Part 08 – Development

Al Kalar

A “hero” is someone who braves death in spite of being terrified. Someone who isn’t afraid can’t really be a “hero”; he’s just foolish.

We’re going to cover several topics today: plot development (the overall theme), introducing characters, character growth, and repeated words.

Plot development originally takes place when you outline your book (some successful writers don’t outline, they just start with a premise and a vague idea of where they want the story to go). Sometimes the characters take over and alter your plans, but don’t let that stop you from at least trying to control the situation.

So, work within your plot plan when you can.

Develop the situation

The main reason for the middle of your yarn is to develop the situation(s) being faced by your main character(s). Everything here eventually leads to the climax (arc) of the story.

Often, the middle part of the story involves a series of small climaxes. For instance, a war is a series of battles leading to the final conflict that ends the war.

Between the battles, the combatants lead lives that don’t necessarily involve direct combat. They train, they heal, the get drunk on leave or meet the “girl of my dreams”. The “brass” plan the next campaign. Characters squabble among themselves and these squabbles often create problems and situations during the next battle.

You’ll spend a lot of time in the “middle” of your story, so keep it interesting. A good example is the typical Fantasy “journey” yarn. The characters leave home and journey many miles to eventually do something that will conquer the evil force. The Lord of the Rings series is a good example; it’s all about the journey to throw a magic ring into a volcano. The journey itself is the story and it covers four books if you start with The Hobbit.

Introduce the main characters

This is the time to gradually describe your characters to the reader (without an info-dump). It’s also the time to let the reader learn the character’s names. Instead of using “she”, you can vary it with the character’s name.

Sue wandered down to the shore where she removed her shoes to feel the warmth of the sand with her toes. Joyfully, Sue ran down the beach, her long, brown hair flying in the gentle sea breeze.

And again, don’t “info-dump” the description.

She fell into step next to Jerry, her five and a half feet dwarfed by his six foot one inch, 190-pound frame. Unlike his short, dull, brown hair, her’s was long and shiny.

Get the idea?

Drop hints

You can tease your reader with hints as to what is coming. In a good mystery novel, the author shows the detective clues. Some are real clues and some are actually mis-directions (so-called “red herrings”).

Don’t come out and tell the reader what is going to happen, just little tidbits.

Avoid “shazaam” solutions or situations

If a character uses a tool to solve a problem (bashes the bad guy over the head with a fireplace poker, for instance), the presence of the tool should have been noted earlier.

This brings up another rule. Don’t go to great lengths describing something that makes no difference. If you create a richly described character, s/he should be important to the plot. If that character walks through a scene and is never seen again, you’ve broken a “promise” to the reader. If the character is never seen again, but the POV character spends the rest of the book looking for her, that’s just fine; maybe he stumbles across another woman who resembles that character and marries her instead.

When you go to great lengths to describe something, the average reader will spend some of his attention to remember that thing, assuming the thing or person will be worth remembering. If it’s not, you’ll disappoint your reader and confuse him.

Our fireplace poker need not be described in detail, but it’s a good idea to note it early in the scene. For instance, the POV character, upon entering the room, could note the fireplace and the rack next to it that holds a brass shovel, broom, and brass poker. That’s enough. Then get on with the scene and eventually the fight.

Another bad guy that bursts through the door after the POV character has brained his opponent in the fight will be more easily accepted if noted on the way to the room.

A large unshaven man with a scar under his left ear brushed against me on my way to the elevator. The air around him indicated he’d taken a vow against soap and water.

“Excuse me,” I muttered, but he just glared and kept on walking.

Grow your characters

Your main character is on a journey. Like most people, she has hopes, dreams, fears, and shortcomings.

Make her story not only an adventure, but also a journey to self-improvement. Or possibly, a voyage into damnation if that’s your objective.

Whatever the goal, the main character will be more interesting if her struggle and experience changes her, be it for better or worse.

Maybe she is afraid of enclosed spaces and has to hide from danger in a closet. If she grows enough to tolerate the dark closet, she lives and triumphs. If not, she dies, is captured into a life of prostitution, tortured, or something else bad.

Or is she afraid of having her heart broken which makes it hard for the “man of her dreams” to woo and land her? The story culminates when she finally gets over her fear and allows herself to be happy in a relationship.

Or maybe her story goes the other way. She’s happy in a marriage, but catches hubby with another woman. She divorces the boob, hardens her heart, turns into a bitter old woman, and dies alone and friendless.

A man afraid of heights must make a parachute jump from a burning airplane.

A coward becomes a hero. A hero becomes a coward.

A bigot learns tolerance. A nice guy turns into a hateful bigot.

Whatever the journey, your character(s) can be changed by the experience. One-dimensional cast members are for incidental characters, cartoons, or comic strips.

Avoid repeating words.

If three paragraphs in a row start with the same word, such as “He”, you have a problem.

Repeating the same word in the same sentence can be a problem, such as:

An appropriate place should to be fairly easy to find since many small farms in the area should be able to support him.

The word “should” needs to be varied. One of them can be replaced by a synonym such as “ought”.

He walked up the road, blood dripping from the gash in his side. After a while he began to feel weak until he could go no further, so he sat down.

“He” is definitely over-used. Try something like,

He walked up the road, blood dripping from the gash in his side. After a while John began to feel weak until he could go no further and sat down.

Two “he’s” isn’t a problem.

By the way, “said” is an” invisible” word. You can use it as often as you want. Characters can “say” things until the cows come home. You don’t have to push yourself to find synonyms for dialog tags, such as “uttered”, “expounded”, and other silly words. “Yelled”, “screamed”, “whispered”, and such make sense because they tell the reader how something was said. Better still, try to get along without dialog tags; your scenes will improve remarkably. Read Dialog Tags That Kill Your Story and Dump Your Dialog Tags and Write Like a Pro.

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