring up the topic of reading level. What we like and what we can take in. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Dante’s Inferno eight years ago without falling asleep. Shakespeare was just as daunting. This is where we can improve by reading more, finding where our level is and going from there. Sort of like a video game, if you want to think of it like that. The more you read, the more you understand, and the better you do.

Still, there are books that exist at a decent reading level that manage to dazzle without being hard to understand.

I wonder now, after writing so much, how well I could read Dante’s Inferno. Though I still have trouble with older books that have thick, more antiquated vocabularies. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been a slow read for me, but no less exciting. If nothing else, I can see the images that Jules Verne has written out so well, much better than I used to. And Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was a hard read back seven years ago just as well, but the more I write, the more I read, the more I’ve developed my ability and my apprehension (comprehension?).

I will say that there’s a sweet spot for vocabulary plus reader understanding. You can still have an intricate story that’s easy to read; take Harry Potter for example, which started as a sort of children’s book and continued on to the higher dredges of young adult (that’s my interpretation, at least, I could be wrong), and still continues to be one of the most read series by the target audience. At least, to my knowledge, for fiction writing, there is that good level of word choice plus intricacy plus good story telling skill.

We all have our preferences of what to read, just as much as we do for what we write. I’d still fall asleep reading non-fiction books, but that doesn’t mean they’re written poorly, and it doesn’t mean it’s not on my reading level, it’s just not what I’m interested in. So there is that difference: interest versus reading comprehension versus vocabulary used and flow of words versus personal taste.  Some enjoy books that others find mundane, and there’s an audience still for time travel and science fiction just as much as there is for Twilight fan fiction and so on. If we all had the same level and comprehension and taste, this would be a much shorter post.

Don’t be afraid if you’re intimidated by something. If you can’t read it, or it’s not engaging your interest enough that you’re having to read and re-read whole paragraphs, don’t force it. Come back to it later or not. There’s no pressure on what you have to read; if you want to read, don’t make yourself read what you think others will enjoy hearing you talk about. Find something you like and run with it.

The same goes for writing. Don’t force yourself to write science fiction if you’d rather write about Victorian era wizards, or steampunk rabbits with bayonets that shoot ethereal nets at ghosts. Find where you’re most comfortable, and just go for it. There’s an audience for it somewhere, I guarantee it.

-The Novice Wordsmith