Adding material to your manuscript to solve a problem? The magic fix-it scene rarely works. While these scenes are intended to solve a specific problem, they often cause a host of other issues. But there is a better way
Tag: character building
No Victory without Sacrifice: Making it Meaningful
No victory without sacrifice is an optional plot point, but one that is popular enough that it needs mentioning. This device is intended to add emotional depth to the character journey. When handled well, it makes the eventual victory more powerful. When handled badly, it feels contrived and obnoxious.
While this isn’t necessary, many stories have this element, Tragic figures can give your story an extra dimension, (Note this is not the same as the death of a mentor in the “hero’s journey” plotline.) In this plot point, the main character must lose something precious in order to reach the goal.
Bing Bong’s sacrifice so that Joy could escape the Memory Dump is a good example
Rue from Hunger Games is another example. Although Rue’s death seemed meaningless at the time, it was this meaninglessness that became the catalyst for both the revolution and for Katniss’s internal arc.
How to make it work
Loss must be meaningful
The reader must feel it as much as (or maybe even more than) the main character. This cannot be a small side character. The main character needs to have a connection.
Loss must help the hero reach her goal
If the loss doesn’t affect the outcome, then it is meaningless. However, the loss can seem meaningless at the time, and the real benefit is delayed. These fall into two categories: a death that inspires internal change (Rue) or character dies in battle so the hero can continue. (Bing Bong)
Consider tying the death to the character’s lie
The loss will be more poignant if the sacrifice could have been avoided had the hero not been ruled by her lie.
Make it unavoidable
If you are going to kill off a character, make sure there is no obvious alternative. The events must make the death inevitable.
What about surprise attacks?
If you are planning to shock your reader by surprise killing a character a word of caution. Make sure the death really is serving a function. Readers don’t like surprises for the sake of surprises. A shock that doesn’t serve a purpose will feel contrived and just annoy your readers.
No victory without sacrifice can help your hero’s struggle feel more real and give it additional depth.
Whether or not you choose to add this element, your character now has all she needs to complete her journey. Tomorrow the final battle begins.
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The midpoint is the moment to recommit
Recommitment happens at the mid-point of your book. Here, you need a scene where the main character decides he must continue on his journey. Although, the hero may have found a way to a semi-comfortable existence, eventually forces reemerge to push the hero forward.
Katniss forced out of the cave by the Gamemakers.
Lego Batman begins a quazi-relationship with Robin, but the Joker reemerges.
When the antagonistic forces reemerge, the hero must recommit to the quest. Don’t let your hero get comfortable in his new life. Force him back into the action. Now is the time to recommit.
Reasons the character may need to continue his quest.
There are only two possible reasons the character will continue on his quest. Either he is forced to go (external motivation), or he chooses to go (internal motivation.)
The villain isn’t defeated
This one is the easiest. The villain can easily get a bigger, better weapon or show up and kidnap someone your character loves. There are plenty of ways a villain can ruin your hero’s day.
Mentor forces him to continue
In this scenario, a wise figure will remind the character what will happen if he does not continue his quest. This could be Galadriel showing Frodo some horror footage in a magic mirror, or it could be a coach giving an inspiring pep talk. As long as the hero respects the authority figure, then he will be motivated by the interaction.
Hero’s accommodation to his lie creates too much tension
This one may seem more difficult to handle, but it is really straightforward. In the Lego Batman movie, Batman finds his lie on a “slippery slope.” Once he lets Robin in, he finds it more difficult to keep the rest of the world out. As new people invade his space, his lie can no longer tolerate these accommodations. As a result, Batman starts to embrace his new “family” and agrees to allow them to join the team. He recommits to fighting the Joker, but this time he won’t face him alone.
The recommitment is the moment your character decides to go on the offensive.
Yesterday your character got to take a break from the troubles of the world, but today those troubles push their way back in. Now is the time for your character to make his choice. Either he will save the world, or he will we let it burn. Either way, its time to commit.
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Challenge your character’s lie with the first pinch point
Great characters have a flaw, a lie they believe. This lie/flaw is the true antagonist. It is the reason for his conflict. The character lie is the reason your character can’t get what he wants. The first pinch point challenges that lie.
Day 11 is the first pinch point- the first time the character’s lie is challenged.
Identify character flaw
This should be the same flaw you have been working to establish in your set-up. (See day 7 for more details)
Identify character wants
This can be tricky. Because the character believes something that isn’t true, what he really wants may differ from what he thinks he wants. Start with the surface want and dig until you find the hidden want that is actually in conflict with the character flaw. For example.
In Inside Out, Joy thinks she wants to restore Riley’s original core memories and get her personality back the way it was. This want results from her character lie (the belief that happiness is the best emotion for Riley) But if we question why Joy wants this, the answer is-Joy wants Riley to be a normal well-adjusted kid. Now we have conflict. Normal, well-adjusted kids aren’t always happy. People need a range of emotions to process all their experiences. This information is first presented to Joy at the first pinch point.
In this scene, Bing Bong has just lost his beloved musical rainbow rocket. Joy tries to help Bing Bong feel better by acting silly. While this might have helped a young child, (remember Joy’s experiences with the pre-adolescent Riley taught her this will help.) Bing Bong is unaffected. But when Saddness talks to Bing Bong and helps him through his grief, Bing Bong is able to process the loss and move on. This is the first instance where Joy sees that “Sadness helps.”
However, Joy has not yet made a complete transformation. At this point, Joy is not truly aware her belief that “happy is best” is a lie.
At the first pinch point, the character does not need to be aware of his lie, but the reader should be.
In the Lego Batman movie, Batman attends a party as Bruce Wayne. While there, he works the entire crowd, believing himself to be the life of the party, but we see him fail to make a meaningful connection with anyone in the room. He may be at a party, but he’s alone, and he has no friends.
This is juxtaposed by the previous scene where Harlequin acts as the Joker’s best friend. She spends the scene giving the Joker encouraging words and comforting him after his “breakup” with Batman.
In both these examples, the pinch point raises the tension by clarifying the character lies for the audience while showing the characters stubbornly maintaining those beliefs.
Challenging your character’s lie is the first step towards his transformation
Characters will never change if their beliefs are never challenged. The first plot pinch is the place to begin this journey. Make sure you have all the elements in place, and your characters won’t be able to hide from the truth.
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Letting characters fail The basis of a character arc is change. By letting characters fail, you will force them to move forward in their arc. If they never lose, they will never learn. Creating Character Arcs This is from the Pixar’s Inside Out. If you haven’t […]