Friday, July 23, 2010

The Character Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper

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The Character Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Our friend Joseph Campbell of THE HERO'S JOURNEY fame, offered us a number of CHARACTER types to populate our novels. One of my favorite is the Gatekeeper or Threshold Guardian.

As with all character archetypes, this guy has a specific function to play in your novel. He's the character who most often guards the passage from the hero's Ordinary World and his new world of adventure. The Guardian's main mission is to test or teach your hero and to ensure the protagonist proves himself worthy of his goal. This means, he is there to show the hero his weaknesses, help him overcome them, and to make sure things aren't too easy for your hero.

This role need not serve only to show your hero's strength, however. It can also exemplify his kindness, sincerity, cunning, intelligence or any number of other qualities. He can even point the way toward the next step of your hero's quest. The secret is for the hero to learn the Guardians’ tricks, make them his own, and continue on his quest.

As mentioned, your hero most often encounters the guardian early in the story, usually right after he starts his quest. However, this character can come into play even after your protagonist has defeated The Evil One. In fact, Threshold Guardians can pop up almost anywhere in your novel, and offer new ways to maintain or increase the conflict.

In a very real fashion, the character archetype is a boon to the hero. It is this character who teaches your hero how to fight or find whatever skill or knowledge is necessary to move further toward his goal. This guardian offers the protagonist the opportunity to grow and evolve.

His personality need not be limited to that of an evil doer or villain's henchman, though those do work well. In fact, the Threshold Guardian need not even be a character at all. He can take any form you wish; animal, vegetable, mineral, concept or even a well-meaning teacher who guides his student to shop class rather than the sciences. Regardless his form, be sure this character tests and/or educates your hero.

Often the Threshold Guardian has a relationship to the villain if they strive to keep your hero from his goal. He may also serve as a bodyguard, if you will, to the antagonist or maybe as someone to warm the villain of the hero's approach. Regardless, if your Threshold Guardian has an evil tendency, he is always subordinate to the real antagonist.

How is your hero supposed to deal with the impediments posed by the Threshold Guardian? The answer lies in the guardian’s unique nature or personality. Your protagonist must find a way to get under the beast’s skin, so to speak. In some instances, they do so literally, as when Sam and Frodo dress like the Eye’s warriors to enter the badlands. Regardless, the Threshold Guardian must be faced. To overcome this character type, your hero may fight, bribe, educate, turn, appease, convince or even kill this guy. It all depends upon the character's personality.

Regardless the way you portray the Threshold Guardian or Gatekeeper, this character should be fleshed-out with at least a suggestion of motivation and personal goals just like any other character in your novel.

Now, do you have any questions about this character archetype?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, 
Born to be Brothers

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Secrets to Fix Your Novel's Plot

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Secrets to Fix Your Novel's Plot

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

Of all the necessary components to a well-received NOVEL, plot is among the top three. Should your PLOT sag at any point, you'll find the entire novel lacks the intensity needed to make it onto the best-seller lists.

There are three major areas that tend to drag down your plot. They are:

1. The Beginning is Too Slow.
2. The Middle drags.
3. The Ending is Predictable.

Let's look at solutions to each of these common problems.

The Beginning is Slow.

If your plot, those events that happen to your major characters, stutters from the outset of your novel, it's probably because you've set too low a standard for your characters. There's nothing to hook your readers.

To fix this, think of how you can make things worse for the major character. What will cause him the most angst? Try a bit of mind-mapping or, as they called it in my day, brainstorming. Just allow those nefarious ideas to ramble around into your mind and see if anything jumps to the fore. The more ideas you conjure, the better the odds the best idea will appear.

Keep this first section simple. Incorporate lots of conflict but not too many people. One character is good, two are ample.

Make this situation self-explanatory. If you spend a lot of your word count to bring people up to speed as to what's happening, it'll make your opening drag. That is, consider a great deal of action and dialogue. Descriptions aren't necessary and don't add much here.

Another method by which to pump up the start of your novel is to begin with or create a new motivation for your hero. What causes him to do the things he does? That might get your reader's blow to flow.

The Middle Drags.

Should your novel suffer the dreaded sagging middle, the general secret is to interject additional conflict, more confrontation. Just be sure you add conflict and not just action. (Conflict is your character's emotional response to action.)

You might also add a plot twist. Take the story in a new and unexpected direction.

You can also introduce a major, yet unexpected, character. Just make sure he's logical and necessary to the story.

Another technique to prop up your sagging middle is to introduce additional motivation. For example, if at the start of your novel your hero hates woman, in your sagging middle your reader may find he actually hates women with tattoos. They also need to find out why he hates this "brand" of woman.

The Ending is Predictable.

The third typical problem is when everyone sees the trees long before they come upon the forest.

You can fix this issue in a number of ways. First, like the method with which we fixed the sagging middle, add a new twist. Brainstorm a number of potential endings then pick the one that feels best to you. Be sure to insert this twist far enough back in your novel so it works into your plot with ease. If you just plug it in at the end, it'll look contrived.

You might also survey your ending to see if you've spent too much time explaining loose ends and the like. This often leads to too much narrative and not enough excitement.

You may wish to ensure there are no coincidences at this part of your novel. Your ending must follow that trail of crumbs you left in the preceding parts of your novel.

With a little planning, most plot errors can be corrected. Spend some time with an outline and see what happens.

Did any of you have plot issues with your novel? How did you fix them?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Process of Working with an Editor

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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Last week Ms. Erin Niumata of The New York Book Editor returned my edited manuscript. Over the days that followed, a number of people asked questions of the process and my thoughts as to the experience. With that in mind, I thought I'd pen an article on the subject in hopes it will enlighten those of us who still strive to get our novels published.

First, let me say Erin performed a marvelous and skilled edit of my manuscript. Her work is professional, her prices are competitive and she completed her work ahead of schedule. I'd requested a full editorial critique, which covers all aspects of the novel. Best, or worst, of all, Erin pegged the good, the bad and the ugly of my manuscript with unfailing accuracy. With her permission and my full confidence, I recommend you consider her the next time you need the services of an accomplished editor.

Now, with her well-earned commercial out of the way, let's take a look at the process, shall we?

Though I've worked with an editor in the past, I felt a second set of eyes might prove advantageous, so I started to search out other editors. I sought recommendations from friends, acquaintances and my social network. I also did some research over the Internet. Within a week or so, a number of qualified candidates rose to the top.

I then asked for sample edits of my first chapter from the few in whom I had the most interest. After I evaluated there sample edits, Erin's seemed to have the finest grasp of me and my story.

I did my best to keep from bothering her and about a month after I emailed my manuscript, she returned her recommendations in a twelve page summation.

She began with a general overview of my manuscript where she offered her thoughts as to the overall strengths and weaknesses in plot, characterization and dialogue.

She then delved into a thorough evaluation of my plot. She pointed out where it ran off course, what sections failed to enhance the plot and what aspects of it she thought worked well.

Next, she discussed the subplots. Again, she covered the strengths and weakness of each one.

Her next paragraphs focused on characterization with, in my case, the most attention paid to my antagonist, which needs more consideration.

The last nine pages included a line-by-line critique. Many of these notes covered such things as spelling or word choice and individual things she appreciated. She pointed out anything she needed to reread and even where I'd used a word twice in too short a span. She also inserted the occasional note to enhance things she'd discussed in the earlier parts of her evaluation.

She forwarded them with an invitation to call and discuss any questions I might have.

After I perused her notes, I came away with full knowledge of what I needed to do to enhance my chances of writing that well-received novel. You'll never convince me that alone isn't worth the price of admission.

Now, I can't say I'm happy with what I read in her summary. However, it's not because of what she said. It's because she needed to say it. All in all, this entire exercise proved worth every minute and penny spent.

So, my takeaway is this. I’m on the right path. It's just a much longer road than I'd envisioned. I'm also convinced Erin gave me the tools to place myself among her stable of best-selling authors. I've also come to realize I've still got some learning to do, I've still got some writing to do and I've still got a ton of editing to do. *Sigh*

The entire process isn't as oppressive as an aspiring author might think. However, it does take a thick skin and a burning desire to succeed.

My advice to you? Whenever you think you're ready to go out and enthrall the world with your brilliance, hire an editor. Then check your ego at the door and join me back here on ol' terra firma.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the BACK-from-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Three Dimensional Character in Novels

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by C. Patrick Schulze

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Much is said about the mythical three dimensional character, yet there's a dearth of information about the concept. Sure, there's an overload of particulars on the subject, but it all seems a bit incomplete. Especially since I've received my manuscript back from the editor and she told me to add dimension to my hero.

So, I set out to find what it is that makes for a three dimensional character.

The wide breath of information on the subject follows this basic outline. One, your character must be believable. Two, your character must have flaws and, three, be relatable to your reader. Three dimensions, right? Though that's correct as far as it goes, I'd come to believe, something's missing from that formula.

Well, I think I've figured out what's missing. It's the levels, the depth, of their personality.

I've come to see it like this. The first dimension is that part of your character the world sees. It is their habits, their mannerisms, their dress, hairstyle and the like. It is those sensory clues he give the world.

The second dimension of your character is his backstory, his dark side, his past. What is it that compels your character to do the things he does? This backstory is what offers understanding of your character's persona, those parts of his life he hides from others.

Why does he hate woman, enjoy over-eating or fret over insignificant details? It's a character's backstory that gives him this part of his personality. It is this second dimension of "why" that draws empathy from your reader. And as we all know, empathy is what draws your reader into and empowers your novel.

The character's third dimension is comprised of his actions, behaviors and outlook on life. It's the reasons he makes the decisions he does. If truth be told, your character's moral fiber is defined by the actions he takes and his actions are defined by his outlook toward the world.

This outlook is the primary difference between your hero and villain. The hero suppresses his desire due to his outlook on life, what he considers right and wrong. In contrast, the villain fails to suppress those same urges as his concept of good and evil differs from the hero's.

It also seems to me these various levels of the three dimensional character need be unique and able to stand on their own. However, they should still coincide or mesh with each other. 
For an example as to how these three dimensions conjoin, imagine a character who exhibits an outward show of honesty. This is his first dimension, his noticeable appearance. He feels this way because his father used to take a belt to his backside when he lied as a child. This is his "why" or the second dimension to his personality. However, he lies to his wife when he has an affair. This is his third dimension, his actions.

The best authors are able to stir these three dimensions together to create a concoction that brews that elusive three dimensional character. In fact, the more I read, the more I'm convinced it is the art of characterization that lies at the heart of storytelling.

In my opinion, it you place more emphasis on your character's true three dimensions, your writing and your novel will rise to a new level.

Now, who among you have ever heard someone say your characters are not three dimensional and what did you do about it?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the BACK-from-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"