#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 7th: Further Musing on Characters and Story

So there was something I was trying to get at with my last two posts about characters and something I mentioned on my 3rd blog post a couple of weeks back.  It is the fact that a story is composed of two arcs and those arcs are dependent on each other.  The two arcs are the story and the character arcs.  Which means any change in the story will effect the character, while any change in the character will effect the story.

The problem for me, and I can only assume many other people, is that this makes it really hard to build a story.  See in a graphic visualization there is always an independent variable.  Something that isn’t effected by the other parts of the equation.  If I was measuring the speed in which I could run, the distance I run is dependent on the time I have been running.  But time is not effected by the distance I run, it is independent.  But when writing a story both arcs are dependent on each other, it’s as if the time is changing with distance.  Time is no longer ticking forward of its own accord, it only moves forward as I move and the further I move, the further it moves, and the further it moves, the further I move.  Confused?  Well that’s why I have made this posts.

The first problem is that it is hard to start a story.  Starting the story or the character starts the other one.  As soon as the story starts, the character starts, as soon as the character starts, the story starts.  Then every little change effects the other.  So as soon as I decide to plan the story, I am also planning the character.  And as soon as I start to plan the character, I am planning the story.

You can’t build one without the other and you can’t finish one because of the other.

You can’t just build the independent variable and then take the effects it has had on the other variable and create the second.  In writing it folds back upon itself.  You write one arc and then you write the other and apply all the effects the first produces on the second, which then ends up changing the first arc, which in turn changes the second, which then changes the first and so on.

So what do you do about it you ask?  Why confuse us with this idea?

I offer you a solution in three steps:

1)  Realize that you have two arcs.  Story and Character.
2)  Realize that they are dependent on each other.  They both reach into the future to alter the other, while extending into the past to effect what has already happened.
3)  Accept it.

That’s it.  Just don’t try to write one arc and then the other as two separate entities.  Write them knowing they are intertwined.  Start the one that is most defined to you.  If your first idea for the story that formed in your head was a character, then start there.  Write everything your flash of inspiration requires of your character.  Then write the story.  If on the other hand you come up with a great concept for the story first, write that concept down and then put your characters in it.  But don’t EVER finish one arc.  Never sit down and write the entire story arc and then write the characters in later.  If you do this you will fall into the trap I mentioned in post 5, where your character’s actions are no longer causing the story to move forward, instead the story is moving your character forward.  Don’t be rigid, let the two arcs flow together.

You need to alternate.  Start with your first idea, as I said, if it’s part of the story arc, then write it.  Write everything you feel the story requires for that idea to be apart of the arc.  Then add in your characters, do up the character sheets, build them a life, create a personality.  Then the character arc will begin to effect the story arc (including what has already been written).  So go back to your story arc, add in all the effects your newly formed characters have made on your story.  And continue on, go back and make adjustments to your character as you change your story.  Slowly you will form both arcs, and slowly you will build up your story.  At the start, the changes you make will have greater effect on the other arc, but as your story builds, as it gains focus, the changes will become less and less until the story finally comes together in the end.  This is shown visually in the following graph.

The alternating effect on the story and character arcs decreases with each new revision

About Evan Jobb

Evan Jobb is a screenwriter and producer and is the returning Writer Laureate with the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition. He placed 4th place in the 2009 Canadian Short Screenplay Competition an 9th in the 2010 Competition. His 2011 award winning short film, "Those Forgotten" is currently available at CBC Downloads. When he isn't writing he is teaching science and math to junior high and high school students. He currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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One Response to #WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 7th: Further Musing on Characters and Story

  1. Carolynne Ciceri says:

    LOL, loving the graphic look at crafting story even more than story as an equation!

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