Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Delving in Details

In crafting a narrative extensive emphasis can be placed on sculpting believable worlds from the nothingness of a blank page. A single flaw and the magic is gone, the story fades, dies.

Often a writer will build their world upon the structure of our own. An decisive and easy way to draw in an audience is to give them something that is familiar. A great many writers use this tactic so they can draw on what they know and give their audience something to relate to immediately. Through this method, a writer can focus their attention on building the story without much care to where it takes place in the world.

The reliance on letting the audience infer the believability of the world becomes a linchpin for the story. Even if the writer is crating a world from scratch their reliance on 'reality' and the knowledge of the world determines the audience's immersion within their world. 

"...the devil is in the details..."

In a narrative it is neigh-impossible to create a truly alien or unique world because writers utilize their knowledge of our world as a foundation for that world. This is where flaws can break a story, kill the narrative. Whether by choice or sub-conscious the details of a work are echoes of a writer's knowledge. While this may not be wholly visible to the writer these details are virtually transparent to the audience.

In a crime fiction an author should know that firearms are never called 'guns' but weapons, they should know the weight, the action, procedures. In a colonial romance it should be known that all houses had low ceilings, people ate with knives instead of forks, etc. In a horror, the motive should make sense for the antagonist even if it is never revealed to the audience. The writer should understand the psychology of their characters, they should be true to themselves. A writer must understand that their audience may know more about their world than the writer. Even the slightest details can break the immersion. 

The only way for a writer to overcome these obstacles is through research. Understand the world before they try to extrapolate.

How do you overcome the details?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Abstraction of Interactions

Interactions, acting, relationships...

As a writer crafts their piece from consciousness, the narrative only comes to life once the characters have been properly sculpted. Each character is etched with the finest detail, complex psychology and a believable persona. The work begins to come to life but detailed behavior alone cannot carry a narrative without character dynamics.

Every individual has their own persona, their own psychology, that drives them and their actions. While it is possible for a single character to carry an entire narrative, it is their actions and interactions with elements within the piece ultimately reveal how believable a character is. Whether internalizing against external forces or even internal conflict, it is the ability of the individual to react to a stimulus that allows an audience to perceive a character.

Utilizing external stimulus such as conflicts, events, weather, even other characters as a catalyst is a premiere means of exploring an individual's psychology. 

Characters are the actors of a narrative, the living creations that a writer takes a possessive responsibility for in the piece. The quality of the acting is determined by the psychology of the actors. Are their motivations believable? Do they react to situations in manner? Are the convincing? Do they have a strong stage presence? As any director, a writer can know exactly who their stars will be for a piece and if their chosen talent doesn't match the vision that they had then the piece will never have the satisfaction or completion. It is that desire for the perfect vision that a writer's actors have to essentially live up to for the piece. 

No amount of perfect premise or precision acting can save a piece from a director that demands their character act out of character. As in many instances a director will have a character develop a relationship, a love interest, for the sake of piece regardless whether it fits the piece or not. In many recent pieces, a strong character will develop a relationship with a an 'anti-character' (a character that is the complete opposite of the main character but not an antagonist) for no other purpose than to add a romance element to the piece. Even worse, some directors devalue their characters entirely by using casual sexual encounters to fill the 'romance' quota for their piece. While relationships can take many forms and all can help develop a piece, the director needs to take special care that they are building and not exploiting characters.

When a character has been well sculpted, detailed, and has been defined through their relationships with other characters, they become individuals. Individuals you can feel for, relate to and understand. Far too often writers craft strong characters, some even believable but the greats introduce us to individuals. Through those individuals it is no longer a story, it becomes a rolling journal. Individuals make it possible for an audience to fall for them, support them and when their relationships fail they feel their own hearts broken.

Are you creating characters? Or are you introducing us to new individuals?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Palpable Pressure

As a narrative begins to unfold the writer's choices of motivations and settings will ultimately dictate the atmosphere of the piece.

There are a multitude of avenues for an author to indirectly reflect the atmosphere within a piece whether it is the mental state of the characters, the state of an environment or just a consistent pressure on the characters through events. The atmosphere of a narrative can determine whether the narrative is a page-turner or a casual read. 

The mental state of a narrative's characters can be instrumental in establishing the atmosphere in a story. Viewing the world through the eyes a character with a bleak outlook will inherently bring an oppressive and dark atmosphere to the narrative. Just as well, a character that is unstable can add a sense of instability and uncertainty to the piece. 

The choice of settings and the general state of those environments can serve to engross the audience with an almost palpable atmosphere. Are the characters interacting at a casual coffee shop that easily vanishes into the background? Visiting the standard fare of iconic landmarks?  Settings that only serve as a stage for the scenes and easily vanish into the background. Or are your characters in a weathered old boathouse? A secluded small town locked away in the wilderness? Environmental settings that add to the overall tone.

Events within a narrative follow a steady rising flow like a wave that will eventually come to crashing end with the audience. It's the intervals of those events that can determine the pressure on the characters. A lengthy space between events can create a strong tension while short spaces and rapid pacing can establish a sense of urgency. 

The strongest examples of indirectly building atmosphere include Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Stephen King's The Shining, Dean Koontz's Phantoms and even TV shows like the X-Files or Twin Peaks. Each of these excelled not only because of design but the subtle and indirect approach to building atmosphere. 

Establishing an atmosphere directly can be extremely difficult based upon the chosen genre. In many Urban Fantasy pieces the author will choose dark settings and lace the story with numerous deaths but the atmosphere seldom rises to consume the piece and envelop the audience. In most instances it is a failure for the events to have a sense of weight. In many instances of directly establishing atmosphere it almost always depends on the overt setting.

The atmosphere of a narrative should be almost palpable. It should consume the audience to the point that they feel they are living in that world.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sculpting Character

Instruments, tools, devices...

When a writer crafts their work they often regard characters as instruments in piece. A vessel for the audience to watch the narrative unfold. The creator will sculpt characters based on the demands placed upon them by the narrative.

As the writer begins sculpting they will define each character they will examine the influence of each character like a conductor chooses the best instrument for the piece. The characters begin as a list of roles, features and finally their influence. Are they a protagonist? Antagonist? The wise old man that will gift the protagonist with knowledge? Each character will have their roles defined and emphasized to blend smoothly within the piece.

Much as a conductor knows what instruments are available for a piece and how they will blend into the score a writer will often choose from the Jungian Archetypes. The psychologist Carl Jung defined the 5 potential archetypes as the psychological framework for universal prototype ideas. Every person, every character contains these psychological elements but the degree to which each archetype is emphasized will determine the reactions and ultimately the presented personality. These archetypes are described as the self, the shadow, anima, animus and persona.

The self is the filter, the means of controlling the psyche and facilitating individuation. While the shadow is the reverse of the Ego and the Anima/Animus are the male/female images within the psyche. Finally is the Persona, the outward appearance of the individual psyche to the world. In regards to characters, these archetypes can be visualized as the Child, the Hero, the Wise Old Man/Sage, Trickster and so forth.  

While the characters are sculpted and chosen for the piece as a shopping list of qualities most creators will refrain from diving into the psychology of the characters. They begin with their archetypical roles and proceed to flesh out the characters through physical descriptions, selected commentary and influence. Instead of bringing the characters to life they are animated and it becomes reflected in the audience's reaction. Characters will struggle and bend to comply with the narrative at the behest of the writer. This is where characters will twist and perform actions that will assist the story but will not match their personas.

A number of creators will often sample personas that they experience in life and use them within the piece. Often these are the strongest characters. Sampling from the natural world, characters inherently have their own developed psychology and will ultimately feel more at home in a piece than the artificial characters sculpted from lists.

When a writer sculpts their characters for the piece they must make allowances for the personas, the psychology of the people in their narrative. When a character takes an action outside of their psychology it is akin to a sour note played from the orchestra. It will immediately jar the audience free of piece.

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