Once again my name is Mark Allen and once again I’m filling in for Chris for reasons I’ll go into later on in this post!
Now odds are that at least one of you out there hasn’t yet suppressed the horrible memory of my previous guest post and as a result might recall that I was in the process of working on a series on the subject of character development in writing.
So today I’m very proud to present to you all today the second part of the series, which describes how to develop complex characters and as a bonus, my response to a post by Chris from a few days ago inviting others to share character and plot ideas that have emerged from their dreams.
Now as we all know, the center of any story can be summed up in one word, conflict.
This relates to the process of character development by requiring the storyteller to ideally flesh out their protagonists and antagonists alike in the form of internal struggles set against the major external struggles against the world around them.
Sadly, IMO most authors fail miserably at this task, so at the risk of sounding shallow, the piece of advice I tend to give to authors (both potential and published) I read is to skip to the explosions, because it’s very, very, rare for me to find even a single character in an offering that is complex enough that their internal struggle can eclipse the external struggle and view of the wilder world in fictional offerings.
Just to clarify, Readers, this not a slight against the talent of the authors whose offerings I’ve read, but rather what I view as the straitjacket of conventional storytelling which a quote from one of my favorite authors, Tom Clancy, tends to sum up neatly which goes something to the effect that “the difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.”
Hence it’s extremely rare for an author to be able to step outside of their shoes in order to try to make people as complex as they are in real life and the ensuing conflicts that occur by how they misread each other.
I should add that Clancy is one of the very few authors I’ve read who has successfully managed to write a book (The Bear and The Dragon) that develops a world wide all consuming external conflict stemming from very divergent worldviews shown through the internal conflicts of several of his protagonists without demonizing any of them while maintaining believability, which is a very, very hard line to walk.
By contrast, a lot of authors try to take a shortcut to developing complex, realistic characters by removing their character’s sense of humor, however the end result that usually emerges from taking that approach is a marginalized cast of humorless caricatures (an oxymoron, to be sure) who suffer from a terminal case of angst ridden nihilism, which like some mental STD inevitably infects the plot and can be transmitted to the reader which, disposal and handling of miscellaneous dead bodies aside, is why I always carry latex gloves with me!
Because let’s face it, you just never know when you’re going to be in a bookstore and then someone short turns to you, asking for your help in getting the collected works of George R. R. Martin and Brent Weeks off a high shelf above them.
Of course, to be fair, I could easily incinerate the books with my pocket blowtorch (guaranteed for life to burn at 451 F) but I prefer to save that for truly worthwhile causes, such as my ongoing war against bookstores and libraries throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in preserving future generations from the works of what IMO are the two most singularly overrated authors in English literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harper Lee.
Well that and IMO the two most EVIL authors in the history of English literature which are, of course, Adolf Hitler and Carly Fiorina.
Ultimately, the lesson that I think authors (potential or otherwise) would be wise to draw from all this is that complex characters emerge from an author who strives to develop, rather then demonize their antagonists, not by making them indistinguishable from the protagonists, but rather showing the differences through their reactions to the similarity of the narrative’s unfolding of events.
For as another one of my favorite authors, Robert Mayer, wrote recently in a great blog post about keys to developing complex characters, “…evil isn’t a motivator, it’s an end result.”
With all that said, it’s now time for me to cover the second subject of this post, story ideas from my dreams.
I have to confess, this is a bit more of a difficult one for me, as I’ve stopped being able to remember my dreams in recent years, much to my relief, since as far back as I can remember my dreams have always had one common element to them; they always involved one or more escaped sadistically violent repeat offenders trying (and eventually succeeding) to kill me.
Now this by itself would be unpleasant enough, but in addition to that this always goes on while we’re trapped together in a confined space that is rapidly starting to fill up with something extremely unpleasant, past examples of which have included Heavy Water, Sulfuric Acid, deadly snakes, deadly scorpions, enraged bears, demonic fire breathing horses with fangs and poisoned claws in their hooves, demonic clowns, poisoned needles, etc.
Of course, on occasion I would get a reprieve from that formula, where instead of being in a confined space, I’m instead in a wide open space escaping a large army of people doing their best to try to kill me before something catastrophically bad happens past examples of which have included the sun exploding, one or more black hole consuming the planet, giant asteroid or meteor impact, lightning striking the grasslands causing a rapidly spreading fire that burns everyone alive, etc.
On the plus side, if I was experiencing emotional anxiety about the future, it would manifest itself in my dreams in the form of large groups of Autons killing me. At least they proved themselves to be different from the usual run of the mill human escapee serial killers – a nice bit of variety.
So the epic high fantasy series that I am about to pitch for you is memorable to me simply because it’s the most normal dream that I think I’ve ever had.
It started out as I was in a far off desert land in a millennium long since past, when mankind was just emerging, traversing the desert seeking a distant legend.
Yes, the legend told of a kingdom, the kingdom of the teddy bears which had once been a wonderful realm, but in recent time had became enslaved by an evil magickal tyrant called the Puppet-master, whom no man dared to challenge!
But one brave stuffed bear who found himself trapped after venturing through a magical portal into this magical kingdom in the distant past dared to challenge the evil one!
Together he and I escaped into the desert wastes and raised an army, the likes of which the world had never seen before and never seen since for our army was composed of young children from various surrounding lands and isolated groups of stuffed bears who escaped the Puppet-Master’s slavery, both groups fighting side by side against the terrible armies and Magicks of the evil one!
Together we destroyed his power over the kingdom in a titanic final battle in the desert and afterwards the tyrant was literally torn apart (and by all accounts it was rather messy seeing as unlike his victims, HE wasn’t stuffed) by his formerly oppressed subjects, but sadly this came not before he was able to unleash his last weapon of vengeance, 15 nuclear equipped ICBMs he had brought from the future!
When the news of this oncoming holocaust was transmitted by the resistance forces in the Castle I knew then what I had to do.
For though I knew I would not survive, I was secure in the knowledge that me and my friend had broken the Puppet-master’s power by routing his forces thereby paving the way for his defeat, so somehow I was able to manipulate the portal Magick that had brought my friend together and use it to open several portals, one to return his stuffed friend back to his own time and the others to allow our army to escape back to their homes.
However since the portals could only be sealed from the entrance side, I knew I would have to close the portals and would be incinerated mere moments later when the ICBMs hit.
Before I woke up I saw a brief vision of my funeral service, and noted that despite the fact that I will always be remembered for my sacrifice my name was lost in the annuals of history (story of my life…and death apparently), however the name of my stuffed partner would live on forever.
For while the rest of the Bear’s family was famous, from the fat bright orange cat Lasagna loving cat, the cat’s best friend and fashion-clueless owner, the annoyingly cute and energetic grey kitten, and the beautiful but cynical brunette veterinarian that came to love them all (but especially the Cat’s owner), the Bear earned his fame in the baking desert on the fields of battle!
So, in conclusion, I’d like to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season and a reminder to all you Readers to remember the name Pookie, which will live forever in Legend!
Oh…Wait, that’s right, I forgot to mention why I’m filling in for Chris, didn’t I?
Coincidentally enough, it seems that my old friend the Puppet-master has resurfaced in the distant past, so after receiving an urgent request from Chris for help last night in feeding the hungry ‘Press and getting an AEGIS cruiser out to his position pronto, I’ve called in a few favors I’m setting sail with a UNIT naval squadron tasked with supporting Chris and his mercenary efforts on behalf of the Stuffed Bear resistance army this time waging a brutal Jungle campaign against my old mutual adversary!
Yes, somehow survived his previous dismemberment, so it now stands to me, a UNIT naval squadron, Chris and a brutally ruthless, but oh so cute and cuddly, guerrilla army of stuffed bears to deliver the Puppet-master to the soft and furry paws of JUSTICE!