December 12, 2008

Help Me Write! - Character Development

Last post, I talked about what Nathan and I are attempting to accomplish with—the type of story, how we want it to play out, and a little bit about what kind of audience we expect it to draw in.

For this post, I’d like to focus on some of the potential pitfalls of our approach and ask that you help us find ways around those pitfalls. If possible, I’d love to look at case studies (current movies, TV shows, or books that do what we’re trying to do, and do it well).

The first pitfall that hits many hard-hitting, action-oriented, fast-paced storylines is a lack of character development. If the action is non-stop, and the point of view (POV) is third person omniscient, how do we understand the character and his or her development? Only through their actions and behaviors.

That makes things interesting, doesn’t it?

Let me point you to one of the more popular (and controversial) books of recent years, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Place your personal opinion aside for a moment, and let’s analyze the lead character’s development…oh, wait, the lead character doesn’t develop at all (unless I’m missing something)!

He’s the same as he was when the story began. The story is an action-packed ride, there’s no doubt about that, but do we really connect to the character? Or are we just drawn into the suspense, wondering what’s going to happen next?

Here, then, are my questions:

  1. What are some action-oriented, nail-biting stories you’ve read (or seen in a movie or TV) that actually had excellent character development? (hint: think of characters you love, generally those characters have developed at some point)

  2. Name your favorite fictional character and why they’re your favorite.

  3. Provide me with some bad examples of characters that don’t develop at all.

December 03, 2008

Help Me Write! - Casting a Vision

A vision is nothing if not cast. Give people the tactics without telling them what the strategy is and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. Al Gore would never have been able to get the Internet started if he had just said, “Hey, let’s connect a bunch of computers.” No, I’m sure Al, when he envisioned the Internet, said something like, “Imagine a world where a wealth of information is at your fingertips!” I have to stop the analogy now; the sarcasm is dripping off the keyboard.

Becky left a great comment on the last blog post. I’m going to paraphrase, but it went something like, “What you’re proposing is not a good idea unless you’re doing something that I don’t understand.” As the guy who wrote about applying a core strategy and supporting it by adding value, I’m feeling a little sheepish. This week, then, let me explain the concept behind Let me cast a little vision.

The idea for started a long time ago. My friend, Nathan, is an excellent illustrator. I write. We got to thinking (which is sometimes scary) and thought that we’d try something different. Our concept: to bring back classic newspaper serials, only this time, we’d use Al Gore’s miraculous invention, the Internet.

The synopsis? Science fiction adventure that felt like a television show (24, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, etc.). Brief and action-packed. It would leave readers wanting more. The storyline would be supplemented by e-mails delivered to readers who sign up to receive them. Readers could even comment on the blog and become more involved in the storyline and the characters.

For style, we would take on a more comic book-like approach to the writing (along with the illustrations). Packed with action. Internet readers, who tend to have shorter attention spans, would need to be able to read it quickly and move on. Illustrations would be a huge part of it. It’s a graphic novel supported by prose.

I’ll stop there for now, but I’m sure this raises some questions. Please ask! I want this to be a story that people get excited about, and I’d love to hear your ideas! Poke holes! Offer feedback! Give me your opinions!

December 01, 2008

Help Me Write! - Just a Little Off the Top, Please

Last post we discussed writing for an online audience. Writer’s Digest posted an excellent article on writing blogs. One of their main points was that a blog post should be less than 300 words (though I've heard others say 500). As I mentioned last week, our story segments were running from 450 – 1,100 words. The WD article got me thinking...what else can I do to shorten the story segments?

Obviously, shortening the segements isn't easy. I have to make tough choices (and, by the way, I really appreciate and value the perspectives shared by Sheree, Rebecca, and belle). Now, my task is to shave 100 – 750 words off my story segments to net out at around 350 words.

One thing I've been playing with is the way I describe basic elements of the setting (i.e. scene descriptors, time of day, the character’s surroundings, etc.). Rather than develop those items through the formal prose, I’m considering a different tactic: screenplay-like descriptors that introduce each scene. Here’s an example:



FRIDAY, NOV. 22, 1963 – 12:35PM

This approach saves time by telling readers where the characters are and what time it is (crucial when you’re jumping back and forth through history).

Now, it's your turn to weigh in:

  1. What do you think of this approach?

  2. How does this approach help the reader? How does it hurt the reader?

  3. Do you have any other suggestions that might save time? For example, should I add the character names to each title bar?