What is meant by a ‘complex’ character in fiction?
Primarily it means that these characters have moral contradictions. And that means they…have a highly compartmentalized moral code.
– John Truby
John Truby points out that TV dramas make excellent case studies for working out how to achieve narrative juxtaposition, and offers a case study of ER. I would suggest also Six Feet Under, in which the narrative juxtaposition running throughout the series is, of course, a metaphor for life and death.
Each scene in a juxtaposed TV drama will be variations on a single problem. Each strand/plotline will have an underlying unity.
Advantages of a storyteller:
- A storyteller can radically change the way you sequence a plot. The storyteller has just as much effect on your depiction of character as the plot itself.
- The vast majority of popular stories (movies/novels/plays) don’t use a recognizable storyteller but an omniscient narrator. The audience doesn’t see who is telling the story, and we don’t care.
- A storyteller is someone who recounts a character’s actions, either in the first person or third. If your storyteller is recognizable you are afforded greater complexity and subtlety: You can present both the actions of the MC and commentary on those actions.
- If you identify the storyteller the audience will ask why they are telling it. And why does this story need a teller. A storyteller calls attention to herself and can distance the audience from the story. That gives the writer the benefit of detachment.
- This storyteller may not be telling the entire truth. The storyteller blurs/destroys the line between reality and illusion.
- If the storyteller is identified the audience knows that this is someone’s memory — cue feelings of loss, sadness and ‘might-have’been-ness’. We know that the storyteller will be retelling the story with a touch more wisdom, since a measure of time has elapsed since the ending of the story and the retelling of it.
- A storyteller can heighten the issue of truth. When a storyteller speaks personally to an audience the storyteller in effect is saying ‘I was there so you can trust me on this’. This is a tacit invitation to the audience not to trust this storyteller, and to explore the issue of truth as the story unfolds.
- Who’s The Greatest Unreliable Narrator? (From Publishers Weekly)
- Helps the writer establish an intimate connection between character and audience.
- Makes characterization more subtle and helps writers distinguish one character from another.
- Signals a shift from a hero who acts — usually a fighter — to a hero who creates — an artist. The act of storytelling now becomes the main focus, so the path to ‘immortality’ shifts from a hero taking glorious action to a storyteller who tells it.
- You can leave chronology behind because the actions of the plot are framed by someone’s memories. You can now sequence the action in whatever way makes the most structural sense.
- This helps string together events and actions that occur over great stretches of time. A storyteller affords greater unity and huge gaps between story events seem to disappear.
DONT’S FOR USING A STORYTELLER
- Don’t use a storyteller as a simple frame. “I’d like to begin by telling you a story… That’s what happened. It was an amazing story.” This calls attention to the storyteller for no reason and fails to take advantage of the strengths of including a storyteller.
- The storyteller should not be all-knowing at the beginning. An all-knowing storyteller has no dramatic interest in the present.
- Don’t end the storytelling frame at the end of the story, but rather about three-quarters of the way in. If you put it right at the end the act of remembering and telling the story can have no dramatic or structural impact on the present. You need to leave some room in the story for the act of recounting the change to the storyteller herself.
- Don’t promote the fallacy that a character’s death allows the full and true story to be told. It’s overdone for a storyteller to state that the character’s death finally made it possible to tell the truth about her. The deathbed scene and final words often provide ‘the truth’. This is never true in real life and not true in stories either — rather, it’s acting as if you’ll die that creates meaning by motivating you to make choices now. Finding meaning is an ongoing process of living. (A character’s death may give the appearance that the full story can now be told, but the true meaning comes in looking back on events.) A storyteller knows ‘a meaning’ but never ‘the meaning’ of a story.
- Be wary of too many storytellers. One cost of a storyteller is that she can drain some emotion from a story. The more storytellers you have, the more this will happen. The audience will end up looking at the story from a cold and clinical position.
DO’S FOR USING A STORYTELLER
- Realize your storyteller is probably your true main character.
- Introduce the storyteller in a dramatic situation.
- Find a good trigger to cause her to tell the story.
- The storyteller should have a great weakness that will be solved by telling the story.
- Try to find a unique structure for telling the tale instead of simple chronology. (Otherwise the storyteller is just a frame and you don’t need it.)
- The act of telling the story should lead the storyteller to a self-revelation.
- Consider having the storyteller explore how the act of telling the story can be immoral or destructive, to herself or others.
- The act of telling the story should cause a final dramatic event.
- The deeper theme should be concerned with the truth and beauty of creativity, not heroic action. The storytelling itself is the greatest accomplishment, not the action which has been recounted.
Notes from John Truby, the Anatomy of Story
Autodiegetic — An autodiegetic character is also the character in his/her own story, telling the story from ‘within the story universe’.
Heterodiegetic — A heterodiegetic narrator does not take part in the story.
Homodiegetic — A homodiegetic narrator takes part in the story.
Extradiegetic –An extradiegetic narrator is one who narrates a story from outside the fictional universe of a particular text. This narrator communicates the primary narrative to an audience equally removed from the storyworld; this audience, then, is the extradiegetic narratee. Extradiegetic narrators may be characters in their narratives, but at the moment of narration they are operating from without its storyworld. This may happen when a character-narrator tells the story some years after the event, from another fictional level. (After some insight has been gained.) Think of this term as: ‘Out-of-universe’.
A. Start with character always. Populate your story so that characters are driving the plot.
B. Write a killer first, a page that makes it impossible for the reader to not go on. They won’t go to page two if they don’t like page one. (When I first read this I thought that MG novels have to have murderers in them.)
C. Include romance, but only a little.
D. Provide smaller solvable problems and solve them. Fun to include personal dilemmas and little mysteries, confidence builders.
E. Never kill the dog.
– from Galleycat.
Advice to ‘Never kill the dog’ sounds very much like advice from Blake Snyder: ‘Save the cat’. So, once again, writing for a middle grade audience isn’t all that different from writing for adults. Minus the sex and taboo language, obv.
And here is the website of Peter Lerangis, who looks VERY much like the dad of one of my friends from high school. I know that’s pertinent. I also cannot tell the difference between Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal. Until today I thought they were the very same prolific actor.
floor plan of Midnight Feast
I wonder if it’s common for picturebook illustrators to draw a floor plan when illustrations are set largely inside a house. It really helped me out a lot, to spend half an hour visualising the entirety of Roya’s world within the story, down to the wallpaper. Once I’d done this, illustrations progressed at a faster pace. I didn’t have to consider the interior decor, of her non-imaginary world, at least. I’ve heard art advice to the effect that you need to understand the entirety of a subject even if you’re only going to be depicting a single facet. I was imagining a banana when I heard that advice, but it certainly applies to houses and floorplans. Otherwise you’re liable to draw a house without any doors.
(By the way, the toilet and bathroom are communal, downstairs.)
This particular piece of paper also has the honour of helping a super poisonous Australian spider into a glass for deposition at CSIRO, so it’s come in handy indeed.