Sunday, July 13, 2008
The First "L" (Logical, Linear, and Lean)
For me as a writer, being "logical" is being "believable." No "rabbit out of the hat" solutions to a conflict. No "head fakes" or "Gotcha, Stupid Reader!" endings without first laying the necessary and hopefully subtle ground work. And no meandering character motivations.
Simply speaking, a character driven plot consists of what the character wants, why he or she wants it, and why he or she can't have it. A writer who knows each character from the inside out -- the way they look and dress, their failures and triumphs, their personal tastes and aversions regarding clothes, jewelry, food, people and life in general -- will know the likely, the most "logical" response to whatever conflict arises in the plot, and as a result, the character and the story itself are more believable and real.
The best way to keep the plot "true" is to know the characters in detail before plotting. Many writers like to use a "character chart" to create a fictional personality, including both the statistical information and the individual preferences and life experiences. Actually writing the information down makes it more concrete. It also serves as a reference, one that should be reviewed from time to time in order to stay on track.
Some writers who have a working knowledge of astrology like to assign each character an astrological sign. Some use birth order or enneagrams or some other psychological assessment tool. Some do imaginary "interviews" and let the characters themselves reveal what their mindsets and experiences are. Of late, I've found "mind mapping" helpful. The point is, it needs to be done, and whatever works for you is the "right" way to do it.
In order to be "logical," the writer must also pay attention.
Pay attention to the character chart/astrological sign/birth order/enneagram/"interview"/etc.
I can't tell you how many synopses I've read wherein a character is said to be a specific type, but in the first chapter, he or she isn't that at all. If, for example, you decide the protagonist is a workaholic, don't go to all the trouble to force him or her to take a vacation and then have him or her respond to an urgent call from the office by going ballistic because somebody dared to interrupt the vacation he or she didn't want to take in the first place. A workaholic isn't going to mind. Really. Don't inject drama for drama's sake. Pay. Attention.
And while you're at it, pay attention what is happening in the scene being written. Whose head are you in? And what's happening to them? For example, don't stop to catalog the surroundings when the protagonist is being chased by a bear -- unless said surroundings are somehow pertinent to bear escape. It's fine to wax descriptive when a character lands in a strange and unfamiliar place -- but not if there's a serious bear problem or the character is half dead from typhoid fever. If you are in his or her head, you are experiencing what he or she experiencing. Write accordingly. See?
And that's all I have to say about the First "L" at this time.