As of December 27, Thieftaker, the first book in my Thieftaker Chronicles, is available as an audio book from Audible.com. The reading was done by Jonathan Davis, who happens to be a friend of A.J.’s who also did the voicings for A.J.’s Will books. If you are one of those people who enjoys listening to audio books as much as you do reading regular books, I hope you’ll check it out.
I don’t listen to a lot of audio books, but I have enjoyed those I’ve heard. I also find, though, that listening to someone read a book tends to highlight for me all the flaws in the writing. This is one of the reasons why I read my own work aloud when I am revising. But it’s a little different when it’s my own book, and it’s too late for me to edit. Yesterday, after a couple of weeks of being too chicken, I finally went online and listened to a sample of Jonathan’s reading of my novel. I had been afraid that I would hate the sound of my writing. I didn’t, which I guess is a good thing. But still, I could only bring myself to listen for about a minute. Then I had to shut it off.
What could possibly be the point of this? Well, actually there is no point. But if you’re into audio books, I do hope you’ll check out Thieftaker in its audio incarnation.
Last week, I began my Creative Intersections series with a discussion of worldbuilding and point of view. In the comments to last week’s post many of you (at my prompting) offered ideas of other creative intersections you’d like to see, and I intend to get to all of them eventually. But this week, I’m going to continue the series with a post on Plot and Character Development. This is actually as natural a pairing as I could possibly think up, because narrative and character arcs usually develop along parallel paths. But of course, there’s more to it than that.
Let me start by saying that I am a devoted outliner, and that as my career has progressed, I have become more committed to outlining rather than less. I’ve just started the next book in the Thieftaker series (number 3 — City of Shades), and I have this one outlined chapter by chapter, all the way through to the end, in greater detail than I’ve put in any outline for any book I’ve written until now. In plotting the book out ahead of time, of course, I have tried to figure out my narrative sign posts, the twists and turns of my story, the intricacies of the mystery at the center of my novel.
Plotting, to my mind, is akin to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, except that there is no image on the box top to tell you what it ought to look like. In fact, it’s a puzzle that doesn’t fully have form until the novel is finished. I usually try to begin with at least three major story threads, preferably more than that. For instance, in City of Shades, there is the primary mystery that Ethan has to solve, an underlying relationship between Ethan and the main villain that stretches back several years, the rivalry between Ethan and Sephira Pryce and how it plays out, and the historical element of the tale which involves both Revolutionary Era politics and an outbreak of smallpox. Ideally, I want to pursue each of these storylines simultaneously, so that they begin, develop, and conclude at roughly the same places in the novel. At the risk of mixing my creative metaphors, the subplots ought to come together in something resembling (conceptually) a braid.
Character arc, I believe, can work much the same way. There are, naturally, many characters in just about any given novel, and in the same way that plot threads develop together, so do lead characters grow and change simultaneously, their arcs overlapping, blending, interacting with one another to tell a larger tale. Again thinking about City of Shades, I have not only Ethan, but also Sephira, and my villain (who shall remain nameless for now). Their paths through the story are quite different; Ethan and my villain might even be said to move in opposite directions. But their arcs work together to tell the story, and the significant moments in their development coincide with the key plot points in my various narrative threads.
Since you don’t know City of Shades, let me use a different example to show what I mean. Think of the first Star Wars movie. The major plot threads, of course, are Luke’s growth into a young Jedi warrior, Vader’s pursuit of Leia, Han, Luke and the rebels, and Obi-Wan’s history with Vader. The main characters’ arcs overlap, intersecting at key plot points — the murder of Luke’s aunt and uncle, the destruction of Leia’s home planet, Han and Luke’s “rescue” of Leia, etc. If you think about the movie’s plot and important moments in each character’s life, you begin to understand the way in which the various narrative arcs and character arcs work together to create a single, sweeping tale.
Of course, as we consider these story elements, we quickly see how other storytelling elements interact with those things we call “plot” and “character development.” The pacing of each story thread has to be just right. The interaction among the various characters — the conflict points — have to remain true to each character’s personality and background. Turning back to novels, we have to be certain that our point of view character for each section is the right one, that the voice for each of these sections works properly, that the prose, tone, and imagery matches the mood.
This, in a sense, is the point of these creative intersection posts: Nothing in a novel (or in a movie) happens in isolation. It is all part of a greater whole.
But for the purposes of this post, the thing to remember is that character arcs and narrative arcs need to develop in tandem, drawing on the same plot points, but by necessity taking something different from them. (Again using a Star Wars example — the destruction of Alderaan is devastating for Leia of course, and in a way marks the high water mark for the Empire in their fight with the rebels; it shows Obi-Wan just how dangerous the Empire has grown and forces him, in the end, to sacrifice himself in his fight with Vader in order to “make himself more powerful than [he] can ever imagine.” It is also raises the stakes in the rebels’ struggle with the Empire, making the threat the rebels face pretty much existential and setting up the climax of the movie.)
I’ll return to the image of the braid — it should all begin at the same place, it should all end at the same place, and in between it should all be interwoven. It’s easier than it sounds. Actually, it’s not. It’s exactly as difficult as it sounds. But it is the essence of good storytelling, and, so, is something that all of us — professionals and aspiring writers alike — need to work on as we write our novels.David B. Coe http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://www.dbjackson-author.com http://magicalwords.net
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