Monday, October 1, 2018

Squeeze character to develop plot & keep juice flowing!

Today it’s the conclusion of the inimitable Tex Thompson’s Juice Box Hero: Squeezing Plot from Character presentation. And since nothing beats hearing Texas in person, I’ll only give the barest skeleton of the writerly techniques which received their world before the recent meeting of the Writers Guild of Texas. Want more? You’ll have to persuade your own writing group to host Tex herself for the full meal deal!
And although you’re welcome to see last week’s post, here’s a brief review of the first five of Tex’s 10 big ideas:
1. Dial up contrast between characters and/or characters and their environment
2. Turn “and then” into “but” or “therefore” to create consequences for character actions
image: pixabay
3. Eliminate “reasonable” choices and/or add mutually exclusive gains for character actions
4. Add multiple kinds of conflict – personal, interpersonal & external
5. Force a character to do whatever he/she is worst at
Now – are you ready for the final five ideas? Ta-da!
6.     Use the four stages of competence 
Uh, what? Right, that’s how I felt. Like, you’re either competent or not, aren’t you? So Tex expanded this concept for us. She also graphed it, which I’m sorry I can’t show you. But as I said – consult Tex herself for the whole show. 
Here are those four stages of competence: unconscious incompetence (the we don’t know what we don’t know stage); conscious incompetence (we’re at least aware of our own inadequacy); conscious competence (we can do it, but we have to think about it); and unconscious competence (the never forgetting how to ride a bike stage). 
Tex also mapped these onto the three-act plot structure, remembering that Act 2 has two parts, with a major change in the middle: Act 1 – the character is unaware that a problem exists until, boing! his incompetence reaches his conscious level. Act 2 – the character starts to figure things out (moving from conscious incompetence to conscious competence), with numerous falls off the bike. Act 3 – ride the heck out of that bike! 
7.     “Jump before you’re pushed” 
Which in Tex-speak means, “that awful thing that happens to your character is something she brought on herself.” (Review the three forms of conflict and “choose whichever one most advances the story.”) 
8.     Include a well-intentioned catastrophe
Think “Gift of the Magi,” Tex urged us, in which each character, with the best of intentions, fails to realize what the other is doing. (Note: Catastrophes that can be averted by five minutes of honest communication don’t count. Our job is to prevent those characters from having those communications!)
9.     Use “so” to turn emotion into action  
Haven’t we all been at some point letting our characters wallow in their emotions? Tex’s solution aims to keep those emotions from descending into navel-gazing, while providing “kindling to make your plot catch file.” Her example of the solution: “. . . he’s upset. How upset? So upset he decides to (fill in the blank)”  
And the final idea is like unto it: 
10.   Use “so” to turn virtues into faults
“She’s generous. How generous? So generous that she takes on too much, gets overburdened and then . . .”
And then, as a special treat for us, her original audience, Tex shared a bonus idea, but I’ll let you in on it as well: Let the worst thing happen.
We’ve probably all heard this one, but how often do we act on it in our writing? Maybe because we thought that worst thing was unbelievable?
“We have to rethink about what happens not only to the story but to the character,” Tex said. “That forces the character to rewrite his own identity.”

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