Category : On Writing
In this post, we’ll talk about some of the ways you can evaluate your first draft’s cast, setting, and even story flow regarding the narrative plot arc and the character emotional arc. Step one is all about gathering key information on the story you wrote. Step two and onward, until rewrites begin, is the analytical part of building your blueprint.
Keeping that in mind, in all of your notes from step one, there are three major parts of your story that absolutely need to be identified. These are the inciting incident, the turning-point, and the climax. All three need to be linked both in terms of plot and in regard to the emotional arc of the story.
A keen example of this is the 2012 Avengers movie. (Although cinema is vastly different in terms of how to tell the audience a story, the core concepts of beginning, middle, and end are universal and relatively easy to spot in that particular movie. Some spoilers ahead, but it seems that most people have already seen the movie which is another thing that makes it an easy choice to reference.) The inciting incident is, of course, the opening scene. Loki steals the tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D., establishing himself as the villain. This leads to the gathering of the Avengers, and their struggles as they try to thwart Loki’s plans. The turning-point is when Phil Coulson dies. It pushes the characters toward an internal resolution of self (IE, their emotional arcs) as to how they are going to behave for the rest of the story. It’s also very much a plot point, in that Loki wins, temporarily, and shows the lengths he is willing to go to achieve his plans, making the need for the Avengers to win against him that much more dire. The climax is when the portal closes. It is the ultimate sign of Loki’s defeat, followed by the capture and imprisonment of the god himself. The heroes save the day, and each of them has a sense of a job well done, as shown in the final moments of the movie. There is also a reinforcement of their resolution as a team. This rounds out both the narrative arc and the various emotional arcs in a neat, tidy bundle.
One of the reasons why Avengers was such a widely well received movie is because of the intertwined nature of the internal (emotional) and external (narrative) conflicts. Viewers were invested equally in the story and the characters. The character struggles were of a dual nature, against themselves as a group and against an enemy that was cunning, and knew their largest weakness as a group. Additionally, each character individually hit highs and lows as the movie progressed, coordinated to the progression of the narrative, and that is very much something worth striving for in any story.
Moments have to come together. The three points that are key to that progression are the exact ones already under discussion – beginning, middle, and end. Writers should also keep their eyes open for any other opportunities where both arcs can be tied together in places other than those three points, but they absolutely must be tied together during those three.
Moving on to discuss the main character.
Although many stories have more than one character, there should still be one that comes to mind as a clear-cut protagonist.
Some basic questions you should ask of your protagonist are:
- who are they?
- is the pronunciation of their name confusing?
- what is the meaning of their name?
- what is their internal conflict?
- is it easily identifiable?
- what is their external conflict?
- is it easily identifiable?
To give examples of the ideas of internal and external conflict, we can look back on the Avengers again. Internally, each of them has to decide if they want to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. and with each other. Externally it’s about building themselves as a team, which reflects portions of their inner conflict as well as the plot of the story.
Some ways to get to know your characters better:
- external (outside) POV description
- internal (self) POV description
Such things can include:
- occupational or trained skills
- symbolic elements (preferably that define the character or help enhance/contrast a plot concept)
Descriptions can offer insight into how your reader can see and relate to a character. Such as:
- character traits or mannerisms
- used frequently
- give extra information about the character to the reader
When it comes to secondary characters, here are some helpful guidelines to go over:
- Does this character contribute to the conflict and resolution?
- Enhancement/Contrast – whatever you want a character to be known for, for the reader to have a chance to know, create a character / give another character something to contrast that thing
- What is the character’s role in the story?
- What is the character’s function in the story?
- cut – what would happen if you did?
- combine – can you put two (or more) together to create a more interesting character?
Ultimately, what you want are characters who count, that help reflect and enhance either the plot or important elements about the main character.
Lastly, we’ll briefly talk about the setting, and what it can mean for your story.
- setting is an emotion
- can the reader “see” it?
- if Alaska, it better be cold
- if in the back of a fast-food restaurant, better be able to smell the grease
Setting done correctly is another tool in a writer’s box to draw the reader into the story. Making the best use out of setting will depend on each scene, but it can be almost as important as a secondary character – sometimes moreso, such as in the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks.
When you begin arranging your notes from step one, and evaluating your story arcs as well as the characters and setting from step two, look to find moments that tie both the narrative and emotional arcs together. Identify the inciting incident, the turning-point, and the climax, and make certain they are linked. If they aren’t, that will be your goal for the first rewrite. If they are, that means focusing on the other elements that contribute to how the reader is shown those story components. If you find it useful, think about the Avengers movie and identify those same story parts for each character, then apply the exercise to your own work. (It would not have to be the Avengers movie, but it is a very readily available example.)
Our next update may be a bit more informational than exercise, and will either be focused on elements of stories or terminology of the publishing world.
As always, thanks for reading.