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Character, Action, Idea

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Sun Sep 02, 2007 4:46 am
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Snoink says...

I don't know... some writing tips make me scratch my head in wonder. I forget where this came from, but basically, the person writing it said that there were three main types of stories. Shall we go through them first?

Action Stories

This is your typical action story. It doesn't rely on characters or anything to make it stand out; instead it relies on heavy action scenes, cliffhangers, and the like to keep the story driving forward. These aren't seen as intellectual, but the average person tends to like these stories simply because DUDE. Adventure! Who can ask for anything more?

Character Stories

These are stories that, instead of relying on action to drive a story forward, they rely on the characters' interactions with each other. So basically, if one character does this, how does the other character react? These are seen, typically, as very intellectual (if the characters are done right) and there's a tremendous amount of hooplah for it all.

Idea Stories

These are stories that are based on an idea. Many of Isaac Asimov's were based on this. So basically, the writer starts off with a question which leads to an idea, and the writer explores this idea. These are also seen as intellectual, as long as the idea is intellectual as well.

So yeah. This was not figured out by me or anything. This is my paraphrasing. But I don't know...

A lot of people put too much by these labels. Heck, I did too, at first. So when I first wrote FREAK, it was primarily an idea story, but I decided to cheat the idea and focus more on the characters, since I was young and wanted to appear more mature.


As you can probably guess, the first version sucked.

Finally, I decided to not make it an character or idea story at all and just write whatever the hell I felt like. And suddenly... the world was a lot prettier.

The problem with assigning the labels "character," "action," and "idea" to stories is that a story cannot just be one of the three and then nothing else. It doesn't work that way. To be a successful story, it needs all three. Let me be more clear: it needs all three elements (character, action, and idea) to be a successful and moving story.

Got it? I hope so...

So yeah. You need characters that interact with each other. To write an action story (if it can be called that) and completely neglect any type of character development since it's not that type of story turns out to be self-defeating. By not giving us any background on the characters and simply relying on the plot to hold us through, we lose interest in the story. There's no one tangible we can connect with, so who cares?

Pure character stories tend to also be really really bad. Some people think that character stories mean that story needs no plot. Instead, the characters angst and angst about how horrible their lives are. And the final result? Nothing. The story goes no where and it stagnants completely. I've seen plenty of good writers who fall into this trap, hoping to make their writing more sophisticated, and end up with these horrible stories. No... stories that rely on characters need action too.

But the worst result of this narrow thinking is with idea stories. As I stated before, idea stories come from an idea that gets delved into. Which is good, if you combine character and plot. Really good, actually. The problem? A lot of lazy writers believe that this is an excuse to just rant on and on about a subject. Let me illustrate. Let's say I want to look into how society reacts with homosexuality. Interesting, you say. Heck, some of you might be interested in reading that! But instead of creating a plot with action, coupled with believable characters, I choose a stock character and stock plot. And, to incorporate the idea in, I have the characters go on long tirades about how moral or immoral homosexuality. After all, the idea should sustain the story, shouldn't it?

Long story short: it doesn't.

With pure action stories, the story becomes blurred and confusing, with character stories, it becomes stagnant, but the pure idea story's results are much worse. They kill ideas and cause people to not want to think about it. Don't believe me? Just read any ridiculous rant about politics. The absurdity of it turns many people off to politics.

So next time you're writing, don't think of characters, action, or idea as separate from each other. No, instead, remember. You're writing a story. And this is enough.

Happy writing!
Ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est.

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