Facets of Freedom

It seem fitting that I’ve begun working on my poor stalled novel at a time when we are celebrating freedom. This book was supposed to be my declaration of independence from the dictates of the publishing industry, a story so silly it had no chance of ever being published. Oddly, somewhere along the way, the book metamorphosed from a whimsical story into something deeply metaphysical with a heavy theme: freedom vs. safety. More specifically, the book explores how much freedom we are willing to give up for safety and how much safety we are willing to give up for freedom.

Robert McfireworksKee, author of Story, wrote: “The revelation of true character in contradiction to characterization (the sum of all observable qualities) is fundamental to all fine storytelling. What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind the facade of traits.”

If my hero doesn’t know what he truly wants until he gets it, it will add another dimension to this theme. He first chooses freedom because he believes he wants freedom more than anything. Next he chooses incarceration and safety because survival becomes the most important thing to him. Then he chooses the excitement and danger of freedom over the boredom of safety because he wants to feel alive, to participate in creation, if only to create himself. Finally he accepts responsibility, which is a different facet of freedom (without responsibility, freedom is merely self-indulgence), and it turns out this is what he wanted all along.

By giving Chip an inner character in contradiction to his outer one, he should become a richer character, which in turn will allow the story to explore all the facets of the theme rather than the simple one of freedom vs. safety.

At least that’s the plan.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Creating a Character — Part VI

The second half of a book is easy for me to write — I know the characters, their backstories and motivations — but I have trouble with the front part. My poor hero, Chip, has been running from a volcano for the past month while I’ve been trying to figure out who he is, what I need him to be, and what he needs to become.

According to Robert McKee in Story, “The most fascinating characters have a conscious desire and a contradictory unconscious desire. What he believes he wants is the antithesis of what he actually but unwittingly wants. (Although the protagonist is unaware of their subconscious need, the audience senses it, perceiving in them an inner contradiction.)”

After the volcano incident, Chip is going to meet an archetypal crone who was supposed to get him to thinking that now he wants a family (this after I’ve killed off almost everyone in the world and despite his need to be free) but it’s too soon in the book for him to want that. It would change the way he interacts with his mate when he finally meets her, which means it has to be a subconscious desire the old woman invokes in him, which changes my perception of the story, which means my WIP comes to a crashing halt while I rethink Chip’s wants and needs. And there he is, running from the volcano, waiting for me to figure him out so he can move on to the next disaster.

If a character wants something he himself doesn’t know he wants, it brings out different facets of personality than if he does know what he truly wants. The secret is to give character hints for the reader to pick up on without the author (or an authoritative character) explaining it. Much of reading is subconscious. We notice things without realizing we are noticing them.

Robert McKee also wrote: “The revelation of true character in contradiction to characterization (the sum of all observable qualities) is fundamental to all fine storytelling. What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind the facade of traits.”

If Chip doesn’t know what he truly wants until he gets it, it also will add a different dimension to the theme, which is freedom vs. safety. He first chooses freedom, next he chooses incarceration and saftey, then he chooses the excitement and danger of freedom over the boredom of safety, finally he chooses responsibility, a different facet of freedom.

By giving Chip an inner character in contradiction to his outer one, he should become a richer character which in turn will allow the story to explore all the facets of the theme rather than the rather simplistic one of freedom vs. safety.

Now all I have to do is get the poor guy away from that volcano or else there will be no story.

Creating a Character — Part I

Creating a Character — Part II

Creating a Character — Part III

Creating a Character — Part IV

Creating a Character — Part V

The Setting Should Be Integral to the Story

Characters interact with the setting as much as they do with the plot and other characters. In fact, setting can be used as another character, one that is implacable and without reason. Like a character, the setting can have scars, weaknesses, moods, even a personality.

The setting should be integral to the story. It needs to be more than a backdrop for or an introduction to the events. A static description adds nothing to the story’s purpose. The setting should not be any old place, but a unique place that has meaning for the character. Setting can work for or against the character, but either way, it must be dynamic, otherwise it’s just filling space.

Setting can create a mood. It can suggest the character’s motives. It can predestine character in the same way we are all creatures of our environment. A person who grew up in the shadow of mountains is different from someone born by the sea. A child living in a mansion is different from a child of the streets.

Setting can help move plot along. Whenever things slow down, the introduction of a real or perceived change in the setting can deepen the character’s conflicts. Maybe the character sees things he never noticed before; maybe those familiar things now seem menacing. Or perhaps the weather can take a disastrous turn.

Every description of a place should have a memorable quality that hints at the story’s meaning. In Story, Robert McKee wrote, “The irony of setting vs. story is this: the larger the world, the more diluted the knowledge of the writer, therefore the fewer his creative choices and the more clichéd the story. The smaller the world, the more complete the knowledge of the writer, therefore the greater his creative choices. Result: an original story without clichés.”

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