Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Asking the Wrong Question

Asking what happens next is the wrong question because it focuses on plot. You will read for plot because it's too big to miss. But by taking your eye off the question of "what happens next" in favor of "how is the character changing," you’ll find new meaning and enjoyment from reading fiction. Some readers prefer to read for plot the first time through a novel and then go back later to read for the character development or character arc of the story. Others will read for the character arc from the outset, knowing the plot is not going away.

Character arc is all about how the author moves the character through a learning process. As the character learns, so do you. The plot is a device for making the transition enjoyable for you as a reader.

One way to begin thinking more about character arc is to read for the way the character exists at the beginning of the story and then observing how the character is at the end of the story. How is the character different? What were some of the changes the character went through? Here are some things to look for at the beginning of the story and the end.

Increase innocence at the beginning of the story
In order to make a strong character arc, an author may revise their first draft of the story to bring more emphasis to the character arc. One way to do this is to make the character more innocent or naive at the beginning of story.

One device, used in quest-type stories, is to have a wisdom character speak with the main character. The main character denies the truths offered by the wisdom character only to learn later that it’s the wisdom character’s advice that saves the day. Or the author may have two or more young characters mock the wisdom character. Think teenage angst story where the high school students mock their English teacher only to learn later that the lesson the teacher was trying to impart holds the secret of solving the biggest challenge in the plot of the story.

Add experience and wisdom at the end of story
The author will emphasize the completion of the character arc by adding dialogue or action at the end of the story to allow the character to express new-found wisdom resulting from the journey. The innocent teenager, who started out on the road trip fifty short chapters ago, ends up becoming the wisdom character for a middle school sibling who, of course, doesn’t listen and could care less. Or the author may simply have the character reflect back on the now completed journey.

When you read a good story, you can’t possibly miss the plot. It jumps out and bites you. And if it doesn’t, the story becomes the one you put down unfinished. Don’t worry about the plot. Instead, stay focused on the main characters. Read to learn where they are headed, what experiences they are having, what information they are learning, and how they are growing. Enjoy.

For your next novel read, may I suggest Fulfillment? You can read a chunk of it free. You may click here for Amazon Kindle or click here for paperback. Fulfillment is the Christmas story as pure suspense, thriller, horror, mystery, romance and spiritual warfare. Satan is out to stop the first Christmas by attacking Mary, a pregnant teenager with moxie and connections in high places. Keep your lights on.

Here’s another novel idea…
Enjoy this blog post? Please share it with your friends by clicking the social media buttons below.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Read for the Way Authors Change Characters

The more you know about the craft of writing, the more you gain from reading a novel. For many readers, it’s enough to discover what happens in the story. The problem with an action focus is you miss the movement of the characters through a learning process.

You will enjoy the story more if you read for the character arc. Story is about the characters. The plot is merely a device for moving the characters from where they are to where the author wants them to go. Authors can use any number of devices to move the character through an arc, including:

Plot – the events of the story. The plot is the journey. The author places the characters in situations that force change. Every scene requires the characters to adjust in some way as they react to what is happening around them. Even if the modification is as simple as learning one new fact, the character has transformed in some way. As you read, look for the way the action affects the characters.

Hook – a device the author uses to keep you interested in the story. It’s the cliff hanger ending to a chapter that makes you want to keep reading. Authors use hooks at the beginning and end of every scene and sometimes in the middle of scenes. The action of the hook forces change on the story. Such adjustments force the characters to grow or weaken to form the up and down sides of the character arc.

Forced events – plot again. Characters change when they must to survive. The author positions the character in a situation of kill or be killed. When the character works up the gumption to pull the trigger, she is changed forever (so is the villain, but that’s another character arc – one that the author just ended). Gaining knowledge can make the character tougher, meaner, harder or more cynical as in noir fiction. Or, despite the awful things happening around the character, new experiences and knowledge can lead to an understanding of how to stay optimistic in a sometimes cruel world as happens in many romance stories. When a bad thing happens, you have a choice: either you live in a hard, cruel world… or you live in a world where bad things sometimes happen to spoil an otherwise good life. Which way does the author take the character?

How does the way the author changes the characters affect you as a reader? If you read only for the action, you'll still be influenced by the author's choices in creating the character arc for each major character. But you may not be aware of how the story is affecting you other than a vague feeling. But if you follow the character arc, while still enjoying the action, you gain a better understanding of how the story affects you so that you can answer questions like:

  • How does the genre you like to read affect you? Do you become more cynical as you read noir stories? Or do you become more romantic as you read romance stories? 
  • Why are you drawn to read the genre of novels you enjoy most? 
  • Does the author create a reality consistent with your evolving worldview? 
  • How does the author undermine your worldview? This can happen when an author gives a noir drama a happy ending, for example. Or the romance author ends a novel with a growing cynicism in the main character.

As you read your next novel, look for the main character’s response to the events of the story. The character's response is more important than the event itself. Character is more important than plot because the lessons of the story are within the characters, not the plot.

For your next novel read, may I suggest Fulfillment? You can read a chunk of it free. You may click here for Amazon Kindle or click here for paperback. Fulfillment is the Christmas story as only Paul R. Lloyd can tell it: pure suspense, thriller, horror, mystery, romance and spiritual warfare. Satan is out to stop the first Christmas by attacking Mary, a pregnant teenager with moxie and connections in high places. Noir-style action designed to keep your lights on.

Here’s another novel idea…
Enjoy this blog post? Please share it with your friends by clicking the social media buttons below.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Are You Missing the Best Part of the Story?

For many readers, the story is all about the plot. They want to know what happens. The danger with a plot focus is you become so busy following the action that you miss the most important part of the tale. You will enjoy the story more if you read for the character arc. Story is about the characters. The plot is merely a device for moving the characters from where they are to where they need to be.

What is character arc?
Character arc is the journey the character is on as he or she moves through the plot. Like real people, characters are at a particular place in their development as human beings (or cyberborgs if you, like YA author Karen T. Smith, prefer sci-fi). And like most of us, fiction characters don’t change unless some outside event kicks them in the butt and gets them started. If you want the character to leave home, kill off the parents. If you want the character to take a cross-country trip, fire them from their job and kick them out of their apartment.

See how the action or plot of the story is dictated by the author's desire to move the character forward? While many readers focus on the murder of the parents or the start of a road trip, the real adventure has to do with how the events of the story change the character.

While you’re focusing on the main character, keep an eye on the other characters. What are the characters like at the start of the story? How do they change along the journey? How are they different at the end of the story compared to the beginning?

For a story rich in character, read my novel Fulfillment. You can read a chunk of it free. You may click here for Amazon or click here for paperback. Fulfillment is the Christmas story as only Paul R. Lloyd can tell it: pure suspense, thriller, horror, mystery, romance and spiritual warfare. Satan is out to stop the first Christmas by attacking Mary, a pregnant teenager with moxie and connections in high places. Fiction designed to keep your lights on.

Here’s another novel idea…
Enjoy this blog post? Please share it with your friends by clicking the social media buttons below.