17 February 2011

It's also called Character Development.

Continuing on from last post…
If tension is what drives your story, then the fuel is change.
… FUCK guys I don’t even—everything changes, EVERYTHING, EVER, IN THE WORLD. Do you not understand this?
Well no, I mean, most of you beginners are like twelve and you’re too young to notice how much things change, I mean…
No wait, what am I saying, JUST LOOK AT YOURSELVES. Idiots. Have you not changed since you were a child? And for those of you who actually ARE twelve, you’ll notice that that wasn’t all that long ago.
Things change. People change. Even the mountains, even the sky, even if you can’t notice it. Always.

So why the HELL do I keep seeing shitty stories where all sorts of shit happens—stuff blows up, characters die, mass genocide—and at the end, the main character is the same damn person he was at the beginning? He’s no wiser, no more or less jaded, nothing.
Fuck, how does that even happen?

When you write, you are documenting a CHANGE. Maybe even a shit ton of changes.
Let’s look at an example: Sailor Moon.
“But wait,” you might say, “Sailor Moon may be TOTES AWESOME, but it’s not a good example, is it? After all, it’s all about the sloppy writing and static characters.”
It kind of is. But Usagi, the main character, changes a lot over the series. It goes something like this:

Wimp ==> Whiny warrior who beats the bad guys but still wishes for a normal life ==> Brave warrior who realizes how great her powers are because they mean she can protect her peeps ==> FUCKING MESSIAH kind of ==> Ass-kicking peacemaker who realizes the futility of war, decides that violence won’t save her problems, and saves the universe with love.

It’s even more pronounced when you actually watch it. Especially in the manga.

Now, if a fluffy kids show can manage some friggin’ character development, WHY CAN’T YOU?

The things that happen, the people they meet, their own actions—these things all change a person. Sometimes it’s for better, sometimes for worse. Sometimes it’s neither better nor worse, simply different. Either way, they’ve got to change.

This is mandatory for a protagonist (That’s what makes them a protagonist), but don’t forget that other characters can change too! Of course, there’s no way every character is going to change much—that could pull too much attention away from the focus of the story, after al—but try to do as well as you can.

16 February 2011

Doing laundry probably doesn't count as acute tension either.

Guys guys guys let’s talk TECHNIQUE today.
(I know it’s been forever since my last post, shut up)
I want to introduce you to the idea of tension.
I don’t mean like, aww man, they’re doing some sports game and the timer’s out and can they get the last goal?
Actually, nevermind, that works pretty well.
But what I mean is that your story is fueled by tension. Something has to be at stake, something’s amiss, the reader needs to feel like this needs to be rectified. The story has to move along, and it’s tension that drives it.
That much is obvious. You knew that.

The thing that we need to talk about is types of tension. You see, there are two:

Acute Tension
This is probably the first sort you thought of (unless you’re an angst writer, we’ll get to that in a moment). This is something that’s happening right now, it’s got action and stuff happening and all that. Using the example, this is the sports game. Can they win it?

Chronic Tension
This is the subtler type of tension. Like the name implies, this is the tension that, chances are, have been going on for a long time—maybe even before your story began. These are the worries that eat away at your character’s mind, the mental blocks that keep him from kicking that winning sports goal (Can we tell I’m talking out of my ass with the sports? Write what you know, kids!). Is he pining over his lost love? Does he have daddy issues? Is he convinced he’s a total loser and subconsciously sabotaging himself? That sort of thing.

Every story needs BOTH of these in appropriate amounts. Acute tension is what keeps the story moving and keeps it from being boring, and chronic tension is what allows us to connect with the characters and relate to them. An imbalance in either leads to certain disaster.
Without enough chronic tension, the story is just a shallow string of events that the reader has no investment or interest in. Maybe he’ll be interested in what happens next, but he won’t bat an eye when you kill off that beloved love interest. This is a common pitfall of first-time writers and people who watch too many bad action movies.
Without enough acute tension, your story just sits there. Remember what I was saying about angst writers? This is where they fail. “Angst” stories tend to revolve around some character sitting around doing nothing but think to himself about how HORRIBLE and DEPRESSING things are. Nothing happens. He just sits there. Maybe if we’re lucky he’ll go walk to the store or kill himself at the end. Either way, it’s boring as shit. This is a pitfall of moody teenagers and artsy college students who don’t know better.

Furthermore, the end of the story should resolve both tensions in a satisfying way. It’s really preferred that the resolution is able to tie the two tensions together somehow. Say, by winning the sports game, our main character learns his own self-worth, gains the attention of his love, and earns his father’s approval. Satisfying! … Well, hopefully. That’s a pretty trite example, I know, but I came up with it off the top of my head so leave me alone.

It doesn’t matter which tension you come up with first, I’ve certainly written enough that I have my share of stories where I came up with the acute tension first, or the chronic, or both at once. Just make sure they’re both there and accounted for by the time you call it done.