Saturday, August 1, 2020

2020 - August - Named Minor Character - Prop People


Part 8 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved


Let's look at some minor story characters - Tertiary Characters, Symbolic Characters, and Prop People. 


The term given for the Third Ranking Character in a story is Tertiary. Writers often lump all "other characters" in a story into the tertiary category. However, I like to simplify things and so I split that category into those who are— 

Named Minor Characters
Symbolic Characters
Prop People (who are not given a name)  

Characters that have a name are important enough to the story that they must be given a name, but not a Point of View-Viewpoint. Often those named characters are familiar with either the Protagonist or the Antagonist, like being part of either's entourage.

On occasions, one of those named characters might be considered a Symbolic Character. A Symbolic Character is any major or minor character whose very existence represents some major idea or aspect of society. For example, in Lord of the Flies, Piggy is a symbol of both the rationality and physical weakness of modern civilization.

Now as to— 

PROP PEOPLE OR PROP CHARACTERS

Like the furniture that decorates a setting, these necessary story folks are a kind of stage dressing. They bring realism to the setting and world of the Protagonist and Antagonist. Examples are the bar tender at the Protagonist's favorite watering hole, the taxi or Uber driver, the blacksmith, the farmer's wife, the brewmaster, the crewman who mans a communications or work station, a landscaping crew or other crews including ones led by the Protagonist's or Antagonist's second in command, and so forth. Although such characters may appear regularly in the story, the reader doesn't get to know them, their life story, or even their POV-Viewpoint about what's going on in the story. 

However, things will become confusing to a reader if there are too many characters with names, especially among the minor characters. To avoid confusion, most writers set up a Master Word List or what's also called a Style Sheet. This form (*see note below) can be used before (or during) drafting to keep track of names. It doesn't matter if it's a short story, a novel, or a saga, on that Master Word List go ALL NAMES— character, place, and named animals as well as named weapons, streets, or special props (like Ethan Allen or other designer furniture). Doing so uncovers repetition of names and repeated spellings of either whole or partial names. For instance a character called Beth and one called Elizabeth. Word Lists can also bring to light Freudian slips, faux pas, kazoo-sounds, or the rhyme or rhythm of consonants, vowels, and syllables (which isn't good).

A Word List can also reveal if too many characters or names are being created. Again, the reader will get confused if there are too many names to keep track of. So, here's a word to the wise— instead of creating another character who has a minor role, ask yourself if one of the other minor characters can do the same job or get or reveal the needed information.

If you've never done a word list, I have added a free PDF of the three most commonly used types of word lists (style sheets) at my Writers Cheat Sheet. The direct link to the page is HERE

RE: * FORMS — 
      The Internet abounds with countless forms for writers to use for developing a story. Trouble is, forms do you no good unless they work for you and the way you tell a story. So, consider looking at and reviewing lots of forms, then create your own unique ones which allow you to discover the personalities, tags, and traits of your main characters. You can also develop forms or worksheets that help define your story's plot. 

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Next Month — September - Naming Characters



Wednesday, July 1, 2020

2020 - July - The Antagonist's Entourage and Henchpersons



Part 7 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved



     Although serving a certain dramatic purpose, 
secondary characters have to rise above their roles
 to avoid cliche. — David Corbett The Art of Character


Antagonists tend to be loners. However, now and then, or by their desire, they have others help them achieve their goals. 

As you learned in this blog's March post, the Protagonist has an entourage. Well, an Antagonist could also have followers, like—  

* Friends — be they a man or a woman, that friendship isn't a binding one because as soon as the friend's usefulness ends, or their inability to be manipulated by the Antagonist ends, that character becomes expendable. It's also inevitable or likely that such a friend may die at the hands of the Protagonist. But if the Antagonist's goal warrants, the Antagonist won't have qualms about sacrificing their friend, cohort, or Head Henchperson or any lesser henchpersons.

* Toadies, Monster-beings, Servants, Minions, etc. — these characters come across as unquestionably loyal. They endeavor to please and appease the Antagonist. Often they fail and incur the Antagonist's wrath, which leads to punishment and suffering, if not their violent death. Some Antagonist have volatile tempers and violent reactions to mistakes.

* A Mentor — often in their youth, an Antagonist will learn from a master or a mentor. However, at some point, the Antagonist concludes they are superior to or more powerful than the Mentor. The result is a termination of the relationship. Often a Mentor has a showdown with their Antagonist student and loses. That loss might severely cripple the Mentor or rob them of their magical or superior powers, or kill them. If the Mentor survives, they are so weakened they usually pose no worthwhile threat to the Antagonist.

* Family (parents, siblings, other relatives) — Depending on how functional or dysfunctional the family is, family members may help or hinder the Antagonist achieving his or her goals.

* Professionals (gangsters, crooks, thieves, killers for hire, security enforcers, and others procure things, obey orders, and carry out the Antagonist's plans and orders, and protect the Antagonist. Often these professionals are paid (money, items of value like gemstones, etc.) for their loyalty and service. Trouble is, true loyalty cannot be bought, so how can the Antagonist truly trust them?


Of course, either from orders from the Antagonist or by chance, one of the Antagonist's entourage members may interact or collaborate with the Protagonist. Such interaction, when not sanctioned by the Antagonist, will lead to a calamity. That event can enrage the Antagonist enough to kill the collaborator. That event may even force the Antagonist to change their original plans or devise a way to turn the incident to their advantage.

Although most of the Antagonist's entourage fall into the category of Minor Named Characters or are Prop People, neither group gets a POV-Viewpoint. 

However, in the longer novels, there may be that rare individual of the Antagonist's entourage that merits being a Second Major Character with a limited POV-Viewpoint. That Second Major Character that's on the side of the Antagonist is, of course, the Antagonist's second-in-command— the Head Henchperson.

That Head Henchperson is an obedient aid, a loyal supporter, a dedicated follower, and a subordinate who is engaged in nefarious or criminal enterprises on behalf of the Antagonist. That henchperson may even be in charge of other, lesser-ranked henchpersons. The Head Henchperson may lead attacks, assign people to tasks, and thus carries out the orders of the Antagonist. 

Only because of their narcissistic or egotistical nature, the Antagonist rarely seeks advice from others but may use the Head Henchperson as a sounding board. Still, Antagonist don't trust others, even their Head Henchperson. 

The value of a henchperson or ally is to showcase the Antagonist, or to provide intel to the Antagonist, or reveal the Antagonist's character, goals, and reactions to events. As I have said in earlier posts, a good story can host only so many characters who can have POV-Viewpoint. Which means, it's unlikely that any of the Antagonist's entourage will get POV-Viewpoint, yet they provide necessary interaction with the Antagonist—and, perhaps, the Protagonist.

Bottom line— the reader wants to see the Antagonist face off with the Protagonist in the climax so it's best to put emphasis on the quality and character of the Antagonist. However, in novels or in the longest of short stories, that Antagonist may need someone to talk to or to order about or they may need an ally or a henchperson. 

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Next Month August 2020 — Part 8 -  NAMED MINOR CHARACTERS
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Monday, June 1, 2020

2020 --


Part 6 of 12  of Job Titles for Story Characters • © 2020 All Rights Reserved

As I wrote last month— Antagonist is an umbrella term that covers the WHO or the WHAT that will actively thwart the protagonist. Last month, we delved into what constitutes THE WHO, which is a human or being. This month we look at THE WHAT, which can be— 

Mother Nature (storms, asteroids, insect swarms, volcanoes, etc.)

Disease (natural, man-made, mutant, etc.)

An entity (vampires, deities, magical creatures, ghosts, etc.)

Aliens (intelligent life that comes from another planet, realm, dimension, or eco-system, etc.)

To achieve a believable WHAT as Antagonists means paying attention to world-building, science, and the natural world. After all, The What in the story needs to be worthy enough to successfully oppose the story's Protagonist.

Let's look closer at The What list— 

MOTHER NATURE — Devastation arises from storms (like tornadoes, flooding, blizzards, forest fires). Then there are insect swarms (beetles, locust) and even suffocating algae blooms. The list includes earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Any or all cause dire destruction, lives lost, property and land damage, infrastructure collapses (highways, power sources, etc.). At stake is survival.

DISEASE — For the past few months, we've all gotten a first-hand look at the impact of the coronavirus. The pandemic has been likened to a war with hospitals being the front lines and far too many lives lost. Then there is "shelter in place," shortages of food and protective gear, a shrinking if not stagnant economy, unemployment, businesses closing, and hardships. Again, at stake is survival of people, of mankind, and civilization isn't going to be the same again.

As to ENTITIES, the basic point of having an entity as Antagonist is that the story is more about the Protagonist realizing and dealing with some type of truth. 

Entities are also the creatures of fantasy and science fiction, so believability is paramount. Questions need to be asked before drafting a tale, like— 

How did that entity come to be? 
What powers does it posses? 
What can it control? 
What will destroy or kill it? 

A writer needs concrete answers because the story will likely fizzle out mid-way or the ending goes flat. 

As to ALIENS, there is a wide range form human-like to robotic, from Artificial Intelligence to mutants, and so on. Aliens are The What of science fiction and fantasy. Again, believability is an issue. That's why a great deal of forethought should go into the type of alien (and why that specific type), motivation (why they are a threat), their limitations, their Achilles' heel, etc. After all, at stake is the survival of the fittest, the Protagonist and what that Protagonist cares most about.

Make no mistake, readers are cynical disbelievers so it's imperative to find ways to suspend their disbelief and get them to believe in The What as the Antagonist. The secret is to give The What human characteristics or compare it (or them) to human's and the human environment.

As to disease and Mother Nature, most writers rely on facts and science to extrapolate a believable What as Antagonist. Mind you it's not about formulating some text-book tome, but providing just enough actual facts or tweaked facts that the premise is believable to the reader.

Lastly, remember a good story pits a great villain against a great Protagonist—two equal forces facing off. 
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Next Month  **  2020 —July The Antagonist's Entourage and Henchpersons

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Share this post with other writers. 
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Friday, May 1, 2020

2020 — May The Antagonist - The Who




Part 5 of 12  of Job titles for Story Characters ■ © 2020 All Rights Reserved


The definition of antagonist is "someone who offers opposition."

Synonyms for antagonist include— adversary, opponent, opposer, resister, enemy, and foe.

Please note that when writing fiction, the antagonist is an umbrella term because the word covers the WHO or the WHAT that will actively thwart the story's Protagonist. Since an Antagonist can be either a WHO or a WHAT, this month we'll focus on The Who as Antagonist.

So, if the Antagonist is The Who, that Antagonist can be one of these types— 


– One truly nasty, vile villain-antagonist

– Complicating Characters (two or more) who are not vile per se

– One Agent of a government, religious or other caste group or association,                          etc. who may or may not be diabolical


The Who is often blatantly obvious— a stereotypically nasty, vile villain who is the staple of many a tale. However, a truly vile villain-antagonist's job is to do one or more of the following—

— thwart (baffle, ruin, disillusion, etc.)
— oppose (contradict, debate, protest, refute, repudiate, etc.) 
— actively work against (fight, battle, defend against, etc.)
— throw doubt on or create doubt within the Protagonist that said Protagonist cannot defeat the villain (and the Protagonist is certain the antagonist will win or obtain the story goal).

Keep in mind that such villain-antagonists will be— 

powerful
ruthless
have selfish self-interests
are passionate about something (usually winning at all costs)
have a ruling passion that drives them (motivates them)

Such villains will exhibit certain traits, certain psychological or emotional aspects. Not every aspect will apply, but there likely will be three that dominate, like—    

  being clever
  being resourceful
  lacking empathy
  having a need for excessive admiration
  envying others (or believe others are envious of them)
  being psychologically wounded in some way
  being capable of enormous self-deceit
  being conceited (narcissistic)
  exploiting others
  having huge egos with a grandiose sense of self-importance
  being preoccupied with the fantasy of having or gaining unlimited success, power, money, brilliance, beauty, or obtaining the ideal love
  exhibiting haughty attitudes and behavior
 
and they especially—

  are arrogant (or demonstrate arrogance) often believing they are special or unique, and because they are above others, they believe they should associate with other high-status people or institutions

  have a sense of entitlement

  blame others (i.e., they don't take responsibility for their own failures)

Here's a secret— a villain is sired by frustration. (So ask: what exactly frustrates this villain?)

Here's another secret— true villains often kill and to kill those types of villains are motivated by one of these three reasons— 

greed (financial greed)
lust (sexual or relational lust)
power (the pursuit of power)

Can a villain kill for all three reasons? Yes, but— for a good story, only one reason will dominate because of the motivation and what's at stake in the way of the story goal.

Even if such a vile villain-antagonist appears to be evil, there will be a shred of good in them. Sometimes that shred of good is minuscule, but it's what makes the difference between a flat, cardboard, two-dimensional villain and one that come across for the reader as "a real person" capable of dastardly deeds.

Now, let's look at "lesser evil" types of Antagonists, commonly referred to as Complicating Characters. 

Such Complicating Characters might be two or more characters who are not nasty, vile villains per se but who thwart the Protagonist with their own individual or collective agendas and goals. Some common types of Complicating Characters are Matchmakers, Nosey Neighbors, the Meddler, etc. 

Please note that such Antagonists may not be working together or have similar goals, but their job in the story is to oppose, frustrate, and complicate the Protagonist's life. 

Thus Complicating Characters add drama and suspense to a tale. Can you have a vile-villain and complicating characters in a story? It all depends on the story being told and remember—a story can only support so many characters. Keeping things simple offers more drama and equals far more reader enjoyment.

As to the One Agent

That agent represents The Organization and acts on behalf of that organization to achieve the organization's goals. Unless, of course, the One Agent happens to be the head of the organization, in which case, he or she falls into one of the other types of Antagonists.

Lastly, for a literary-written, Discovery-type Story, the Antagonist is often of the Complicating Characters variety. They make, or force, the Protagonist to face the story's main issue which forces the Protagonist to look deep inside himself or herself to decide to change beliefs, attitudes, or a life situation—or perhaps decide not to change.

Regardless of the type of The Who that is an Antagonist, that human being or intelligent life form-entity, you-the-writer need to know that particular Antagonist's goals, desires, and motivations. 

It should go without saying that a good Antagonist must be a complicated individual, compelling, interesting, and believable. And like a story's Protagonist, a good Antagonist is larger than life.

So how do you make an Antagonist compelling, interesting, and believable? The easiest way is to use the very same character worksheet questionnaire you use for your Protagonist. That's right—everything you ask your Protagonist, you ask the Antagonist. In doing so, you'll uncover how the two are alike (and they should have some things in common) and how they are different. You'll also discover what makes the Antagonist want the story goal—their deep-seated desire and motivation that makes the Antagonist very capable of defeating the Protagonist.

And, when you look at the "flaws" for the Antagonist, you'll find their fatal flaw, the one that undermines them time and time again and which will come into play to defeat them in the story's climax.

Above all, a story's Antagonist deserves a worthy opponent, a worthy Protagonist, so is your Antagonist smart enough, powerful enough, devious enough, complicated enough, to duke it out with your Protagonist? 

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Next Month — June  - The Antagonist - THE WHAT
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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

2020 — April — The Second Major Character



Part 4 of 12 of Job Titles for Story Characters © 2020 All Rights Reserved


Here's a new word for you to ponder— 

Deuteragonist 

What does deuteragonist mean? It's the second most important character in a drama. Which means, we're talking about the story job title for the Second Major Character.

So, who do you think is the second most important character in a story? 

Here's the answer— in order of importance and popularity, the Second Major Character can be the— 

Romantic Interest or the Romantic Lead
Best Friend, Sidekick, Pal, etc.
Mentor, Advisor, Teacher, Sage, etc.
The Fool

Can there be more than one Second major Character in a story? Well, yes, there can be. However, do keep in mind that a story can support only so many characters in order to provide a good read and a worthy plot. So, limits must be set.

And, of course, there are Point of View (POV) and Viewpoint considerations. That's why only one Second Major Character could be in the longest of short stories and the shortest of novels. It's in the lengthy novels (over 80,000 words) that there may be a Second Major Character (often the Romantic Lead) with a POV-Viewpoint or even an additional Second Major Character or two, but who don't have POV-Viewpoint. 

Here's something to note— Pantsers have a tendency to create additional characters when drafting their story because there's a need to reveal information or a plot point. Instead, the Pantser should look for a way to reveal that information or revelation by using the story's dominant (most important) Second Major Character, or The Fool, or The Mentor, etc.

Now, let's look at each classification of Second Major Character— 

ROMANTIC INTEREST OR THE ROMANTIC LEAD

Of all the characters in a story, the Romantic Lead is probably the most popular. The Romantic Lead or Romantic Interest is also the most valuable. That's because just about every genre publisher wants a Romantic Lead plot or subplot— or at least a Romantic Interest subplot. Why? Because that enhances the saleability of a story. After all, most readers and book buyers are women. Even once staunchly male genres are being influenced by women readers. But writing a romance subplot or even including a Romantic Lead requires knowing The Romance Journey (similar to the Hero's Journey) and how to incorporate it into a story.

BEST FRIEND, SIDEKICK, PAL

Just because the main character has a best friend (even of the BFF—best friend forever—category) doesn’t mean there’s not going to be some conflict between them. In almost every protagonist-BFF relationship, there ends up being some sort of falling out part-way through the story that causes additional conflict for the main characters. Look at Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. It seems like two of the three friends are invariably fighting or arguing about what Harry should or shouldn't do. The only thing that seems to change is which two happen to be getting along at any given moment in the story. 

Believability is also strengthened by the interplay of the Protagonist with their BFF, sidekick, and pals. Even the Antagonist can influence, terrify, or threaten such friends.

THE FOOL

In Shakespearean terms, The Fool is a character (usually the court jester) who says the things that the protagonist may not want to hear but needs to hear. 

In The Hero's Journey, often The Trickster archetype provides comic relief— and often points out the Protagonist's all too human follies, hypocrisy, or insincerity. 

Just because The Fool is called “The Fool” doesn’t mean he or she is foolish or stupid. Often The Fool turns out to be the wisest character in the story, sharing pearls of wisdom with the rest of the characters, only no one seems to listen to The Fool. Examples: Haymitch from The Hunger Games trilogy.

One last reminder— 

In these days of the coronavirus and being housebound to keep yourself and others safe, here's a CDC link I found helpful— 
 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/index.html

Stay safe.

Stay healthy.

We're all in this together.

— Catherine E. McLean


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Next Month - May  The Antagonist - The Who

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