Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 7 - Character, Narrative, and Plotting

The interplay of character and conflict is crucial for the development of tension and plot.  Today we talk about the different types of protagonists and how they determine the direction of the plot.

Protagonists Who Know and Those Who Don't
We have two major categories of protagonist - those who "know" what's going on, and those who don't.  Whether it's an understanding of the scientific marvels of FTL travel or an innate grasp of the politics of an entire planet, each protagonist has his or her own specialized sets of knowledge.  The areas of knowledge and - more importantly - the areas of ignorance determine which aspects of the story a character can uncover for us.

"Marionettes, Inc."
Braling knows about the Marionettes, and Smith does not.  Because of this, Smith can capture more of the horror of finding his spouse replaced.  Braling, on the other hand, can carry the horror just step further.

"What the Dead Men Say"
Who knows the answers to what's going on?  What role does this character play in the narrative?  Do we ever get this character's point of view?  Or would it ruin the story if we did?
Stories to Solve and Stories to Endure
We see two major kinds of stories - those that can be "solved" through quick and directed action, and those that force our characters to come to terms with their lives in a new way.
"The Last Night of the World"
What makes this story so poignant?  Why don't the characters try to change fate?

"The Minority Report"
Do you think Anderton makes the right decision here?  Would it have been better to spare the general and destroy Precrime?  Or did he even have a choice?  What about Witwer and Lisa?  They, too, are ignorant - does the story make them plausibly hostile?
Complex Stories: Solutions and Survival in the Treacherous Novel
Novels have a length and sophistication that's lacking in short stories.  Let's look at what an author does in order to propel these stories forward.

Mother Night
Ignorance, willful ignorance, and a total lack of faith...

More ignorance...

The Left Hand of Darkness
Multiple points of view, crazy politics, and widespread ignorance/refusal to believe the truth 

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