Coincidence

George of the Jungle was on cable recently. It’s one of my favorite comedies. Brendan Fraser running around in a loincloth is a big part of why I enjoy it, but the humor is pretty good too. And ultimately, if the story doesn’t hold up, then it really isn’t worth watching it again. About halfway through the movie, Ursula has brought George back to San Francisco with her. As they are walking down a city street, the voiceover narrator says, “Every story has one coincidence and we have a big one” or words to that effect. The coincidence is that Ursula’s mother is driving down the street at the same time and sees her daughter with George, who is most definitely not her fiancé. This puts into motion a large complication for the second half of the movie. It started me thinking. Was the narrator right? Does every story have a coincidence in it? Aren’t we told it’s never good to use coincidences in our plots? Coincidence does happen in life, so it would seem logical to incorporate it. So why doesn’t it work? Is there a right way to use coincidence in a story? Not every story uses coincidence, which, overall, I believe is a good thing. Not because coincidences are inherently bad, but because writers often use them badly in their plots. Coincidence never works when it’s used to help the main character. The most common offense of this nature is when the character overhears important, critical information that will help them achieve success. The character doesn’t deserve to win because they have made no effort towards...

Is it a Cheat?

Does anyone remember way back when Dallas was first on TV and Bobby Ewing showed up in the shower proving the story line about his murder was all a dream by his wife? I remember how cheated I felt at the time—betrayed by the writers. Ever since then, anytime a TV show, movie, or book used a dream as an explanation for fooling the viewer or reader I have felt cheated. Now I’m faced with the exception that proves the rule. I guess there’s always one. Tonight I watched the season premiere for Eureka, one of my favorite science fiction shows. The dialogue is always great, the story lines are thought-provoking and the characters are fun. I enjoy the way Sheriff Carter’s common sense makes the connections that solves the mysteries often trumping the scientists. And from the beginning I have rooted for his obvious love for Alison. Last season they finally got together only to be torn apart in the season finale when she was trapped on the spaceship going to Titan. Tonight the ship suddenly returns to Earth, but 4 years have past. Carter is now in a relationship with Jo. I felt really bad. I couldn’t believe it. The one constant about his character was his love for Alison. I kept thinking during the show that he would feel that pull again and realize he had never stopped loving her. It just didn’t feel right that he could love someone besides Alison. The episode was interesting with the group having to defeat a HAL-like takeover of Global Dynamics, but I was still feeling let down when...

Character Arc

For a character to have an arc, he must grow and change over the course of the story. The actions he takes and the experiences he has irrevocably change who he is so that by the end of the second act, he makes a decision that propels him into the climax of the story. The height of his character arc is when he makes the decision and commits to the action. However, the arc isn’t complete until he follows through on the decision and acts in the climax. A character arc doesn’t have to be some huge leap in growth. In fact, most arcs tend to be small, and because of that, more believable. People don’t change drastically. They may learn to be more patient, more tolerant, etc., but it’s difficult to change a character from one extreme to another. For example, it would be difficult to make a reader believe that a KKK leader could change enough to accept a mixed race marriage for his daughter. Your character’s actions and decisions must drive the story. A passive character is one who sits back and waits for things to happen. The action in stories with passive characters feels like author manipulation because the character doesn’t have the motivation to make things happen. Readers don’t bond with passive characters because they are weak. For a children’s book you should establish who your main character is, what he wants, and if possible, what is stopping him from achieving his heart’s desire in the first chapter. Usually the first character mentioned or the first one who speaks is the main character. If...

Character

A good plot is not enough. Readers stay with a story because of the characters. They care about what happens to them. Good characters make a story memorable. Conflict reveals character. How a character reacts to a situation shows the type of person they are. Using character charts Some authors create an entire family history and backstory for each character. Do as much as you need to write confidently about your character, but leave a little room for flexibility. Even if you outline your plot, you’ll think of new ideas and may want to change things as the story develops. What you need to know before you start writing The most important thing to know about your character is not the color of their hair or the name of their grandmother, but rather their personality and what motivates them. The rest is just information and arbitrary facts that will probably never come up in the story. But if you know the type of person your character is, then you will know how they will react and the decisions they will make when presented with conflict. What makes a good character? Create a character that will work the best in your plot. One that will be affected by the action of the story and will give you the most opportunities to create conflict and growth. Understand your character and what motivates him/her before you start writing your story. Understanding your character will allow you to write convincingly in their voice and experience. You must put yourself into the character’s shoes in order to know how they will act and react....