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…

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…

 

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.

 

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?!”

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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…