Black Authors : Integrating Character and Plot

Discussion in 'Short Stories - Authors - Writing' started by river, Jun 6, 2007.

  1. river

    river Watch Her Flow MEMBER

    United States
    Mar 22, 2004
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    Where the Niger meets the Nile
    The following techniques are based on The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Although Egri focuses on dramatic script writing, the techniques are applicable across medium and across genre.

    When writing a story you can use one of two techniques. You can start with a plot then create characters that would believably and naturally carry out that lot o you can start with a character and create a plot that character would believably and naturally find him/herself in. I say believably rather than realistically because as a writer you will sometimes be creating a world that does not exist. In fact, you don’t create this world. Your characters create it. You want the reader for a moment to forget the world around him/her and enter the world in your story. In order to do this the reader must believe that such a world can really exist. At no point do you want the reader to pause and say “Naw. Get outta here. A person like Bigger Thomas/Pocola/Nelly/Teacup would never do anything like that.”

    Whether you start with a character or a plot two elements that Egri points out must be present in your story to make it believable.


    You must populate your story with characters who would interact in a way that believably and naturally carries out your plot. A plot is a movement from one state to another. You always want your main character to change in some way. If your character is the same person at the end of your story that he/she was when the story opened then you don’t have story. You have a slice of life sketch. Take Bigger Thomas for instance. In the beginning and throughout much of Native Son Bigger is a hapless kid to whom thing just happen. But life leaves him in such a predicament that he is awakened is rudely awakened to the fact that he must be a man and take responsibility for himself in order to die with dignity. The liberal whites and disobedient daughter were just the kind of characters that made Bigger’s predicament possible. If they had been conservative or if the daughter had gone straight to school, if Bigger’s family had consisted of a father Bigger might not have made the same mistakes or been in the same situation.

    Let’s say your plot is five woman want the same man but only one can have him. Let’s say you want the story to end with the women and the man realizing that their responsibility to build unity in the community goes beyond the desire for romance. What kind of characters do these people need to be in order to create this kind of conflict. How do they need to grow in order to bring that conflict to a climax that results in the desired ending? Of course, all the women will be immature at first. But one could be sneaky. One could be aggressive. One could be conniving. One could feel hopeless. One thing that is true of all memorable characters in the best known novels: The Bluest eye, there Eyes Were Watching God, The Color Purple. The characters never do what they are supposed to do. We yell at them “No, don‘t do that.” we know exactly what Bigger Thomas should have done to avoid his predicament. Yet even though they don’t do what they are supposed to do, they do what their nature compels them to do because of who they are and the circumstances created by those around them.

    Unity of Opposites

    Now that you have these characters together creating conflict, what keeps them together? What prevents one or all of them from saying “Forget it” walking away and ending the conflict before it comes to fruition> this something is called the unity of opposites. There has to be something within the character and the circumstances that compel the character to stay in the conflict even if your plot requires your character to be a retiring type of person who just wants to be left alone there must be something in the circumstances the he/she or those around him create that won’t let him/her leave. Or that draws him back into the conflict if he/she does leave.

    In Native Son Bigger Thomas wants to get as far away from the detective as possible. But the detective’s interest in finding the girl compels the conflict. Bigger’s fear and flight serve only as a magnet that draws the conflict to him even closer.

    Going back to your story about the five women who want the same man you want them to eventually say “This isn‘t worth it” but not before they learn the lesson of unity and community. So what is it about the characters and the circumstances that will keep them in the conflict until it comes to a climax? Let’s say the women all have children who go to the same school and the man I the principle of the school. The women think that by snaring the man their children will have a better chance. Or let’s say that is true of only one of them while the others each have their own motives.

    This will all come together once you start writing. Let your imagination have its way. Your characters will create their own circumstance.