Monday, November 16, 2009

Achievements in Character

Achievement is a point of view because not everyone agrees on whether achievements are actually achievements or whether they have actually been met. Take George Bush and the War in Iraq as an example. Some people will argue that the objectives of the war were met. Some would argue there were no objectives. Some would argue that the objectives weren’t met at all. Still others would argue that the wrong achievements were met.

Achievements can definitely be points of conflict. Going back to Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling made achievements a point of conflict between Ron and Harry. When Ron became Prefect, Harry experienced a jealousy that could have torn the friendship apart. Instead of sticking to this overpowering emotion, he took himself to task for wanting to deny Ron his moment of happiness and served as a role model for readers who are faced with their own loss within a competition. Had Harry become Prefect, as everyone expected, the jealousy, the soul searching, the rising to the moment would have been lost. One of the magical things about Harry Potter is that he’s so very human, so very vulnerable, and so prone to experiencing what we all experience in spite of his heroics.

Achievements can include awards, successes, or something as backward as being a successful failure. The character’s achievement can be negative or positive depending on your point of view. Achievements can include a gamut from things like achieves success as a playboy, president of a large corporation, a bank robber, girl scout, boy with a paper route, soldier, sailor, Indian Chief.

When Achievements overlap, they can create great conflict between characters as in politics or war. In the Harry Potter stories the person with the greatest achievements is Voldemort. He is the world’s greatest villain and because of that achievement he is that much more formidable as an adversary. If Harry’s heroism had been limited to dealing with Dudley Dursley, the Harry Potter series would have joined the ranks of other children’s stories – interesting, well written, and forgettable, instead of become an instant classic.

When I filled out the questionnaire from my publishing company concerning “Tranquillity Initiative,” (my soon to be released novel) they asked me how I felt when I finished the book, an achievement. I felt let down, as I felt when my writing partner Suzy Prudden and I finished our best selling “MetaFitness: Your Thoughts Taking Shape.” There is something wonderful about a writing project. You get to think and discuss ideas and hang out with interesting people. When the book is finished, those wonderful people disappear and all the discussion stops. So the achievement, while a landmark, is also a bit of a let down. The book goes to editing. Two years later you’re trying to remember what the book was about as you discuss it in the media because in two years you’ve written at least two more books. This is a way of showing that achievement can be bitter sweet. Indeed, in many cases the less black and white an achievement, the more interesting it is.

Let’s examine that. If you say, “How did you feel when you finished your book?” And I say, “GREAT!” That’s the end of that conversation. If I say, “It was a let down,” your response has to be, “Why?” Then I get to tell you why, and you get to ask me about what was so wonderful about those characters, or what did you discuss that you found so fascinating. The last thing you want your characters to do when it comes to their achievements is to give a conversation-stopping answer, or have a boring easily anticipated response.

What are this character’s achievements? How does the character view his achievements? How do they help define his personality? How do other characters view his achievements? Be specific. How does the character’s achievement advance the plot? How do achievements conflict with the ambitions or achievements of other characters? How does the character grow or change as a result of his achievements?

Before I actually was a writer I wondered about writing. I remember asking my writing partner – who was then just my sister - whether she thought writers looked at every single word to see if it was the right word. The answer I find is yes and no. Some words just fit and others should be examined to see of another word might have a bigger impact or more meaning, or simply make the reading more interesting. An example is the word “said.” Should it be said, whispered, shouted, ranted, moaned, exclaimed, cried? There are so many words that are more descriptive than the word “said.” By the same token, character should be examined with a fine tooth comb because of the effects your choices have on the impact of your book.

No comments:

Post a Comment