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Monday, January 3, 2011

Beginning with Characters vs. The Story

Had an interesting discussion with another new writer over the weekend.  He is Sci-Fi and a little of our conversation was about our shared like of that.  The bit I am focusing on here is what makes for a better story, character driven or story driven?  He seemed to have the same attitude I had before, but was kind enough to listen to my recent anecdotal experience.

As a reader, I was always under the impression that the characters made the story.  If the reader felt something about the characters, it made the story enjoyable to read.  I took that approach with my first two series, Suki and Suki With A Twist, which were read by a few people.

My attitude changed when I began working on a new story/series late last year.

As mentioned in some of my other blogspace, my character developer and one of my beta readers, both close friends of mine before we started writing together, gave me the beginnings of a story and asked if I could make a "real story" out of it.  That story became Controlling Sarah, now wildly popular on free sites like BDSMLibrary.Com, Literotica.Com and others.  A better edited version is even selling Kindle copies.  By wildly popular, I mean it climbed to #1 on BDSMLibrary and stayed there for the month of December, 2010, also it is getting between two and three thousand new reads per day at Literotica.

I cannot claim that I write the same way now as when I wrote the Suki series and I cannot claim that the readers at the sites cited do not know about my other work.  More actual evidence: Suki II: Sunshine Returns is available free at BDSMlibrary.Com and was posted one full month before Controlling Sarah.  Suki II had all of about 3,000 unique readers last I looked, after being available there for about two months.

The big difference is: Controlling Sarah is a story driven work while Suki is character driven.  Let me back up a bit, I am not saying that I was handed a story idea and outlined it, then added characters.  Controlling Sarah had characters, it began as a fantasy chat between three people (IIRC only three), but those three different people chatted about events, touches, feeling, smells in an environment that they imagined.  I expanded what they gave me, used much of the chat as dialogue, then gave the characters more depth to match their actions and reactions.

Conversely, Suki began as a rough idea of a romance that happens in the near future.  Friends of mine who began the project with me helped with detailed character development and we had a set of well defined characters in a few days.  When certain things came up, I built new characters to handle that.  When I got to the point that I thought I had enough characters, I stopped adding them and had to explain someplace in the story why, for example, Suki's father is not around, but she works with her mother.  Her father died on a business trip when she was ten became several paragraphs of story and gave some trauma to her youth to explain her behavior in her 20s.

My new editor at FemDomCave.Com likes Suki II and is going to post it in their free area as I write Nancy and the Boss, an adaptation from Controlling Sarah that fits their site better.  However, even that story is more character driven, i.e., I have a whole set of characters and need something for them to do, or I have and event happen and send in characters to handle it.  Sort of seems like real life, right?

Writing fiction is not real life.

I never expected to have to tell people that fiction is just made up, but I do all of the time and I have complained about it elsewhere.  Story vs. Character is an area that I did not anticipate.  Unlike real life as a manager of real people, facing problems and assigning the right person to solve the problem, the writer is creating the problems and the writer created the characters to prevail or fail at solving them.

In my more recent, and much more popular stories, the story is outlined with what the characters involved are doing.  When the story is written, what is going on in the scene is written first as the narrator, and then it may be expanded into character dialogue and action, i.e.,  "Show vs. Tell".  This allows me the flexibility to keep the word count within the target range.  Now, I am not saying that stories are an either/or proposition either.  I am not aware of any stories without characters, nor am I aware of any books that are just characters without a story either.  Seems impossible to me, but I am talking about which end to begin with, or be closer to, when a story is begun.

In my current work-in-progress, Nancy and the Boss, I already had a story.  My editor did not like the way the victim characters acted, they were not acting victimized, at least not acting victimized enough.  More accurately, he complained that they submitted too easily.  That problem was easy enough to fix by moving around some events from the original and having the victims react to a more traumatic event near the beginning of the story. I did have to change the make up of the victim characters too, toughen them up a little.  My villainess was already mean enough.

Still, the WIP is story/event driven rather than characters-in-search-of-an-event driven.

Yes, I am sure there are other factors.  I had better editing help in the latest stories and my fiction writing has improved over time.  Also, I finally embraced narrating in past-tense, which seems to be a big deal for some readers.

Femdom Cave - Adult Literature for the Discerning Reader