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Changing the focal character

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ScipioSmith, Dec 27, 2016.

  1. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

    My approach to writing is to think of each plot as consisting of two strands of narrative, the plot of what happens and the plot of what it means, which is an amalgamation of theme and character arc.

    For my latest work there are two plots and I'm fairly satisfied with the first:

    What happens: Summer arrives in the Divine Empire, saves the life of the princess and enlists in the army under the First Sword of the Empire; together the two of them (and some other people) hunt down and kill a dragon.

    What it means: Summer's self-centredness and single-minded focus on achieving her 'destiny' of acclaim and adulation is tested by her growing attachment to and affection for the companions she gains in the Empire's service, to the point where she resist the dragon's temptation of easy glory and recognition and risks (and almost loses) her life to defeat it.

    And then there is the second plot, which unfortunately for me is a little bigger in terms of the word count and is causing me a lot of trouble in terms of who the focus character ought to be.

    What happens: Laurendred, adopted daughter of an elven warlord, leads her sisters Damareia, Ceresia and Irithelie on a mission to another world to recover a magical key that will enable their mother and her army to return from exile and reclaim their homeland.

    What it means: and here my troubles begin. Originally (i.e, as written in the first draught), the focal character was Laurendred, and her arc focussed on her sense of outsider-ness in her family and the tension between her love for her sisters and mother and her sense that she wasn't the same as, and didn't belong with, them and the strain this puts on their relationships (especially with Ceresia, the other adopted daughter who resents Laurendred for stirring up the pot unnecessarily). The arc ends with Laurendred essentially getting over herself and realising that, whether or not they are anything like her, they are the only family she's got and she does love them so stop moping for god's sake.

    As I was writing the second draught, however, I wanted a way to make Irithelie more interesting, as she was in danger of becoming a magically disabled character; I hit upon the idea that she would be evil, a traitor amongst the family. Except when I started writing it she came across less as evil and more as too naive to realise that when you try and make use of the ruinous powers they will get far more use out of you in the long term.

    So now Irithelie has a character arc about her being manipulated by her fairy friend (who is the first friend she's ever had outside of her own family, poor kid) who keeps pushing her to embrace her dark side while simaltaneously poisoning her against her sisters (whom she can't turn to for help because she's not supposed to be dabbling in dark forces).

    And I'm not sure whether I ought to rewrite that whole half of the work to focus on Iri because her story is a lot more interesting than Laurendred's.

    I'd appreciate some advice.
    Tandrel likes this.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Irithelie is naive, so she doesn't see light and dark the way others do. She is, like many young people, susceptible to the lures of friendship. So, it's comparatively easy for the fairy to manipulate her into believing she is doing good. She doesn't see it as going to the dark side. Only her sisters and other annoying people harp on that. The story is about how she re-evaluates herself and the people around her, forcing her to make tough choices (because in many ways the fairy really is a friend).

    You're right, that sounds like it has more potential than Laurendred (which anyway kept having me read it as "laundered"). The outsider-from-the-beginning is less interesting to me than the person who is firmly within the bosom of the family but whose actions threaten to tear the family apart.
    ScipioSmith likes this.
  3. Tandrel

    Tandrel Dreamer

    Love your new arc, gives great depth. Being lured by a fairy to the dark side is more compelling to me than adopted outsiderness (but anyone who's been adopted would probably identify more strongly with the first arc)

    Maybe you can do a transition? Start of with Laurendred and let the plot slowly move over to Irithelie as her darker motives come to surface. First show her darkness from the eyes of L, and then after you let the reader begin to dislike this corrupt sister, show them I:s perspective!

    It could also be a double transition. Everything looks so lovely when Laundered finally has grown into her role as a sister and overcome her outsiderness (from the many wild adventures she had with her sisters in the beginning of the arc, challenges unity us!". The reader feels ahhh, how nice. But the peace doesnt last long... because I is acting more and more crazy (becoming the antagonist of the four).

    Love your idea of splitting plot into what happens and what it means :=)
    ScipioSmith likes this.
  4. SergeiMeranov

    SergeiMeranov Scribe

    For me, I interpret "focal character" as "main character". I've always thought the main character should be the person that the reader can slide into the shoes of to make sense of the world. I was reading a book recently that suggested that all readers kind of view life as a "story of one" because we all experience the world in a first-person narrative where other characters/people can be important but ultimately we are the main character. The book went on to suggest that it's important when determining main characters to keep that fact in mind.

    That being said, I tend to agree that from a story perspective I find the betrayal and succumbing to the dark side storyline more interesting on its face than the other, but I think the real question is will that be a viewpoint that draws the reader into the experience or is it something they better experience from the outside looking in?
  5. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

    As a writer who finds it very easy to come up with a lot of events, it's useful for forcing me to ask 'okay, now why should anyone give a damn.'

    The way that it's turning out in the writing initially the threat to the family is not Iri's powers themselves but the reaction of her family to them: they're suspicious of her best friend, and worried that she's dabbling in dark arts. As someone who has come to believe that power cannot be intrinsically good or evil (broadly, this is a view the series supports so long as its your own power), what matters is the intention behind its use, Iri finds this very irksome (and the slightly patronising desire of her family to coddle her is exactly why she reached out to forbidden magic in the first place, to stop feeling so helpless!), and it only makes it easier for Robin (the fairy) to whisper poison in her ear.

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