Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Building Better Plots" by Robert Kernen, part 12

Questions to help make the best of obstacles:
3) “What is my character’s greatest fear?  To draw the most depth from your protagonists, they must face their greatest fears.”
Interesting question.  How are fears different from weaknesses?  Couldn’t fears be weaknesses?  What is Neal most afraid of?  I know that what makes him angriest is being treated like dirt.  Maybe his fear is that he’ll never really have a say in how he lives.  Maybe that’s why he reacts so intensely when his biological father kidnaps him, because he faces his biggest fear and the thing that makes him angriest.

That plays into his friendship with Sandy.  Neal values their friendship very much but is sick of people telling him what to do.

Wait, did I screw up?  I listed Sandy’s fear under weakness!  But no, I really think in his case, they’re the same.

4) “What is my character’s greatest strength?”
Neal turns his biggest weakness into his biggest strength.  He grows into his role as co-founder of a non-profit group, to the point of getting the mayor of Los Angeles to do what he wants.  He accepts who he really is.

I used to think Sandy was as clear-cut as Neal, but I realized I didn’t know him as well.  I think Sandy’s greatest strength is his selflessness.  That sounds cheesy, but it’s a real human quality.  He gradually realizes Neal needs to make his own mistakes but that doesn’t mean Sandy can’t support him.  He learns that by giving his girlfriend room to breathe, she’s more likely to stay around.  He lets both her and Neal do what they need to, to be true to themselves.

Next comes a discussion of the four types of conflict:
A)  protagonist vs. antagonist - pretty straightforward;
B)  protagonist vs. nature - yeah, it’s just what you think, though keep in mind that it’s hard to do when you don’t have a sentient being for your main character to react against;
C)  protagonist vs. society - this rings my bell!  It’s the main type of conflict in “Street Glass”;
D)  protagonist vs. self - the classic struggle against one’s own nature.

Kernen says you should have at least two types in your works to add depth and realism.  I’m encouraged, because I can see all four in my WIP. 
A)  Neal’s biological father is a no-nonsense villain, though he doesn’t show his hand till the second half of the story;
B)  a fire caused by hot Santa Ana winds takes the life of Neal’s girlfriend, leading to the meltdown of his friendship with Sandy;
C)  this is the big one!
D)  the struggle of the:
  • ex-addict fighting cravings;
  • ex-gangbanger against old habits;
  • more-or-less average guy unable to quite believe he deserves the good things that happen to him.
These last three descriptions are all of the same character.

Sandy’s a hard character for me to pin down, because while he’s certainly a major character, he doesn’t undergo the most drastic changes.  Neal occasionally acts as antagonist toward him.  The fire destroys the band’s house so that affects Sandy to some degree.  Rather than fight against society, Sandy attempts to improve it.  I’d say “protagonist vs. self” applies the most to Sandy because the problems he faces all stem from either his naiveté or his urge to control.

Awesome.  I really feel I’m on the right track.  However, I don’t think the hard work is all behind me.  For one thing, I’m only on chapter 2 of 11!

Next post addresses the inciting incident, and involves an astronaut ;)

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