Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Amal, and Maurice
This week we welcome Amal El-Mohtar and Maurice Broaddus to the Writing Excuses cast for a discussion of active characters. We cover characters who move stories forward, who make decisions that influence plot-critical events, and whose actions draw the reader into the book.
Liner Notes: you’ll be hearing from Amal and Maurice during the second week of each month of 2018. And if Maurice sounds familiar, he joined us at GenCon for episode 7.40 back in 2012.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson, and despite the fact that both Andrew and Alex are very active characters we never give them any dialog.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 19:22 — 13.3MB)
Find a 1st-person poem, and write it in the 3rd person POV. Perhaps even rewrite it as a scene, or a story.
“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (from the anthology Starlit Wood, and appearing here courtesy of Uncanny Magazine)
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard
2018 is our Year of Character, and we kick it off with a quick exploration of the differences between heroes, protagonists, and main characters. Beginning with addressing the question “wait, aren’t they all the same person?” Because that’s the elephant in the room. Or maybe it’s three elephants. Or two. Sometimes there’s no elephant, and if you look carefully you can see an elephant-shaped hole, which is probably more like a negative number of elephants.
Liner Notes: We referenced The Hollywood Formula, which was introduced to us by Lou Anders in Episode 6.18. We also keep saying “protag” as a verb, which to us means “doing proactive protagonist things.” Howard may have made up this word, but its true provenance has been lost to the mists of anxiety of influence.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson. For audio quality purposes the studio contained zero elephants.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 17:27 — 12.0MB)
Tell a story with three characters—hero, protagonist, and main character. Tell it three times, once for each of those in which they are the POV character.
Characters are the focus of the Writing Excuses Master Class during February, and we lead off with an exploration of a common problem: the main character is often the least interesting person in the story. And of course, in the process of exploring the problem, we look at the sorts of things you can do in order to solve them. It something each of the hosts has struggled with, and we talk about the solutions we’ve arrived at (insomuch as we’ve managed to solve the problem.)
Sidebar: In Season 9 we talked about character attributes using a slider metaphor. If you want to catch up on that, here are links to Episode 9.1 (the three-prong model), Episode 9.25(sympathy), Episode 9.26 (competence), and Episode 9.32 (proactivity.)
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 19:14 — 13.2MB)
Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater
Let’s adjust sliders again! This episode references our sliding scales for characters, and this time around we’ll be talking about how proactive a character is. We also talk about the verb “protag.” Because protagging is what protagonists should do, especially later in our stories.
Our goal is to be able to consciously adjust a character’s level of proactivity in order to similarly adjust how engaging that character is for our audience. We talk about the techniques we rely on, and some of our favorite stories in which we’ve seen these techniques employed.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 19:03 — 13.1MB)
Tie your protagonist up, and then have them protag their way forward in the story with nothing but dialog.
We talk about characters a lot, which is fitting since characters are what make things go in most of our favorite books. Brandon introduces a new model for examining characters in which three primary attributes – Competence, Proactivity, and Sympathy – are contrasted. We treat each one as if controlled by a fader or slider, like on a mixing console, and we look at what the relative positions of those sliders do to a character.
It’s only a model, obviously, and it’s not how we go about starting a character, but it has proven useful in troubleshooting characters who aren’t accomplishing the story purposes we want them to accomplish.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 20:05 — 13.8MB)
Come up with a race of creatures in which there is a sum which you’re not allowed to push past, and you have sliders on these people that control their attributes.