The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 2: Characters

Your story’s objective is only as powerful as the characters that convey it.

Each member of the cast must represent opposing sides of the main argument, thus providing several different angles to perceive your story’s philosophy.

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I’ve already written a couple of other posts about characters, both of which you can check out here for more:

Crafting a Character Series

Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

–but for today, let’s focus on why characters  should be as extensively explored as I have in previous posts.

Me, Myself, and Who Am I?

Fundamentally, every story’s main character is on a quest to achieve self-knowledge. This goes for both putty characters and pebble characters. Think of throwing a pebble at a wall, the physical structure of the pebble remains the same, whereas throwing a blob of putty will cause it to reform.

That’s what characters experience; being thrown against a wall, so to speak, and they either change or don’t change throughout the course of your story. Either way, their purpose remains the same; to argue for one or several sides of the objective.

I know that there’s a plethora of stories where morality is ambiguous (and that they’re usually much more interesting), but for the sake of simplicity, let’s take the basic concept of Good vs Evil to illustrate how characters argue for each side. And by argue, that could mean verbal or physical combat, or in just the way that they conduct themselves.

Generic Good Guy is a law abiding citizen, doing some good for his friends, family, and community. Everything he does in the story is for the benefit of others or for himself without hurting anybody except possibly…

The Typical Bad Guy whose sole purpose is to watch the world burn. He causes destruction everywhere he goes, expressing his preference to be evil and not care about hurting others because it’s what he intends anyway. Generic Good Guy may hurt other people unintentionally, but he usually owns up to it, while Typical Bad Guy has no remorse for the pain he causes.

In this basic story dynamic of Good vs Evil, the argument is (usually) that good triumphs over evil, all the time.

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Who Would You Be Without Adversity?

To convey this, Typical Bad Guy will have to test Generic Good Guy on the grounds of his ethics, philosophy, strength, and integrity by throwing obstacles in his way. Perhaps Generic Good Guy’s objective is to a safe and adjusted life, but TBG is getting in the way of that by hurting GGG’s social circle and disrupting his day to day life.

It is through adversity where Generic Good Guy will discover or grow into a force for good. If he’s a putty character, maybe he’s a weak underdog type who has to train in order to defeat the almight Typical Bad Guy. Or perhaps he’s a pebble character that has strength and prowess, but hasn’t had the chance to exercise any of it because he hasn’t been challenged yet.

In either case, the end result is the same. The character has developed some level of self-knowledge by fighting for what he believed in, whether he won or lost against his opposition. He now knows what strength he’s capable of, or made himself capable of it through hard work and determination.

Pouring Some Sugar in Generic Brand Oatmeal

Now, that was a very very basic example I had to keep simple in order to elaborate on a more complex concept. Stories these days have many more layers in their examination of the objective, and even more layers in their characterization.

Ultimately, characters are meant to represent several sides of an objective, and they do that by trying to express their personal preferences, only to have them attacked or dismissed by the other characters.

The key ingredient to conveying Objective is having characters disagree with each other and fight over who gets to assert their preference, or if any common ground can be met between them in less black and white type of stories.It is through disagreements between characters that we are given the opportunity to passively experience different sides of an argument–and decide for ourselves which characters we agree with, if any at all.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 3: Setting…

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The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 1: PLOT

You may be familiar with this basic outline of what a plot graph looks like, and it is nice for writing a basic outline for a story.

Basic Plot

However, this is just a skeleton and we should add some layers to give it some flesh and bone.

What Plot Stands For:

People
Location
Objective
Tenacity

Just like The Four Pillars of Fiction, these are The Four Pillars of Plot that uphold the structure. You need people in a location with an objective to tell a story, along with some tenacity to make that story worth telling.

Fundamentally, you need characters to exist in a physical space in which to act out their drama, and drama only unfolds because these characters have conflicting goals and motivations that prevent each other from getting what they want.

Objective

They may either deliberately want to prevent each other from achieving their goals–as is the case with the simple black and white, good guy vs bad guy stories–or they may even be of the same alliance with differing opinions and preferences that get in the way of them finding unity.

When it comes to your plot’s objective, what kind of message do you want to convey about the world? Is there an aspect of reality you want to capture and illustrate? Is there an ideal version of the world and human behaviour you want to propose? What is it that you want to say about our state as a species?

That is your Objective.

Creators of art, whether they’re conscious of it or not, will always end up injecting their personal philosophy into their work and use it as a tool to convey the different angles in which they perceive people and the world at lage.

There’s no way around it, characters will always have an objective, whether miniscule or grand, they want to accomplish something. Even a story about a guy who just lies around his apartment all day has the objective of…wanting to do nothing and there are some deep rooted reasons beyond “because he just wants to.”

Maybe he’s depressed and doesn’t want to go out, or he’s been out too much and he needs time to himself? Objective in stories are inescapable.

So to add that layer to our basic plot graph skeleton, it should look like this:

Plot With Objective

Tenacity

But that’s still not enough. A story needs Tenacity. Some high (or sometimes low) stakes to keep you at the edge of your seat, biting your nails, waiting to see what happens next.

The rule in life applies to fiction as well: no risk, no reward. The characters need to be at risk of losing something or we won’t be interested in them striving for anything. Surely, there are stories that are risk and conflict free, but with risk comes curiousity. Without risk and conflict, there really is nothing to be gained from it.

We want to be wondering how characters will survive dire situations because we consume fiction to not only root for these portrayals of the human ideal, but also to live vicariously through them. It’s through stories where we can safely experience what it’s like for someone to commit to their Objective and have the Tenacity to achieve it.

Compare these two stories:

“I went to work, did my job because I wanted to make money, and then I came home.”

vs. “I went to work hungover, it was very busy, I could have called in sick, but I need to make rent so I can lie around my apartment all day.”

What’s the fundamental difference between these stories? They both have goals and motivations, but the second one has conflict that requires some overcoming. That’s what we relate to when we experience stories.

This is what a true plot graph would look like with my full PLOT system in place:Plot With Tenacity

I’ll let the graph speak for itself, for there’s much much more to cover in the next three entries.

Let me know if you would like for me to elaborate on any of the additions made in this chart, and I’ll gladly save the exploration of them in a future post.

Stay tuned for The Four Pillars of Fiction Part 2: Characters!

 

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The Four Pillars of Fiction: Introduction

The Four Pillars of Fiction need to be structurally sound in order to maintain your story’s integrity. Each pillar needs to be of equal height and width of the other pillars, or you may end up with a lopsided surface.

But with every rule comes an exception, and there are times where uneven pillars can either work for or against the story. We shall explore the convention of an even structure, and the possibility of leaving one intentionally short within good reason.

4 pillars

Welcome to a four part series where I will be detailing the fundamentals of writing fiction!

Together we will go into great on crafting solid blueprints that will help you develop a firm foundation for your story. Each pillar should seamlessly compliment each other and ultimately deliver a rivetting and captivating experience for your readers.

Part 1: PLOT

The plot is the pillar built from the events in your story. Every scene has a purpose, and every significant plot point must simutaneously ask new questions and reveal vital information about the world and its inhabitants.

Part 2: Characters

Without any characters, there is no story. We need some form of a sentient being in which to experience the world through, as well as relate to in terms of emotionality and intellectual stimulation. I’ve already made several posts about characters, and that very fact alone is reason enough to prove just how important it is to have solid characters in your story.

Part 3: Setting

Likewise with characters, a physical setting is required for a story or your characters will just be interacting in an empty vacuum. The world in which they inhabit needs to exist within the metaphysical laws of your story in terms of its relation to reality.

Magic? Technology? Or just plain contemporary? Whatever your setting is, it must serve as a logical physical playground for your characters to act out their particular drama.

Part 4: Dialogue

We relate and reveal through conversation. What do your characters have to say about the world, themselves, and their situations? To each other? Every character is equipped with their own unique way of speaking that expresses their desires and inner turmoil.

And of course, conversation is not just limited to verbal communication. We will also take a look at how non-verbal communication can serve as a solid substitute for conventional dialogue.

Pack Your Bags For an Adventure

And that is all for a quick overview of what I will be covering in the next couple of weeks.

I hope you are as excited as I am right now to delve into The Four Pillars of Fiction!

Bring your existing tools and be ready to sharpen them, as well as craft several new ones along the way. Together we will build the most structurally sound stories.

 

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Anna’s Quest Review

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Anna’s Quest is by far my favourite point and click game! It’s about a little girl with telekensis who sets out on an adventure to find a cure for her sick grandpa. Her level of innocence, empathy, and resourcefulness makes Anna a great character to play as.

Much to her detriment, though, she is very naive and trusts everyone too easily. And I guess that has been the best part of her character arc having reached Chapter VI so far. Learning who to trust and not to trust has become a fundamental aspect to the story, and it’s great to see her keep pressing onward despite of the betrayals and disappointments she’s confronted with.

327220_screenshots_2015-08-14_00007The puzzles in this game are very logical, fun, and very rewarding to figure out. Point and click games are known to have some cryptic puzzles that you’d either need a guide for or several hours staring blankly at the screen, frustrated and scratching your head.

You won’t have that problem with Anna’s Quest, as the puzzles are easy enough to respect your lateral thinking, but not so hard that you sigh or groan is resignation from trying.

There were only a couple of times where I needed a guide, but I know that if I spent a little more time to think or exhaust one more possibility, I would’ve figured them out on my own.

My gripe with this game along with anything by Daedalic, though, is the lip sync. Like, is it really that hard to program the lip sync to go with the vast amount of dialogue in this game? What I would also like to see from this company is some close up shots on the characters while they talk, kinda like in Broken Age, and maybe more physical gestures from the characters as they speak.

There’s also the problem of dialogue strings starting off as if the first syllable or so gets cut off and it’s a bit jarring when you’re so invested in the dialogue exchange.

Lastly, what I do love about this game is the amount of maps there are in it to traverse through per chapter. The point and click games I’ve played so far have had the tendancy to recycle maybe the same 5 or so locations for most of the game, and that gets a bit boring.

SPOILER WARNING


327220_screenshots_2015-08-24_00007There’s a point in the game where you get to play as the villain in their childhood, and that really helps flesh out her character more instead of just making her pure evil. You get to understand why her heart was wrought with grief, but ultimately made the wrong choices to lead her on the path of darkness.

After you’ve vanquised her, the end seemed to happen too quickly. As it was Anna’s Quest and no one else’s, I didn’t like how quickly they narrated her ending instead of showing what happens with her grandpa after she saves him. It would have been nice to see him wrestle with the fact that she went against his wishes to go out into the dangerous world JUST to save him.

That would have made for a great dialogue to show ambivalence on his part. After all the story did begin with him forbidding Anna from venturing out into the dangerous world and she went ahead and did it due to her love for him. It’s a missed opportunity and there’s been some debate about the ending here and there on the Steam forums whether it was sufficient or insufficient for an otherwise great tale.


END OF SPOILERS

Loved the story about learning who to trust and seeing the harsh and dangerous world through the eyes of an innocent child. It’s sad to see how easily they can have their innocense exploited as with the case with a few characters betraying Anna throughout her journey.

The ones that betray Anna or take advantage of her, I think, was like a commentary on how destroyed some adults can be when it comes to children needing their help. And the few helpful adults that will empathize with her and genuinely want to help her is indicative of how very few adults there are in the current world that will genuinely care for children’s needs.

All in all, Anna’s Quest is a solid game. I got it full price and don’t regret it, but if you ever see it on sale, do not hesitate to get it! If you get it for even 50% off, it will out live its value.

 

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What I Learned From Being a Spy

First off, if I were an actual spy, I’d blow my cover easily by writing this post.

What I’m actually talking about is how I’ve gotten my spy on this past month by revisitting the hit series Nikita and playing a whole lot of Invisible Inc on my free time. I don’t normally hunt for achievements on Steam or Xbox360, but I love this game so much that I woke some completionist part of me to get as many achievements as I can.

One of those achievements, of course, i one you can get for beating the game in Expert Plus Mode, THE hardest difficulty of an otherwise already difficult game.

Invisible-Inc-title-screen

Spyin’ Ain’t Easy!

Invisible Inc. is a turn based strategy game where stealth, strategy, and perserverance are the keys to survival. You play as the operator of secret agents, commanding them to infiltrate corporations in order to steal their weaponry, technology, and many other useful resources to help rebuild and relocate the agency of tactical espionage.

What’s awesome about this game is that there are several mission types and every map is randomly generated so that you get a fresh and new experience every time. And you only uncover as much of the map as you explore, otherwise the unexplored remains unseen (kinda like life!).

There’s also a huge roster of agents all with their own unique abilities, personalities, and synergies depending on which ones you choose at the beginning, and the ones you rescue in recovery missions. It’s up to you how to play their strengths and weaknesses together to formulate the perfect team.

The possibilities are endless!

As you command your agents to infiltrate these corporations, you have to be careful not to blow their cover and be seen by the guards. In most video games, your initial instinct is to inflict as much violence as you possibly can and stun or kill all the guards you see, but that can only work against you and make things unnecessarily harder than they need to be.

When guards wake up from being stunned, they’ll suspect someone has broken into the building and begin to hunt for you, thus making it harder to predict where you can safely venture out to.

If you kill any of them, it significantly advances the alarm tracker, and the higher it gets, the more obstacles get generated. These can include higher firewalls for devices (making them harder to hack), spawning extra guards, and turning on extra surveillance cameras.

So I’ve been playing Expert Plus Mode where all of these already daunting aspects of the game get even more challenging, and I gotta say, it really pushed me to my limit!

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Repetitive Failure Can Only = Future Success

As you can see here, I have two agents hiding from possible detection. The red tiles indicate the vision range of the guards, and in the earlier difficulties of the game, you can see them so you can plan out where to tread. In Expert Plus Mode, the danger zones are not shown unless you can see the sources (guards, cameras, turret machines).

That means you can easily walk into a safe looking area, only to find out that a structural intrusion originally blocked your sight from seeing a guard that’s ready to shoot your agent down on sight.

I must have restarted my agency 20+ times because of how hard this mode is, and when you get caught and have all of your agents killed on a mission, you lose ALL of your progress and have to start from scratch.

Your stat boosts, all that high tech gear, and all that money you acquired can all be thrown away due to one mistake. Something as simple as not closing a door, causing a guard to see you snooping in the next room, could easily mean death.

And I’ve made that mistake. Along with many others. Several times!

When I said I loved this game, I wasn’t just speaking from the geek within, but also from the very depths of my entire being. What I learned from playing this game is learning to maintain composure in pressuring situations and to approach challenges with determination.

I think that when you love something or someone–this could be building your business or dating your possible future spouse–you learn to take the good with the bad, the easy and the challenging, and embrace it all with all you’ve got.

So many times I’ve had agents die and require reviving just when I was about to exit the level, or needing to rescuing them from a detention center in a later mission while having an agent fly solo. And trust me, you want to have at least two agents at a time to uncover as much of the map as possible and to help each other out in a bind.

So many times I had acquired some of the best gear during the highest security levels, surviving the mission by just a hair away from detection and death.

So many times I had upgraded my agents’ stats and equipment, only to lose it all because I got greedy for more credits and equipment during a mission, instead of heading for the exit when I had the chance.

But still. I kept shrugging it off and starting over, because that’s what you do when you’re committed to something. You do everything you can to maintain your standards and continue reaping the benefits of your hard work.

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Gotta Lose a Lot Before You Gain a Lot

And in some cases…you also need to learn to let go of everything you’ve built if it means a better start later. That was the case with this particular screenshot. When you’re surrounded and have nowhere else to go, you can make an agent speak some final words before they’re shot to death.

Nika’s spoke my mind perfectly after a campaign that took 5 hours to build.

“Just get it over with.” That was my mantra when I got surrounded and really had no way out.

There was even a time where I lost so much progress that I kept starting over only to fail early on because I was playing on tilt. I was impatient and deliberately making the same mistakes I knew were horrible, but I was just so frustrated with the game.

But then I remembered what I wrote about in my Gamer, Know Thyself series and reevaluated my approach.

I started playing more vigilantly and more strategically.

I stopped trying to get extra credits from safes or items, and started taking guaranteed exits when I saw them.

I stopped walking into danger zones and started ensuring visibility of the map before moving onward.

I stopped stunning and/or killing guards and started to save the violence for when it was absolutely necessary.

Otherwise, I avoided violence as much as I could to mitigate the ramping difficulty of each turn taken. As I mentioned earlier, KOing or killing guards advances the tracker. Yeah well, so does taking a turn, but it doesn’t advance the tracker as much as committing acts of violence do.

Most importantly, I learned from all my mistakes and kept in mind what were some good or bad things I’ve done in previous campaigns in order to survive longer in each passing attempt.

Hell, I could have easily allowed myself the option to use the REWIND function where you can rewind to a previous turn in case you make a mistake.

Nope, I played hardcore Ironman Mode along with Expert Plus so that I can be even more responsible for any missteps taken.

In the end I achieved this:

EP+ Completion screen

With these stats and equipment per agent at the final mission:

I normally try to max out their stats, but I had to make do with what I got in the end and it was more than enough to complete the final mission.

As I’ve said before, video games are a good source for self-knowledge, and now having experienced what it was like to really love and commit to something to this degree, to something as simple as a video game (or in this case, NOT so simple video game) it’s time to apply that attitude to real life!

This game and many others are great and safe training grounds for such mental fortitude, and if more gamers transferred that dedication to real life pursuits, the results would be astronomical.

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My Little Mecosystem: Introduction

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know by now that there is a huge cultural phenomenon of adults (mainly males) who are giant fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a show that was originally intended to promote a little girl’s toyline.

Oh, but this popular kid’s cartoon promotes more than a 30 year old toyline; it also promotes friendship, virtue, and honesty. There has been other iterations of My Little Pony cartoon series, but this fourth and current generation has had a huge impact in our society, and that is much thanks to the series creator Lauren Faust who has succeeded in setting out to make this series more than just a 20 minute toy commercial.

Aside from the amazing animation, adorable wit, and side busting hilarity, what I love most about this show is the heartfelt and clever writing. The writers have a great grasp on how to make an ensemble cast relate to each other and the world around them, thus ultimately connecting with us the viewers.

One of the biggest factors that draw people in to the show, including myself, is the character development amongst the Mane 6 cast. So this week I will be writing posts specifically about each pony and how I relate to them based on the hardships they’ve faced, along with similar personal insights I’ve had that paralell theirs. But for now, I want to share with you how I first got into the show.



 “But isn’t My Little Pony for little girls? What’s WRONG with you?!”

mlp men

Lots of things! I mean…

One night when I was playing Soul Calibur V online, I was in a player lobby with one of my friends, and he was using custom characters that all had unicorn horns attached to their foreheads. A random person who had joined our lobby asked him over the mic chat if he was a Brony.

I asked, “what the hell is a Brony?”

And he went on to explain that a Brony was an adult male who was into the show My Little Pony. Naturally, I laughed my ass off and thought I was being trolled. But despite of my bafflement and surprise at such a statement, I am still an open minded enough person to have let this friend of mine make the case as to why he was into the show.

He first began commenting on how well animated it was, and how it was all done in Flash. I’ve tried my hand at Flash animation when I was younger, and only to a small degree was I impressed with the idea that an entire show could be animated with, what I perceive as, such a hard program to master.

Then he went on to talk about how funny the show was, and by this point I really thought he was messing with me. How could a little kid’s cartoon possibly be funny?

I even asked if the show was graphically violent despite of its colourful look and that’s why people actually like it–but he assured me that it has minimal violence as the focus is really on peaceful conflict resolution.

What finally got my full attention was when he talked about the character development, and ya’ll know me as a sucker for character development!

I was intrigued by his enthusiasm towards the over arching character development amongst the Mane 6 cast and figured I should go give the show a chance.

At first I started reading articles about MLP, some of them in defense of, and some in offense towards the show. I was bombarded with propaganda to say the least.

A lot of stigmatic shaming loaded the slander articles, and for the sake of the cleanliness streak of this blog, I’ll spare you the details on what kind of nasty assumptions are made of the Brony fandom as a whole.

I then looked for compilation clips of the funniest moments, and even the darkest moments in My Little Pony until eventually I realized that the only way I can form a real opinion on the show is by actually watching an episode.

So I put on a random episode where the athlete of the group, Rainbow Dash, injures her wing, and has to stay in the hospital to recover.

Her nerdy bookworm friend Twilight Sparkle suggests for her to read a book called Daring Do to pass the time, and Rainbow Dash’s pride prevents her from actually cracking the book open at first.

Eventually, she gets bored enough to take a gander at the Indiana Jones inspired story–and her scepticism about reading books began to mirror my scepticism about the show.

Little by little, Rainbow Dash became comfortable with the idea of doing what only “egg heads” do and enjoy reading, meanwhile I was slowly becoming comfortable with the idea that I was beginning to enjoy a show that was originally “made for little girls.”

I was impressed by the action set pieces and how well animated they were, the character arc Rainbow Dash went through in the episode, and just the overall surprising enjoyment I got out if it.

I let it sit for a few days, and then I had the urge to start watching the series from the very beginning of it. Before I knew it, I found myself invested in the ongoing journey of these little ponies.

And the rest, you might say, is history…

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Offering FREE Creative Consulting

Digital-Campfire-StorytellingStorytelling.

Think; gathering over a camp fire. Feel the warmth on your skin and in your heart. That is what stories provide us: warmth and connectivity.

Do you have a story burning up inside you?

Want to stoke the flame and tell that story to the world, a small audience–or do you simply want to write something for your eyes only?

If you need help on generating, connecting, and re-evaluating ideas, I can help.

From now until the end of September, I am offering FREE Creative Consulting!

In our sessions we will build your fictional world, or reconstruct your reality onto the page in a stylized and purposeful way. Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, we will discover what you truly want to convey.

Together we can create your:

– Plot/Theme/Philosophy

– Characters (their relationships with each other, and impact to the story)

– Setting and its significance to the Plot and Characters

– Dialogue nuances between your characters and any running gags or motifs

 

I will also be reading your content to give you critiques that will reveal where your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer, and help you reach your potential.

If you want these little embers to erupt into an inferno, drop me a line and we can work out a coaching schedule that works for you!

Add me on Facebook and we can talk!

 

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