Thursday, March 26, 2009

AdminEssay: Deconstructing the Story Series

In my quest to figure out why I adore writing and reading so much, I am finding myself having to redefine the basic tool of it all – the Story. This is the first in a series of articles I plan on doing on this subject. This won’t encompass Styling, as my homeslice Emibella will be waxing rhetorical on all things of that nature, but it will include things of which I know absolutely nothing about.

I am not schooled in the English Language and Word Craft like so many of the fantastic ladies who write for you. I can wield a scalpel like a mofo, bark out orders and answer ten pages in under three minutes, but when it comes to a story; I know very little. So what makes me qualified to speak on the construction of one? Nothing, but the desire to learn.

Over the course of a series of articles, I will be researching through various mediums the basic constructs of the story. I plan on exploring the available material and seeing just how cohesive opinions are on the art of writing -- so far, not so much. The lessons I learn and my own perspective on any new information I glean, will be shared here with you all. I am banking on some smartypants who has ten degrees in this sort of thing to occasionally school me and tell me I’m mucking this whole thing up and that is perfectly fine. I don’t mind an elitist peering down their overly pointy noise at me. Go for it! But know that I plan on reading about plot, themes, how NOT TO USE WORDS LIKE ORBS (sorry, had to Mini) and what I am starting with today – Characterization. This is not all there is to say about characterization, just a jumping off point and as I learn more about what makes a character real; I’ll share.

So join me as I pound away in the pursuit of Craft Enlightenment and give me a chance here, learning is about making mistakes.


The basic tool of any story is an easy guess: the initial idea. No idea means no story; it’s as simple as that. We get ideas based off of so many things in this world that it’s impossible to name all the influences we come into contact with daily. If you want a more clear-cut idea on this, just look out your window. There is an idea there.

But what about beyond that?

Ahhhh. Here is where the author’s real work starts. You have an idea, but you need a character to fill in the blanks. This character must have facets to them to make the idea work. They need depth, complexity, description, actions, thoughts and so many things that I can’t count them all. But the main thing they need is a purpose; a motivation for being there.


Whether it’s your hero or heroine, your comic relief or your side-filler; they need a purpose for existence. The purpose can be declared very plainly and loudly or it can be subtle and quiet, but the motivation has to be there. Desire for something the character does not have; knowledge, sense of self, resolution, material items or another person, is the motivator for any character. They have to want something. I would go as far to argue that life exists because of the natural human desire for something they don’t have, so why not fiction written about people or beings that resemble them?

We see this in many popular works; Harry wanted to exist beyond his cupboard, Lyra wanted to find her friend, Frodo wanted Bilbo to have a nice birthday party. All of these drives started off stories we all know and love. Were they the ending desires? No. But they led to the story and when one desire was satiated, another replaced it, sending us on a journey with the characters in a search for their resolutions.

At the beginning of Twilight in particular, we have Bella leaving her sunny home in Arizona and the comfort of her coughflakycough mother. Bella doesn’t really want to move to Forks, but she does want her mother to be happy. At this time, it’s Phil that makes her happy. For the first chapter or so in Twilight, we are wrapped up in Bella’s initial purpose and are identifying with this loss and gain, but it isn’t until Edward enters the picture making smelly faces at her that we start to shift focus into a whole new purpose. A purpose that includes desire.


The strength of the desire is also important. The stronger the desire, the more powerful a character’s purpose is. Enter Edward. His own desire at first is predatory, the basest of animalistic instincts. It morphs into intrigue and the dichotomy of bad/misunderstood boy is too much for our fair heroine to resist. Eventually, they each have this almost unreasonable want of each other set in a romantic plot with a dash of sense mixed in occasionally. This appeals on so many levels to the reader.

While it definitely helps that Edward is the “Adonis” of all of our dreams, I don’t think that is where his true appeal comes from. The conflicted nature of his desire for Bella is what draws us to the dynamic of their relationship. If Edward was not constantly warring between his perceived “selfish” desire to be with Bella and her ultimate safety, I think I would have been quite bored. It’s enough to blindside the most feminist of readers into submission, thus making his controlling nature more protective than stifling (well, at least until his sparkly hotness wears off).

If a purpose or desire is weak, as if the character only sort of wants to get to this particular place in their lives, or they only maybe want to get a milkshake, or taking a roll in the sheets with that chick would be kinda nice; what do I care as a reader? I might nod and be about my way, the story and author losing my attention. I want to see a single-minded determination, an obsession or addiction. Whatever the desire and subsequently the purpose is, I have just come to the mind that it must be strong. It has to be the driving force. It has to be the foundation upon which I form my attachment to the character. Because in the end, why do I really care what the color of their hair, eyes or cars are if they hold no purpose other than just being there?


Weak: Say we have a young girl who is thinking about asking a boy to her high school dance. Okay, sounds good, but what if it’s just some random guy who may or may not be the one of her dreams. She thinks it would be nice to have a date standing next to her in a cheesy picture, but if she isn’t really invested in having this boy be her date or any other aspect of going to the dance, what does it matter if she ever asks him out or not.? It doesn’t, and her subsequent choices won’t have much impact behind them because her initial desire was vapid at best. If the reader actually sticks with story, instead of abandoning it out of sheer boredom, they will not be very invested in the outcome.

Strong: If we switch the scenario around and make the motivator her obsession to having the perfect wallet picture to share with her friends after the dance, we now have something that is unique and identifiable by many women who have given out the same item after their homecoming – it is a status symbol of sorts. In the quest to get the perfect picture, the girl will go to any lengths to ensure its fruition. She will find not just any date, but the perfect date to compliment her skin tone. She will have that perfectly cut dress and if that limo driver is even one second late, the wrath of teenage hell shall descend upon him. Through her obsession, we will hopefully encounter multiple conflicts on our way to a much-awaited resolution. Maybe the girl will find out her best friend was really the boy who was perfect for that picture and her, but whatever the closure to this is, it doesn’t matter because we are already attached to experiencing it. Why? Because she started and hooked us all with that one thing; the basic and sound purpose of the character.

Yes, It's ALL Been Said Before, BUT Repetition IS The Best Practice, No?

I know this sounds so simple and many of you may be shaking your heads at me saying “Well, DUH, Smellyia. Of course we know this.” Most of you probably do, but how often is it that you actually sit down and think about it? It wasn’t until I actually started researching the different aspects of story creation that I saw the pieces as a puzzle rather than one big mishmash of ideas in my little head.

So while motivation may be fairly obvious, how often do you think about WHY your character exists? What their purpose is? How much of a driving force does it create? Does the desire for something lead to a conflict of some nature? Is this a chain reaction that will lead to the layers your character will take on as your plot develops?

I think reflection on these questions for any author is the first step in building a character who truly comes alive and is a new friend to your readers.

Obviously this is not all that goes into characterization, but I think it’s the building block of a well-developed character. No matter what I read or discuss pertaining to character building, purpose seems to be the one thing that has to be established before anything else makes sense. I know I’ll personally be taking a long hard look at the reason for each character’s existence in all of my future writings and maybe through careful understanding, my characters can take on dimensions of which I didn’t know they were capable -- you never know.

Bits of Words for Resource:

The Craft of Writing, or Yes, Virginia It's a Learned Skill by Macedon
**Resource provided by Minisinoo**

Oh and before I let you all go -- what about the awesome that is my new header? A round of applause to AG for her graphics skillz and Angel and my sweetling -- Emibella for their input on it since I was out of commission during the creation. You guys are quite lovely. THANK YOU!

Smellyia is the administrator for this blog and is completely unqualified to be so, but she'll do it anyways because it completes her like watching the BSG finale and listening to "All ALong The Watchtower" over and over does.


  1. Loved it. I especially the section on the strength of the desire. "If a purpose or desire is weak, as if the character only sort of wants to get to this particular place in their lives, or they only maybe want to get a milkshake, or taking a roll in the sheets with that chick would be kinda nice; what do I care as a reader?" Totally hit it on the head.

    I would add one thing to the list on Characterization: Show us, don't tell us.

    This rule is important across all writing, but especially important in the creation of a character.

    Characters give us their personalities through their actions and reactions. Rather than saying "Sally is a strong-willed girl" the better move is to show us how strong-willed she is by what she says, how she stands, what she does. Maybe she stands up to the bully, no matter the consequences. Maybe she speaks her mind in class despite what the teacher expects her to say. Whatever. As long as we get to see it.

    The more we are shown, the more we get to make our own decisions about the character, and the more we get to participate in the story.

    Thanks again for the article!

  2. Yes, SHOW NOT TELLING I feel is an article all on it's own and definitely something I plan on researching more. Because a large majority of fics I find (even the "big" one fall into this trap -- I know I have!).

    But to start off -- I just had to nail what was the main thing I could say HERE -- THIS IS WHERE YOU NEED TO START (or when I need to start in the future ;)


  3. Fantastic! At last, a wonderfully-detailed essay on how a writer can give a character depth, make them resonate with the reader, avoiding the pitfalls of cliche, and determining what drives a character. Characterization is, unfortunately, often overlooked--both in original fiction and fanfiction. You don't have a character until you determine what their head looks like on the inside--not just superficial appearance.
    Characterization affects EVERYTHING, from plot twists to defining other characters.

    Thanks for pulling this together!

  4. I swear when I started reading up on different opinions and information on Characteriztion in general (not fic specific), I was almost overwhelmed. I swear I could spen a year doing a series on JUST character development -- everyone has such varying opinions and not all of it cn be used at once, but really -- WE SHOULD AT LEAST TAKE A LOOK AT THE POSSIBILITIES!!!

  5. An idea for a character blog, if you ever want to tackle it... I'm currently reading this book called "Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction" by Jessica Morrell, and it's excellent. It would be fun to read a blog feature the baddies, if you haven't done it already. Incidentally, I think I'm falling love with this blog :)

  6. I am on it like WHITE ON RICE. That sounds like a fantastic resource and am going to bookstore tomorrow for my weekly deposit.

    We haven't done it yet and I think it would be a fantastic feature as part of this series! THANK YOU!!!!!!! If you come across any other resources for this in particular, please feel free to forward them to me at

    I really am looking forward to reading this bc I am in the mood to write a BASTARD -- but not the kind that ends up all squishy yanno?


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