Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What Happens When Your Protagonist Changes Their Mind?

Warning:  This post will have spoilers.  If I bring up a book or movie you haven't read, be warned, you will discover things. 

Hi!  This is Grace.

So my last post talked about how no character is totally right or wrong from everyone's point of view. This means that eventually your protagonist is going to come across ideas that he or she doesn't agree with.  What happens then?  Most people might say their main character retains their firm belief and continues to accomplish their task.

But what if that didn't happen?

What if your character changed his mind?  What if your character changed sides?

Image result for sherlock shut up gif

This is shocking, I know.  After all, aren't protagonists supposed to have one specific opinion which directly opposes their antagonist?  Wouldn't it be interesting (and a massive shock to your reader) if your protagonist began to wonder if maybe the antagonist was right?

Of course this would have ripple effects throughout the book.  For example, if your protagonist wasn't alone in his quest, does he convince everyone else to join him or does he turn against his followers?  Does he make his decision suddenly, or is this a problem he's struggled with for a while?  

An example of this would be Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War.  When the government wants to control the Avengers, Tony is totally on board.  Why?  Because he has realized that they cause damage wherever they go and need to be put in check.  Suddenly the Avengers are fighting each other, because a main character changed his mind and joined what some people see to be the "bad guys".  Now there's debate about that, and Faith's last post expands upon the reader's point of view, but you see where I'm going.  While we kind of saw this coming, it adds a twist that we might not have been expecting in, say, the first Avengers movie.

What if you don't want your character to change his mind?  Well this is where it gets tricky.  We humans aren't naturally wired to fight for something we don't believe in.  When an idea comes up that we don't agree with, especially something big, we tend to oppose it.  Just look at like, all of history.  So when your character comes across something she can't support or discovers that she can no longer support something she used to uphold as true, we have problems. 

The important thing to remember is that forcing an out-of-character act is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, and if your character does do something that opposes who they are as a person, they must have a very good reason.  If you discover that your character, a person with their own thoughts and personality, really wouldn't support say, the rebel alliance that they're supposed to be leading, the best thing to do in that situation is to have your character change sides.  Of course, you could also have the character be under someone's thumb and have no choice about what they're doing, but don't force your character to do something simply because you're the author.  Give them a good reason.  

Empathy is very important in this situation.  Maybe your protagonist listened to your antagonist's monologue and suddenly realized that this person they'd been fighting all along actually has valid motives for what they're doing.  

What can this do for the plot?  Well now that everyone disagrees with each other, you have all kinds of options.  Maybe the protagonist finds out the people he first followed had problems and begins to fight against them.  Maybe you end the book with him realize that the antagonist is wrong.  Maybe everyone's wrong and your hero has a massive existential crisis!  Now that your hero's turned against everything he's ever known and loved, he's got some serious issues to work out.

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Anakin Skywalker is also a good example of this twist.  As he gets pulled to the dark side, he pulls away from what we see as the good side.  Senator Palpatine changes his mind.  Then, of course, he becomes Darth Vader and ruins everyone's lives.  

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And all of a sudden, into my head pops the plot twist of all plot twists. 

What if your protagonist secretly supported the antagonist the entire time?  What if your protagonist WAS the antagonist?
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This is, of course beside the point, but I had to say it.  I mean, how amazing would that be?  Of course it would then make your readers feel like this:

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But hey, that's the writer's life, am I right?
      

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Flip Side

A couple days ago, my friend and colleague Grace Weiser (ooh! That sounds so official!) (aand you ruined it.) (Sorry.) posted...well, a post about the nuances between “heroes” and “villains.” In summary, everybody has their reasons for doing stuff and the world is a confusing mess.

I apologize for that opener. Let’s try again.

Protagonists don’t have to be noble and antagonists don’t have to be crazy -- we can leave that to people writing blog posts on the internet.

Wait.

Anyway, I’m going to take it a step further and suggest this: What if it is impossible to tell who is the antagonist and who is the protagonist? What if...it even depends on the reader?

Let’s do an example, shall we?

Let’s say there’s a teenage boy. We’ll call him Kevin. And let’s say Kevin lives with his dad, whom we’ll call Bob. And let’s suppose that in the course of events, Kevin falls in love with a similarly teenage girl named Alexandria. Now, Bob doesn’t like Alexandria, because once upon his time her mom stole his book in sixth grade. Also, Bob believes that Kevin is too young and impetuous to date the daughter of a notorious book thief. But Bob is a smart father, and has read books and knows that simply forbidding Kevin to date Alexandria will not work. Instead, he enlists the help of his sister (Georgie) to direct the course of Kevin and Alexandria’s relationship and force them to realize for themselves that it will not work. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll just tell Kevin that Alexandria’s mom is a book theif. (Wait.)

So who’s the villain? Well, at this point, it seems that Bob is -- he and his sister are being dreadfully interfering, don’t you think? From Kevin’s point of view, they are trying to warp what would be an otherwise beautiful, cutesy, non-cliche-ish teen relationship. As readers, we want to see Kevin and Alexandria overcome their obstacles and their heritage and form a beautiful bond.

Unless...we’ve ever been in the place of Bob. Ever seen two kids whom you knew would train wreck if they dated? Most of us are too wishy-washy to do anything about that, but Bob refuses to stand by. Four for you, Bob! You go, Bob! Besides, Bob knows more than Kevin does. He knows that Alexandria’s mom is a notorious book thief, who just can’t wait to get her hands on Kevin’s new collector’s set of Lord of the Rings. She has every reason to want Alexandria and Kevin to be together -- at Kevin’s peril! (Okay, only one reason. But still.) So now the primary antagonist is Alexandria’s mom (who shall remain nameless). Alexandria herself might become an antagonist -- will she follow in her mother’s infringing footsteps?

Oh, but now we’re going to do it again! Nameless loves books, but she’s never had enough money to buy her own. She knows that Kevin is very protective of his special edition books, and she only wants to look at Alan Lee’s beautiful paintings! She knows her daughter will do anything for her and plants her into Kevin’s home to try to retrieve the books for her. She’s only borrowing without permission! Bob never asked for his book back in sixth grade, so maybe he won’t even care!

And what about Georgie? Is she truly helping her brother? Or is she looking for a chance to take revenge on him for the time he broke her blue eyeliner and scribbled all over her cassette player? Will she aid Bob or defect to Kevin’s side?

And what about Alexandria? A pawn in this game of theft and love? Will she blindly follow her mother’s orders? Will her love for Kevin spur a spirit of rebellion in her? Or will she throw her hands up in the air and say “this is stupid, y’all!” and move to Timbuktu?

And boom, we’ve generated a...really strange plot. With some pretty eccentric characters. And I used the book stealing thing from Grace’s last post.

The point is, the antagonist in this story depends on (a) how it’s written and (b) who reads it. There is no inherent evil bad guy. In fact, even if the story is written in first person from Kevin’s point of view with all evidence supporting his youthful endeavors, a reader who sympathizes with Bob might decide that Kevin’s the real villain, launching all the story’s problems with his own impetuous lifestyle and devil-may-care attitude.

Villains are not villains because they’re bad. They’re villains because they directly oppose the character we support. Do they do this in morally horrific ways? Very often they do! Are we and the main character occasionally wrong? Sure! Cheesy villains come off as contrived because they have nothing to do with the main character’s conflict. You don’t need cackling laughter and Force Lightning. Just stick a bunch of people with opposing agendas in the same room and watch the sparks fly.

Speaking of Force Lighting, I think this whole who-is-the-villain thing may have been the intended effect of the Star Wars prequels. It could have been great, too, except we had to throw in Palpatine and be like “the lines between evil and good are blurred...except this guy, he’s definitely evil.”



I mean, yes, it was a plot twist, but was there really ever any doubt? *sigh* I guess George Lucas has a thing for absolutes.

Wait.

And totally off topic, I just found this picture that really needs to be circulated more.

(Made by Smilernarry on Wattpad)

So what do you think? Have you read any good stories where you couldn’t tell who was bad and who was good? Writing any of your own? Let us know!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Great Illusion

Hi!  It's Grace.  (For some reason my fingers tried to type "Faith"....hmmmmmm *strokes beard and looks mildly thoughtful*)

So today I'm going to talk about something that could apply to this month's category, but it really spans all across literature.  What could that be, you ask?  Besides, you know, characters, plot, backstory, descriptions, good scenes, not-lame romance (oh wait...that one doesn't actually span all literature...).  I'm talking about The Great Illusion, a term which I so creatively coined just now in my recliner as I tried to think of a catchy title for this post.  Right, let's get to work. 

The Great Illusion is something that writers must be aware of in order to write characters with depth and motive.  It is, put simply, this:  The belief that bad guys are bad and good guys are good.  That's it!  That's the Great Illusion.  

Why is it such a massive illusion?  Because we are biased people.  Even if we try really hard to see things from someone else's point of view, our own life experiences and beliefs will sneak in.  I mean, it's really not all our fault, our minds really don't have much to go off of besides our own lives and so that's what we tend to rely on.  This becomes a problem, however, when you realize that not everyone has had the same experiences and by default, not everyone has the same point of view.  So how does this apply to writing?  Well since I love numbered points so much and they help me organize my thoughts into readable sections, we'll use them to help me explain. 

1. True Heroes and Villains Can't Exist
Yup.  You heard me.  That amazing hero that everyone believes is right?  You only see him as right because you've been shown his side of the story.  If you were to hear the story told from the supposed villain's point of view, you probably wouldn't see the hero as such a great guy.  This applies to everyone.  Even terrible people who did historically terrible things.  Somewhere along the line, people believed they were right.  This is important to keep in mind when writing because unless your antagonist's sole motive is to Be A Villain, he firmly believes he is right in what he is doing, or at least that the end which he is trying to get to will justify the means he uses to get there.  In the antagonist's mind, he is the good guy, working for his good or the good of others.  Remembering this gives your "bad guy" much more character depth and development.  

Similarly, your protagonist normally believes that what he's doing is the right thing, but there is obviously someone who doesn't, or there wouldn't be a protagonist, would there?  You can't have a true, all-around hero if someone out there believes he is wrong.

Image result for heroes don't exist john

4. Your Character Has A Good Reason For His Beliefs
I hate to break it to you, but your antagonist has a valid reason for why he's fighting the protagonist, and vice versa.  In reality, this is only bad news because you as the author have to come up with that reason, which as I've discovered, can be an absolute nightmare.  Seriously.  And it has to be better than, you know, "she stole my book in sixth grade and I've never forgiven her".  Unless that book was actually military battle plans in code... But I digress.  Coming up with a reason can be difficult, especially if you as the author believe your antagonist is wrong.  Well all that's really going to save you here is some empathy.  Try looking at things from his point of view.  Better yet, write a scene or a chapter, possibly one already writing from the protagonist's perspective, but write it the other way around.  

There are also multiple ways to make an antagonist.  He could be doing something the protagonist doesn't like, could be on opposite sides, or could simply stand in the way of the main character's goal.  

Here's a trick to writing a convincing protagonist or antagonist:  Describe their views so you yourself, as the author, are convinced that they're right.  Do this for both characters.  You don't have to put this in the actual book, or at least not in this format, but if you have a convincing argument for both sides, your characters will have so much more depth.  DISCLAIMER: If you do this and your reader ends up supporting the antagonist, don't come running to me.  That means you did a really good job and your characters are very realistic. 

3. Everyone Has A Following, No Matter How Small
Your antagonist is going to have people who would follow him to the grave.  So will your protagonist.  You can take advantage of these people by considering how they follow your character.  Do they live on a mountain separated from all civilization?  Or do they all live in the same place or very near to each other?  Do they fight against the opposing side?  Do mothers tell their children not to talk to kids who follow the opposite belief?  If a teacher or boss believes something different from her student or employee, does that change the way she treats them?  These are important things to consider and make for much more realistic plots.  



Hopefully this was both helpful and enlightening.  I first learned this in a history class, and I suddenly had a world of ideas and story possibilities open up before me like I'd never seen before.  Some side effects may include: doubting everything you've ever been taught about your life, suddenly realizing that your antagonist and protagonist actually need to switch roles, writing millions of subplots that have to do with civilian life and massive political disagreements (or elections, whatever you want to call them).  If you begin to see any of these or other side effects, DO NOT CALL YOUR DOCTOR.  THESE ARE GOOD.  



  



Thursday, October 20, 2016

What? I Wrote Something!

Hey guys! It's Faith again! And...I'm still alive.

Yeah. I bet some of you were wondering. Sorry about that. It's been a long...several months.

But on a lighter note, I actually wrote something! And it's a short story!! And it fits October's theme of horror!!! And I've just used up ten years worth of exclamation points!!!!

Sadly, I will not be posting this on Wattpad or anywhere like that as it is a school project and I don't want complications. But perhaps, after it is finished and graded, I'll put it up. That'll probably be in December.

So why am I posting today? Well, first of all, because I actually wrote something again and I'm totally awesome. I haven't written in way too long. I have been reading, though, which is probably the best thing you can do when your muse deserts you. Also, we just started studying short stories in my Intro to Creative Writing Class, so I actually got some examples on how to do these suckers. And on a yet luckier note, I'm on fall break, which means I was able to sit alone at home (well, the baby was there, but she was sleeping) and bang this thing out for about half an hour. The finished draft is about four pages long and just aaa I am overly proud of myself. (It's like a little kid learning how to tie their shoes. SO MUCH AWESOME LOOK MOM LOOK.)

But WHY am I posting today? I'm avoiding my own questions better than a politician. Ay yi yi. Anyway, I am posting to give some advice for anyone else who is looking to bang out a short story in an afternoon, since I am so obviously qualified.

1. Take a shower. Seriously. That's where I got the motivation to write today. You could also take a walk if that works for you.

2. Just...just do it. Once you start you probably will be able to keep going until the end, especially if it's a very short story like mine was. If you're shooting for ten or twenty pages, it might take you most of the day.

3. Don't worry so much about plot. I had this revelation the other day. WHY DO I FOCUS ON PLOT SO MUCH WHEN IT'S THE CHARACTERS I LOVE? I mean, yeah, plot is important. In a longer work, it's pretty central. But in a short story, you can create a character and just go with it. My character was a three-year-old and I did the whole thing in her voice (third limited) and had a blast.


4. Focus on building tension, releasing tension, twisting expectations, and all that fun writerly stuff. It doesn't have to be super amazing. It's a first draft. It'll just FEEL super amazing because you're awesome. (My system is very sensitive to chemicals and now I'm wondering if writing releases some sort of endorphins or energy. What will I be like if I take an entire day off for writing? Will I be writing drunk? Will I bounce off the walls until the building falls down? Obi-Wan Banana? What will happen??)

I promise I am actually sane and fine and home with siblings right now. My family can testify.

As a final note, my creative writing professor keeps stressing that it's not about WHAT you do...it's HOW you do it. So your story can be about noodles and still be interesting if you play it right. My story was about a three-year-old who's afraid of monsters. Don't tell me THAT hasn't been done before. But I'm just so amazed that I was productive that I don't care.

Maybe the secret to self-esteem is low expectations. That's probably also the secret to living in your mom's basement, though.



Anyway, thanks for popping in! See you all soon. :)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Typewriters and a J-Type Rant

Hi!  It's Grace.

So a while ago I posted about a typewriter, and since then, well, they have accumulated.  We now have maybe...eight?  Ten?  Something like that.  Anyway, we have a lot, all different styles, and all pretty cool.  Some of them work better than others, but my dad is slowly getting them to all function fairly well.

First of all, it's really weird having lots of typewriters in our house.  Mostly because before August, we had none.  Now we are overflowing with antiquated writing tools.  It's pretty awesome though, I mean, I'm a writer and history lover, and I'm surrounded by old things to write with!  How much cooler does that get?  They all feel slightly different, so I get to take my pick.

Now for the rant.  I recently learned that it is no longer standard practice to put two spaces after a period.  This makes me very angry.  First of all, as long as I can remember and as long as typing has been a thing, people have put two spaces after a period.  It helps point out that you're beginning a new sentence!  This is what I have always done, and I highly doubt I'll end unless it starts affecting my grades.  Faith, on the other hand, doesn't see anything wrong with the change.  I don't understand at all why something so small should be changed on a whim.  It really frustrates me.

Anyway, that's what this INFJ thinks.  I just hope there's someone out there who agrees with me.



Monday, October 10, 2016

October's Challenge: Horror



This is Grace.  Hello, it's been a while.  

Part of the reason this post is just now showing up is because I happen to hate this genre.  I really like sleep, and I've never had any desire to read a horror story, much less write one.  

So this month I'm going to talk about a less traditional kind of horror.  It's still technically in that genre, but it doesn't involve monsters and demons and curses and creepy music.  

I don't know if there's a specific name for this category, but I happen to kind of like it (or at least I like it better than my other option).  I'm talking about a more dystopian horror, the kind that sends chills up your spine once you realize "that could be me".  This sort of story plays with your mind.  There's actually a very good example of this on Netflix.  It's called The Twilight Zone, and was once a TV show in the 50's and 60's.  It can be kind of dorky, but some episodes actually make you think.

One episode, "Mirror Image", deals with a girl who is convinced her doppelganger is attempting to take over her life.  Everyone else things she's going crazy, but she knows she's not and you as the viewer could back up her story.  She meets a man who at first thinks she's losing it, but eventually realizes she's right.  Another episode, "What You Need", is about a peddler who sells people exactly what they'll need, even if it's something as small as a bottle of stain remover or some matches.  They believe he's crazy until a little while later, when they end up needing exactly what they bought.  I liked this episode just for it's uniqueness until my dad told me that this man would also need the ability to see every possible outcome of the situation based on what he gave them.  Absolutely amazing.  The last episode I'll talk about is "Where Is Everybody?", where a man finds himself alone in a town.  Everything is functioning just as it would have were people there, a movie is even playing.  The ending is really kind of strange, but it definitely has an element of horror.  I don't want to give it away, but I would highly recommend watching the episode.  One thing to remember with the series is that often the part which you perceive to be an ordinary story will go on for a very long time, and you don't see the big twist until the very end.  So be patient. 

I guess now would be a good time to define the meaning of the word "horror".  Merriam Webster defines it as a "painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay".  So here's some advice on how to write a horror story that doesn't involve anyone getting cursed or coming back from the dead. 

1. Illusions are your friend.
This is the perfect case to use the "illusion of a perfect world".  This is where you tell your story (at least in the beginning) in a way which makes the reader believe that the story world is fine and there's nothing wrong with it.  The Twilight Zone does this splendidly.  One of the benefits to adding this element?  It helps contribute to the "that could be me" effect that makes your reader second-guess everything they know to be real.  Let's say, for example, you have a peaceful countryside.  What could possibly go wrong on a cool and sunny spring day?  Something to be careful of when writing this genre is the jump-scare.  This isn't a movie, it's really hard to spring something on people fast enough to get the same effect.  In fact, a better technique would be to have a slow build, where life is still some version of normal, even though something's going wrong.  Make it believable to the point where the reader believes they're still reading about everyday life.  Some kind of flu might work in that situation. 

2. Use unreliable narrators and destroy trust.
Something I've always wanted to write (or read) is a traditional murder mystery, written with all the expected elements of a good mystery story, but the last line, the last sentence of the book reveal that the detective solving the case was actually the murderer.  If you were to read the book over again, you'd be able to find things in the story that you hadn't really noticed before or gave you the sense that something was off but you didn't know what, only this time you can see why the detective might have done one thing instead of the norm.  That is my dream, and that was my monologue.  If you write this book, please tell me so I can read it!  Please!  

Anyway, this is an example of an unreliable narrator.  Now this narrator doesn't have to be the bad guy, a child actually has the potential to be highly effective in this setting.  Someone who's crazy but believes they're sane could also be chilling.  No matter who you use, remember that this narrator is unreliable because they're looking at the events from a very biased or twisted point of view, and you might get a totally different story if you used, say, third person omniscient.  There might be a blog post on this later, because I absolutely love them.  

Destroying trust is also important, because if you discover that you cannot trust the person who's telling the story or someone close to them, you lose your sense of what is really going on.  You as the reader have just lost all ability to tell what is reality and what is imagined.  KA-POW!  You have a horror story. 

3. Fairy tales
Oh fairy tales.  To think that there used to be children's stories about people cutting off their toes to fit into a glass slipper.  What a way to teach children good behavior and social skills.  Last month I mentioned the Hero's Guide trilogy by Christopher Healy, in which the fairy tales are changed to make a delightful and hilarious children's adventure story.  But they also have strong potential to change into a terrifying horror story.  This is where we cross the line into curses and witches and the like.  This is where I stop.  
Image result for lego batman out gif
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I hope these have been helpful.  I'll stick to watching The Twilight Zone and attempting unreliable narrators.  If you have any questions, I'll be in my hobbit-hole and tea is at four.  And no adventures here please!  (you might check down the hill)