Writing Tip of The Week

The other day I found a scribbled paragraph from a book I read on a small paper among my notes and thought it interesting to share with you :-D.

"The best form of resistance is created by constructing mutually exclusive goals for your protagonist and antagonist. That is, if your protagonist gets what she wants, your antagonist cannot get what he wants, and vice versa. Think of both sets of goals and objectives in positive rather than negative terms; make both characters actively want something, rather than simply having your opponent want to prevent the protagonist achieving her goal. It is immensely helpful to your plotting if both characters are simultaneously moving forward: collision therefore becomes inevitable." ~From "The Creative Writing Coursebook," article (chapter) written by Val Taylor, pg. 220.

I don't think this necessarily applies to all writing, but it is certainly something to think about. For example, in the Crown of Life, my protagonist and antagonist have a mutual goal, namely gaining a seat in Rome and be given prestigious posts at the Palace of the Emperor. The protagonist reaches that goal, the antagonist doesn't in the beginning of the story where the collision happens, which consequences in a switch where the protagonist' goal changes (to seeking the truth), the opponent finds himself in a struggle and his whole desire is to prevent the protagonist achieving his goal while simultaneously having ambitions and goals for himself. I hope that made sense :). So... what do you, fellow writers, think?

~Joy

Comments

  1. I see that's very sensible and can build suspence and action in the story.
    But really what I've found is looking at the characters as real live beings and letting them live their lives out on paper....I hope this sounds sensible.
    I mean, no one plans our lives and how we react to different people in our lives...
    So, in the same way the characters in a book should be allowed to do their own thing, as the Lord leads.
    Does this make sense?
    I probably sound very strange...

    Much love from a sister in the Lord;
    April

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  2. I think each character has to be believable. That being the case they must have believable goals on which to base their believable, natural, reactions and actions.

    The Crown of Life, from everything I have heard, seems to fit this criteria. Well done Joy! :D

    In response to what April said, I would say I agree but find I must know a character completely in order to allow them to do their own thing. Goals included. I usually create a character complete with backstory, goal, motivation, beliefs, contradictions, idiosyncracies, the lot! Then I put it in my story world and see what happens :)

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  3. Dearest April,

    It was really lovely to read your comment! No, no, you didn't sound strange at all! I really agree with you in many ways, and often what are in creative books like the one I got the quote from are NOT the rule, they just give some helpful advice from professional writers.

    Yes, it certainly isn't good to have the story bogged down and tight with plots, but let them live freely (like real people) and let events lead into each other like in real life. In the same time, I think there should be a direct plot, (in the author's mind)so that when the reader reads the story, his basic questions of "what's this story about?" "where is the story leading to?" "what does the hero want?" "will he get it, or will the antagonist hinder his plans and goals?" etc will be slowly and captivatingly answered. For example, personally, I like in the conflict between antagonist and protagonist sometime at the climax of the story, their should be a collision, a face-to-face confrontation between the two of them (it doesn't have to be violent at all!)While in real life, that often doesn't happen. Of course this is not the rule, and every story can be quite different. As Dakota pointed out as well, characters SHOULD have their dreams, ambitions and goals just like all of us do.

    Definitely! Characters in a book should be allowed to do their own things and decisions, but they are made to be like 'real people' and if you think about it even we ourselves, our lives are directed by the Lord, just as in a story, the lives and events of characters are directed by the author. So I think if we have a clear goal and plot, it helps remove much of the uninteresting parts people won't want to read about of real life. For example, those useless chatter "how are you going" conversations that won't lead to anything important to the story.

    It is quite hard to explain, but I am pretty sure though you know what I mean! Having said all that, my own story is a lot more of a life story, almost like a biography of my characters' lives, spanning around 6 years, while a lot of novels have so much plot and action squeezed in a few months, and sometimes even days.

    I think it really varies with every story and also the style the writer uses. But it certainly is really fun to discuss those things, isn't it, April!! I never thought that one day I'd have friends I could share writing things with ;). So I'm blessed.
    I really can't wait to read your stories, April!!

    Sorry for such a long comment :). Many blessings, dear sister! I am always really blessed by your thoughts and comments.
    In His love,
    Joy

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  4. It was really refreshing to read your comment, Dakota! That's so true, that characters ought to be believable, in their actions, goals, ambitions and reactions to situations in life. When I write the story in my mind, it does truly become "Real" in how I imagine it, but of course to translate it onto paper is a lot more challenging.

    Thanks, Dakota! It is something I'm working on, but to be honest I think I do have some serious loopholes and weaknesses, especially to the traits of my characters still to work on. I'm reminding myself I'll get all the opportunity I want to work on them when I come to rewrite the story later on. As I am in the stage of writing the first draft of the story, it can be challenging not to go back and work and edit in it!

    And from all I've heard from your story of Fred, your characters are really well developed :). That's wonderful!

    I agree with April, in the sense that a story ought to move freely, so that the reader comes to read, he/she wouldn't feel that someone is directing the story, but it would be so real and moving freely as with real life. And yet, as you pointed out too, we should have an understanding of our characters, so that the choices and such that they do would be in character with them. Hmm. Knowing a character inside out is really challenging, at least for me, but so vital I think to gaining an understanding of his/her motives, actions and reactions. That's a really good idea to know the character's "backstory, goal, motivation, beliefs, contradictions, idiosyncracies (ohm, what is that?!!), the lot"!! One thing that I find really helps is writing out a sheet giving the tiniest details about my characters, their lives, personalities and history, and keep it there so that I can refer back to it when I'm writing. The only problem is I've got them all mixed up with my writing stack of papers so I find it really hard to find :). Oh, that's a long comment again. I think it is really fun to discuss things like that, isn't it!
    Thanks for your thoughts, Dakota, and I'll be e-mailing you asap Lord willing. Many blessings,
    Joy

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  5. Hey again Joy! :) this is turning into a very interesting writing discussion. :)

    I love the sound of your story by the way! :) it sounds like a beautiful piece and I should love to read it one day. :)

    Hmm... the protagonist, antagonist thing. Most of the time in my stories I don't have a character singled out as good guy, bad guy per se. So its hard for me to single out 'here' is where the two 'show down' so to speak. Like in An Unlikely Love I'm writing now, this guy, Sullivan, is rather alone - he's 'king tut' sorta no one dare violates him. There's a score of different characters who do stand up to him all through the story but no climax where he has to face 'the' person whose standing against him. That comes gradually through a series of different confrontations with the heroine in the book (yes... :) it's a romance!) There is a great deal of violence peppering the story but it is merely the backfire of Sullivan's ways, and any true lifechanging climax would probably be something he has to handle on his own without the involvment of another human being.

    Hmm...this is very fun! :) Giving me some eye-opening about my own story! :)

    I used to write out a plot before I ever set to writing a story, and I also used to write a list of my Character's 'being' to sum everything up into one word! :)
    But for me (and its just for me, because I know it can work for others! :) I find my stories tend to be very dry and lifeless like that.

    I don't even know everything about Sullivan yet....even if I've been with him for quite some time. He still is an indivisual in his own right and I only know about him as the story reveals him to me (of course the Lord reveals it! Through the story which I pray I may write only through His leadership)

    I see what you mean about a clear plot though. Maybe I have one sortof in my mind... but it doesn't go all the way to the end. It grows with the story.

    And I certainly agree with you about the 'day to day' needing to be overlooked! :) I used to write scenes with the most boring conversations.... :)

    Hmmm....just for a subject of interest, my story I think will cover about a year or a year and a half. :)

    Now I want to write! :) Yes, this is a very useful and fun discussion. Thank you Joy!

    Much love to you from a sister in the Lord;

    April

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  6. Oh yes, April, this turning really exciting, isn't it!

    Thanks a lot for your encouragement concerning my story :). I'd love if you could read it one day too :). Wow, An Unlikely Love sounds so exciting! I can't wait to read it one day.

    Hmm, you know, not all stories have that stereotype "bad guy" "good guy" kinda thing. It can be just two good characters and there is still that tension etc, which makes it more exciting. My story definitely has the "bad guy" (Flavius) and the "good guy" (Marcellus) very strongly (something like in Ben Hur where a boyhood friend betrays the protagonist because of ambition and the opposition is staged). But like you, I have a whole collection of different characters that are either with or against the hero (Marcellus) and heroine (Claudia). I don't know so much about your story's details, but from what I see, it looks like your heroine might be labeled the antagonist (don't get me wrong here!) until the life-changing climax with Sullivan in which I assume they live happily together ever after?!

    I think it is okay to have romance in a story. I think I told you mine has some, as long as their isn't too much details given and it doesn't get too mushy etc. I don't mind violence in a story usually; it sure does give suspense and excitement. It might sound weird, but my story is full of violent scenes (a murder at a banquet, an assassination attempt, a fatal injury in battle etc...). That has something to do I guess with the times I am setting my story in. In Ancient Rome there was a lot of intrigue and murder and stuff like that, but that's all before my characters become Christians, and then afterwards any violence entailed is usually some sort of persecution.

    I definitely get that point. I've found it, that if I'm too bogged down in outlines, plot lines and a paper written with everything about my characters, it can easily become lifeless and dry. (btw, I haven't had as much writing experience as you; I've only been writing since 2008). I like to let my writing to have freedom, and space to move if I get new ideas and so on. I think a little bit of both styles and methods are really good.

    I usually write a plot, while I write. So usually the start of a story in my mind is through one idea and a very, very rough plot idea of how the story will go, and who the main characters are, their personalities and struggles. I then go from there and just write, and ideas come as I write which help me form the plot :).

    I don't know everything about my hero, Marcellus and the other characters yet either! It is true that no matter how much you imagine to be in that person's boots, he/she is still an individual that you must deal with and get to know little by little as the story you write unfolds. Almost like in real life ;). That's so true, the Lord reveals and shows us things!!

    About the boring sections... well, I need to run through my story and work a lot on that, especially with my dialogue. That can be so challenging, can't it?! The challenge I find most is to make it authentic, believable and real, and have a bit of humour rubbing off on it and in the same time having a purpose and tension in the conversations... :),

    The time-frame of your story is really good, not too long or too short. You know, I've heard of some stories (I haven't read them myself) that can be big fat novels and the time frame is all in a few hours. That is rather interesting :D.

    That has been a wonderfully fun and useful writing conversation, hasn't it? I too want to write now!!! I think I have some ideas I jotted down on my notepad that I'd like to put in the story itself tonight so that will be exciting. What are you going to write about today? You're welcome, April, and thanks for your thoughts too as you've helped me as well! :)

    God bless and lots of love and prayers,
    your sister in Christ,
    Joy

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  7. Hey again Joy! :)

    Our time zones are a bit different (15 hours different actually! :) so you generally write while I sleep and vice versa. :) Also, today has been very busy for me and Carra so I haven't really gotten on my computer 'till now. (which is 7:27pm for me and...10 something at night for you?)

    Anyhow...

    Yes, I've enjoyed this conversation so much actually, if you don't mind I'll copy it and print it up to put in my diary. :)

    Your story is really sounding more and more exciting! :)

    Let's see....the heroine in my story (Clara) may actually be looked at as an antagonist I guess... but see the action is so subtle (or so it seems to me) that most - I could say all - of the crises that Sullivan goes through are actually backfires of his own ways and nothing directly to do with her. She's only like a thorn in his flesh, revealing himself to himself while his world falls apart due to a false man he's tried to create of himself.

    Is this making sense? :)

    "if your protagonist gets what she wants, your antagonist cannot get what he wants, and vice versa."

    Hmm...I've read over the quote again and am trying to think of it in the light of my own story.

    To start with Sullivan doesn't really 'want' anything - maybe a peace of mind! - he's content with his life, all save a part of him that rebels against it (the part he tries to bury - along with a dark past).
    Clara on the other hand is trying simply to stay alive - along with her child, pregnant sister and her husband and a handful of loosely connected friends. They are intercepted by Sullivan (a very cruel man by trade), and the fight is on for Clara to simply keep her own head while fighting for her sister's health.
    So...hmmm.... I could think of Clara as an antagonist I guess seeing that through her being a 'thorn in Sullivan's side' she brings about his final yielding to facing his past and letting go of the ideal he's tried to create for himself.

    Your story does sound like ancient Rome! :) From all I've learned of ancient Rome (which isn't much granted! :)
    Violence in my story is mainly attempted murders, floggings, accidents leading to miscarriage, shootings, hmm...rough living maybe?

    Oh yes! So much must be done in such a small area like a conversation... you have quite listed them! And what a task it can sometimes be!
    But the Lord is good to teach us. practice makes perfect they say over here and with the Lord Jesus it is even better than that!
    Jesus writing through us as His pencils...that is a blessing beyond description!

    I've never read a book so thick that's only about a few hours either! That's really amazing! I mean, what could one smash into a few hours! I have gotten that far yet - don't know if ever I will! :) Romance does take some time. ;)

    Yes, I agree. "mushy" scenes should not be overdone in a story. I think there are a little feelings allowed to be expressed, thoughts, maybe even a kiss but everything we write must express our convictions in the Lord. And it does help to leave some things to readers' imaginations! :)

    I know there is one scene in An Unlikely Love where Sullivan is very, very tempted to kiss Clara, but he doesn't. I haven't made up my mind yet if he will. :) Think I need to pray about that a bit more! :)

    Anyhow, I have more to say but better close or it won't let me post so long a comment! :)

    Much love,
    April

    P.S. I will be working on An Unlikely Love if the Lord'swilling and blesses me this evening! :)

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  8. This has been a very stimulating, helpful, and interesting conversation! Coming in on the 'tail end', I find that some very good things have been covered :).
    Just to add - I also believe that it is very important to let the characters 'live their lives', and sometimes the events that happen will even take us writers by surprise! (If you know what I mean, Joy :). Yes, so that they are 'believable', real people. Readers of a story really need to come to a decided opinion/feeling/impression/stance on each character, even if there is still some mystery. They will love to read the story if they are concerned for the future of the characters, simply because they've come to know and 'love' them (or vice verse!).
    Maybe one of the most difficult things I find with writing, is to come from the position of a reader who doesn't know anything about the plot, or time period, or characters! To unload what I want to write, in such a way that it will be coherent and yet very engrossing for readers. I find that it is much easier to move on from one action to another, instead of pausing to allow the character of the characters :) to emerge. Because that takes very good writing!

    Thanks for sharing this Joy, and it was thought-provoking and I find it helpful to share about these things. Also, this was a good conversation, above!
    With much love,
    Maddy

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  9. Hi April!

    I'd love you to copy our conversation into your diary! I've loved our conversation up to now!

    Thanks! I could say the same thing about your story. It sounds really in-depth and exciting, and full of great themes. I can't wait to read it!

    You know, as I see it, and I've noticed in my own story, it is important not to put our characters into a box. think you needn't really worry about finding out who your antagonist is. The whole plot and character tension with Clara and Sullivan sound really, really good!! And seeing the tension between them, I think you're doing really well with their relationship. In a way, Sullivan is trying to hide from his past by creating that false person, and the 'antagonist/heroine' (Clara) is the thorn in the flesh who actually turns out as the one who helps him see how wrong he was for creating that false man of himself, right? Or did I get it wrong?

    About that thing of a character's "want"... I know how hard it can be to find the "want"! I've found it really difficult to recognize the "want or goal" for my protagonist (Marcellus)early on in the Crown of Life. He's in a good position you see, the wealthy son of a Senator and is betrothed to the beautiful daughter of the Roman General. I finally decided that he'd have a struggle after all and it is that he's not content in his situation and knows that there must be something more to life than what is offered before him and a desire to find truth and a purpose in life. He has that other goal to fight for the glory and honour of the Empire, a desire fueled by his father's wish for his son to make a place for himself in Rome. While my antagonist (Flavius), who is a friend of Marcellus and has faced a darker past, struggles with ambition and a desire to rule. Naturally he grows jealous of his friend. A collusion, is inevitable. I won't tell you "what" that collusion is, I'd then ruin the story for you ;), but that's just a broad idea. I'm still working on this whole thing, but what do you think?

    You know, April, I actually really like the plot of An Unlikely Love! It certainly does look like a romance story :), but it sounds nice. I honestly already like the sound of Clara's character :).

    Hmm, I think the violence in your story goes with the times a lot. I mean, mine does too.

    How true it is, April, that the Lord truly teaches us even in writing! I often think my writing is awful, but in a way, I am amazed I even got to write this much and to actually write from the first place! It certainly must have been the Lord leading me in this, or else I wouldn't be doing what I am now. Often I get discouraged and think... "okay, how can anyone get blessed by a novel?! Yes, they can be entertained, but blessed?"... but I'm learning that it isn't the case. As you said, we're just pencils in the Hands of God. We must let Him write through us, and not worry about the outcome. He knows what He is doing! That's definitely true, practice makes perfect, and with the Lord the chances are ever so much more!

    I can't finish the comment here, so I'll finish the comment elsewhere.

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  10. Finishing your comment, April!

    Romance... okay, I'll have to admit, I am very cautious about how much romance I put in my story. I think it should be written naturally, that would be in a pleasant, captivating way, and yet not unhealthy to the reader. It ought to be simple, without too many details, emotions or scenes given... if you know what I mean. It certainly is something we should use only as we know the Lord would have us write, and wouldn't go against what we'd believe. One of the reasons I'm careful not to divulge too much emotions is for the edification of the readers. It certainly wouldn't be good to get the reader imaging that romantic scenario that would affect his/her emotions in any negative way.

    It is really up to you and what the Lord would lead you, April, but I personally would NOT let Sullivan kiss Clara if they aren't married or at least not engaged. For myself, by God's grace, I desire to keep my first kiss for at the wedding alter :), and I'd like my writing to reflect that commitment as well. My story dealing with betrothed and married couples makes all those issues a lot less complicated :). Yes, the best thing is to pray about it, and I'm sure the Lord will guide you!

    How did your writing in Unlikely Love go? I must go now too!
    Many blessings, April! It has been great to talk all those things through, hasn't it!
    Love in Christ,
    ~Joy

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  11. Dear Maddy,

    How lovely it was to hear from you and your comment has helped a lot! I think our conversation has actually turned out more interesting than the post itself :).

    That's definitely true, the importance to let characters 'live their lives' and not let them become to bound in plot and outline! I certainly get what you mean, Maddy. The actions, choices and events that occur in character's lives can often surprise the reader AND the author too, can't they! I had some scenes in my story that happened in that way too :). One of the many challenges of writing is to make readers believe in the characters and events... you feel they are real!!! And to make the heroes lovable with their weaknesses and strengths. Well-built characters should invoke any response but boredom and the kind of dislike that comes from not caring what happens to them if you know what I mean!

    Wow, Maddy! I certainly have much the same difficulty in writing... with trying to unfurl everything about the characters' history and personality and the time period in a way that will be as you pointed out "coherent and yet very engrossing for readers". Especially with characters, and trying to tell their personality rather than SHOWING which is very important! It definitely demands good writing, doesn't it? Like I mentioned to April, it does need so much practice and work, but seeking the Lord for wisdom is certainly the MOST important thing. He teaches us and guides us even in simple things like writing. Oh that we may let HIM take control of everything in our lives so that it would be His work, and will and not our own!

    You're welcome, Maddy; I remember catching hold of that paper sometime ago and thinking this would be good for fellow-writers since it was something to think of! It certainly has been a very exciting conversation we've been having, hasn't it? I'm glad you joined!!

    Pray you are all going well. Many blessings, dear sister!
    Love in Christ,
    ~Joy

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  12. Hey Joy! :)

    It was fun and enlightening reading over your responce, and Maddy's comment also (Hey Maddy! ;)

    Yes, you got the idea there, Joy, about Sullivan and Clara.

    Your story sounds beautiful. :) I already love Flavius, just hearing that little about him. So much depth to his character. (I'm always so much more fond of the 'bad guy'. Carra picks on me for it. But really the 'bad guy' always seems to me to be so much more real than a 'good guy' since there is always such a depth behind his 'badness' - like Flavius' dark past and his struggle to make himself a better place in the world.) Marcellus' character sounds very deep too in that there is something missing in his life to make him seek something greater than all the greatness he already has. I really like that. :)

    Oh! How many many times I have asked myself that question! "How can anyone be truly blessed in Jesus by reading a novel (particularly romance?)"
    But novels reach into the hearts of people by revealing to them themselves in the lives of the characters portrayed on the page. I know by my reading a novel once the Lord was able to show me a great spiritual truth about myself that truly opened the way for all the things I have since learned. I don't give the novel itself any credit, or the novelist, but the Lord Jesus worked through the writer to portray just the feelings I was struggling with and then put it in my hand to read just when I needed it.
    So our writing, if we trust in Jesus only, will also be used by the Lord!
    This is such a blessing. I love to write, but how much more I have loved it since I realized my writing was to be in service to my Jesus Alone! How sublime.

    And for this cause romance is a tedious, tedious, tedious thing to write indeed! :)

    I too have the conviction to let my first kiss wait 'till the wedding altar if that is the Lord's will, but also I could not imagine becoming engaged without a kiss....but....I guess this desision also has a lot to do with my spouse-to-be - whoever he may be! :)

    Translating this into my stories....

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  13. It is paramount for me (and I know for you too, since we have already stated it! :) that my writing reflect the convictions the Lord Jesus has placed on my heart. I wouldn't want to one day be faced with telling my children they couldn't behave in such and such a way and they come back with, "But mama! So-and-so did it in your story!" That would be quite a pickle! :) Also, and more important, is my testimony. Just like in my day-to-day life I wouldn't want anything I write to reflect poorly on my Saviour, since I bear His Name as His child. This is why it is so, so, important to me to listen to the Holy Spirit within me as I write and allow my Jesus to write through me so that His Words may come forth - then they will always honor Him.

    So I certainly see what you mean about being very cautious and all with the romance in stories.

    I know Carra and I have been appaled more than once at books we've picked up that were supposed to be 'Christian' and were filled with things that might fit a graphic teen novel or such, if you get my idea.

    "I think it should be written naturally, that would be in a pleasant, captivating way, and yet not unhealthy to the reader."

    I think what you said there is a very good rule of thumb. :)

    But I also bare in mind that emotions tend to be at the heart of every story. If our emotions are not stirred by any given page in a book (not just romantic, I have a general topic here), then it can tend to grow tedious. Emotions are a part of our daily lives as human beings (sometimes too much so! :) and emotions will be natural to our characters as well. Linking this with the romance topic, romance is itself an emotion and therefore, for me anyways, there must be a level of emotion in the characters inflicted on them by the love they feel towards the other party. But this must be pure emotion invariably. No emotion is better than impure emotion!

    That what Maddy said about the characters 'taking the author by surprise' made me smile. :) Sullivan has quite taken me by surprise more than once! :)
    Also how one must pause and let the 'characters of the characters develop' is a very good - and sometimes difficult - point.

    In any case, the Lord has been blessing me on An Unlikely Love, and I hope to work on it more today. :)

    It has indeed been very good to discuss this. :) Maybe I will make a writing post on my blog soon....maybe. ;)

    The Lord bless you in Him, sister!
    With love;
    April

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  14. Dear April,
    I'm so sorry I've not replied to your comment yet :(. Life's been just awfully busy lately. Now that the holidays are here I Lord willing will reply to your comment via e-mail asap if that's okay.
    Blessings, dear sister.
    Love,
    ~Joy

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