Storybuilding 4: Brainstorming – With Character

Continuing our brainstorming fun, pull out your notes from the character post.  Character IS Plot, so one of the best ways to get some plotting ideas is to take your characters in hand and put them through their paces.  For each of the three main techniques I use to develop character, I ought to be able to get some scene ideas.  If not, then I haven’t spent enough time making this character deep and compelling.  I’m going to do this for each main character, and each technique.  For blog purposes–and to keep the story fresh for the readers who might be tagging along–I won’t post every single thing here.

So pull out your index cards, paper, etc. whatever you’re using, and get crazy with those ideas!

1. Greatest Strength/Greatest Weakness. There are several ways you can use this to generate plot ideas.

  • Showcase the character’s strength.  Obviously we’re writing about HEROES (female or male) and they’re heroic in some way.  That means we want to show them in a positive light.  Crossing over to some of the other techniques (Emotional Toolbox and specifically, the hero’s journey), a good place to begin is the Ordinary World with the character’s mask in place.  We know Victor is competitive and driven to win.  As a result, he’s the CEO of his company.  He’s powerful, wealthy, and respected by his employees.  I should have an opening scene to introduce him as a powerful, competitive, successful man.
  • Let the character use his strength to get into trouble.  This crosses over to the Emotional Toolbox–Trouble Traits.  This is where the character’s greatest strength begins to run amok and it’s his own damned fault.  Victor’s competitive nature is going to get him into all sorts of problems when he approves–and agrees to participate in–a reality show.  The entire external plot is driven by his own need to win, and is supported by the subplot, his need to find out who the spy is.  He thinks he’ll just play along…but he can’t sit back and let the game unfold without winning.
  • Allow other characters to use his greatest weakness against him to get him even deeper into trouble.  Shiloh knows exactly what sort of man Victor is.  In fact, she built the entire premise of the reality show around his competitive nature.  She knows he won’t be able to stand by and “watch” the game without getting dirty.  He plays to win.  Always.  She intends to be the prize.

2. The Character Letter: The whole purpose of the character letter is to explore backstory — in particular, defining moments.  What still haunts this character?  What are his regrets?  Deep down, what’s he really afraid of?  The character letter provides a wealth of angst.  Remember that you’re the God of your Story.  If you include something, a hint of the character’s past, for instance, then it should be important to the Story.  It must have some IMPACT on the plot or the character arc.  The character should have to face and overcome that old shadow before the story is over, or else why mention it at all?

These defining moments help you define the character’s arc, providing the major stumbling block(s) from his past that made him who he is today (when the story opens) — and must now overcome before he can make the Leap of Faith (Emotional Toolbox).

  • In the character letter, we’ll see how Victor won the championship game but lost because his injury ended his career.  I need him to face another equally significant win-lose scenario.  Because of the emotional trauma involved, I’m guessing this may be in the dark moment or one of the major climaxes of the story.  I’ve jotted several cards about how he’ll win — but ultimately lose.  Although I can’t share them here without spoilers, there’s a ton of emotion — and he truly realizes that this loss will kill him, unless he can fix what he’s done.  He decides the only thing he must win is Shiloh, but it may be too late.

3. The Emotional Toolbox, or the Hero’s Journey: The emotional toolbox highlights the character’s journey.  Back and forth, the character battles need vs. want until finally, I force him to make a Leap of Faith.  Hopefully you’ve noticed that the techniques above have already crossed over into this one.  They all begin to blur and meet.  That’s a good thing — everything should tie together and make sense.  The greatest strength is tied to the mask, and the trouble traits, which lead to the greatest weakness.

  • Show the character’s want.  Early in the story, I need to establish the story goal.  What does this character think he wants more than anything?  Show him going after it.  In particular, Victor wants to find out who the spy is inside VConn.
  • Show the character’s need and his fear.  What’s the secret need driving the character’s arc?  What deep fear is keeping him from becoming the complete, happy man he could be?  Victor needs to face his darkest secret, and Shiloh’s the only person who can help him.  But that’s exactly why he keeps her at arm’s length.  Each time she prods him into letting his mask slip — he must push her away and hold her at arm’s length to protect himself.
  • Show the want and the need at war.  At some point, Victor is going to realize that finding out who the spy is at his company isn’t nearly as important as how much he needs Shiloh.  But what if….she’s the spy?
  • Ultimately, he must make a choice: a Leap of Faith where he gives up the want to gain the need, or a stumble into the Dark Side because he’s unable to face his fear.

Next up, we’ll take a closer look at the hero’s journey.  The story needs STRUCTURE — a framework that defines the story layout and gives the rest of the details something to hang onto.

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