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FFC #73 - Turning point

Posted May 29th, 2021 at 08:45 PM by The Grim Reaper's Friend
Updated May 30th, 2021 at 12:34 PM by The Grim Reaper's Friend
TGRF's Fan Fiction Chronicles - Entry #73

I spent a few minutes looking at the screen today, the realization washing over me that I might have just defeated my greatest writing nemesis.

Throughout my writing years, I've narrowed down my problems to a few consistent ones. Crunched intros are there, due to me trying to introduce everything at once. Undeveloped antagonists seem to be haunting my more recent stories for some reason. Stakes - an older nemesis - hems and haws on if it's still an issue. But the big one, the main thing I seem to always struggle with, is a double-header: squished content, and the inability to get a character to change.

These are two sides (plot and character) of the same coin: absent middles. On one side, you have the plot, going straight from the beginning of the story, to the midpoint, and then straight to the end. What happens in the middle? Unfortunately, the 3-act structure is a void there. It took me awhile to figure out why.

And then there's the character half. A typical arc does what the 3-act structure does. The character has a starting point, a midpoint where they accept the Truth (partially), then an end where they are forced to accept it fully to succeed. What happens in the middle? Every arc comes down to a vague 'the character changes'. Not super helpful, if, like me, you seem unable to change you characters.

I hadn't realized these two issues were related. They are, in fact, the same issue, one from the perspective of plot, the other from that of character. See, when you know what the character needs to go through to change, you automatically fill in that middle which has so far been mostly absent in my stories. That in turn fills in the middle of the plot as well. A single arc makes for a short story, while adding several makes the story longer.

I figured this out a few days ago, but I still couldn't figure out how to make a character change.

My problem was that going from the beginning to the Midpoint, or the Midpoint to the end, was too big of a gap for me. I knew the vague advice that the character needed to try everything but the Truth, fail repeatedly, then be forced to accept it at the Midpoint, use it, get rewarded, and then hit the end. But a repeated cycle of try/fail wasn't working for me. At no point did I feel like the character was getting closer to accepting the Truth. He was just getting frustrated (kind of like me, oddly enough).

Today I decided to change that.

You see, I have written character arcs before where the character changes. I've mentioned this before. Horizon in Sight did this about five times, stacking arcs on the main character repeatedly. After HiS, I also did this again in a fan fiction I developed but never wrote. The character completely reversed his opinion about a certain group of unsavory characters.

I had done it before. So why couldn't I now?

So I went to Excel, and plotted that more recent arc. I went through every single detail which changed the character (since that's basically all the story was). By itself that didn't give me much, so I did the same thing with a story which has consistently helped my writing: Finding Nemo. The movie is simple and easy to follow, while also being constructed flawlessly. It makes for a good example.

Side by side, I finally started to see a pattern. I started to realize something critical: it's not just try/fail. The Truth needs to be active. The Truth needs to be throwing evidence that it works at the character. The character needs explicit chances, where the two options are to act for or against the Truth. One way he's punished, the other way he succeeds. Once I realized this, things started to make sense. I wrote down a basic outline of the pattern I saw.

I came up with a random arc to test, used the outline to map it, and was able to successfully write a character which changed in under thirty minutes. But that was only one example. I needed to be sure this worked.

I plugged in one of the arcs from HiS. Only after doing so, did I realize how horribly I butchered the structure when I wrote it. *inner shudder* Moving on.

I created a second test arc. This one also worked.

And it's at that point that I realized this could be it: I might have just fixed the greatest writing challenge I've had. All it took was sitting down and analyzing what had worked before.

And, you know, like the six years it took to get there. But I've mentioned that before.

Point is:... Success! I've forever been plagued with an inability to figure out how a character changes. Now I have a series of smaller steps, which collectively change the character in small increments, getting them first to the Midpoint, then to the end. Utilizing this structure, I should be able to create several arcs in stories, and by doing that, finally banish these absent middles which have been destroying outline after outline.

(Seriously, it's this inability to change characters which killed at least 95% of the stories after HiS.)

However, I have to note: I haven't tested this on an actual story yet. While the results are promising, I can't 100% say I've fixed the issue. Only that I've definitely made progress.

I'll keep you posted.

Currently, I am not working on a story. One is taking shape in my mind, involving a lot of failed iterations from past stories (which I should now be able to make work) and some ideas from other things. I could start writing soon, or it could be a few weeks until I test my theories.

Until then, keep writing, keep reading, and, as we've all learned, definitely take everything I say with about a half liter of salt.

~TGRF.
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