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Lifecycle of a
by Sandy Tritt
is when we pick up that limp character that we assigned physical
attributes to, hold him in our arms, and breathe the breath of life into
him from our very own souls. It is also the turning point—his actual
birth—and we cease having absolute control over him.
The first breath of life is when our character has a goal or “character
statement.” This is what our character “wants,” and before our character
has a want, he is nothing more than a description. The process of
“wanting” is what gives life. So, what, more than anything else in the
world, does this character want?
Some examples from my characters are:
• To become wealthy so the love of my life will return my love.
• To have fun.
• To be the best teacher I can possibly be and to give my students the
desire to continue their education.
• To keep my family together.
• To break into the Rock ‘n Roll charts and become a rock star.
• To know and do God’s will.
As you can see, a character’s goal can be as deep or as vapid as the
individual. Note that for some characters, this statement may be a life
goal, but for others it may change as the character matures. Regardless,
this is what motivates our character and we must understand this
motivation if we are to continue to add depth to his personality. Every
major character should have a character statement.
Now, if our characters achieved their goals immediately and without
effort, we wouldn’t have much of a story. So, we must throw obstacles at
them. Someone or something must be at work trying to prevent our
character from his dream. This is called the character conflict, and it
can be external (another character, an act or condition of nature, an
act or condition of circumstance, or a physical problem or condition) or
it can be internal (an emotional or psychological problem or condition).
Many times, our character must resolve an internal conflict in order to
defeat his external conflict.
For example, Joe wants to marry Janet, his life-long love. His external
conflict is that Janet doesn’t respect him. His internal conflict is
that he has an explosive temper. In order to earn Janet’s respect, he
must learn to control his temper.
Not every character must have a conflict. However, our protagonist (our
main character) must have a conflict in order to have a plot.
Which brings us to the resolution. Will our protagonist achieve his
goal? If not, why not? While it is generally assumed that the
achievement of the goal translates into a successful resolution, it is
not the only successful resolution. Perhaps in the process of achieving
his goal, our character grows beyond it. Perhaps as he learns more about
what he must give up, he realizes it isn’t worth it. Or he realizes that
he doesn’t want what he thought he did. So, the resolution can be many
things, as long as the reader understands why.
The resolution should also make obvious how the protagonist has changed
during the process of the story. In a character-driven novel, it is
imperative that our protagonist change in some way. In a plot-driven
novel, it is still preferable that our protagonist learns something or
grows in some way.
A reproducible Character Growth Chart is provided in Section 8. It
covers the character statement, the character conflict, the resolution,
and the character growth. Space is also provided for comments.
So, let your characters have dreams. Let them want, let them strive, let
them achieve. But most of all, let them grow.
(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. November be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.
Critiques by Sandy
Unlike most editors, I consider my role
to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I
explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how
to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat
business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other
Treat you with respect and compassion.
All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to
improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.
Mark your manuscript, correcting
grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where
Highlight areas that are especially
well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.
Where appropriate, offer suggestions for
plot development, character development or other areas that could be
Return a two-to-four page written
analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting,
characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks,
etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.
If appropriate, recommend reading or
resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.
Answer any questions you have via
Provide my telephone number for a
personal follow-up, if you desire.
For Sandy's success stories, see
Write Sandy at
(See Sandy's article
by Bruce L. Cook
In writing fiction, I usually get my action
together, clear my schedule (if possible) and write up a storm.
Reminiscent of an accomplished musician, my fingers fly on the keys like
butterflies on the run. In doing to, these unruly digits create a
monstrosity of misspellings and misplaced grammar, but I tell myself “I
. just . have . to . get . this . all . down!”
This is fine, providing that I take the time to
revise, proofread carefully, and rewrite several times. Now some writers
feel this rush to write is self-authenticating – the words are from
above and must never be tampered with, but this is misguided.
Nonetheless, rush-writing can hinder the delicate
balance between action and meaning.
For example, in rush-writing I may write the
“Billy Wilson hurled the rock at the widow, but
turned to run when old Macomber appeared in the opening.
Now, this writing is acceptable, and could lead the
reader into completing the story. But think of the opportunities the
writer has missed just in this short passage.
For example, let’s take a look at the boy, Wilson,
in the revision below.
“Enraged at Macomber for refusing to answer the
door, the usual redness in Billy Wilson’s face deepened and he pressed
the tiny oval of his lips together as he searched the ground for a rock.
Finding one, he flung it at the window where Macomber would be seated.”
Already the scene has moved from action to meaning,
at least when it comes to description. But now try the same scene with
meaning – whatever it is that you wanted to say, whatever you wanted to
leave for future generations to read.
“Enraged at Macomber for refusing to answer the
door, the usual redness in Billy Wilson’s face deepened and he pressed
the tiny oval of his lips together. He could see it now, his father’s
disapproval when he returned from making collections on his paper route.
Again he would be told how he was giving away money when he delivered
the paper to people like Macomber. It wasn’t fair, with the giant
newspaper making young boys do its dirty work. But he, and only he,
could make this collection from the old man. He had tried for weeks and
it was impossible, so he decided to take action.
“Wilson searched the ground for a rock. Finding
one, he flung it at the window where Macomber would be seated, was
always seated when Wilson came to collect.
“Immediately Macomber appeared, his face drawn from
weeks with only the barest of sustenance. The delicate web of his ivory
face turned to an ugly mask as the realization set in. He would have to
pay more to repair this window than it would have cost to pay the boy’s
bill. But he could afford neither, and again he would have to go days
I submit that the writer’s genius is to select the
depth of description and comment in a scene of this kind. But, above all
we need to avoid the rush to write when it forces us to write a shallow
I offer two solutions, and beg you to choose what’s
best for you.
Write in deep thoughtfulness on the first time
through the scene.
Do rush-writing, and then come back to plug in
descriptions and content.
Option 1 suggests a fusion between action and
meaning. But option 2 might help you achieve better continuity in
It’s like viewing a book’s design vs. reading a
book’s content. Both are essential to success, but they are viewed and
considered separately. Now, in the writer’s struggle between action and
meaning, perhaps the same is true. Think of action. Think of meaning.
But don’t neglect one or the other.
On not Selling your Box of Books
writers are fellow-crafters, like
skilled artisans selling art objects
at a marketplace or craft show. And,
like these artisans, we gather
together and share our dreams,
experiences, and frustrations.
these years since the “vanity press”
went the way of the dinosaurs, being
replaced by more respectable
self-publishing, writers meet and
share stories of books they cannot
sell unless they go out and do
personal appearances in their local
these writers are selling books to
Mom and Pop, brothers and sisters,
aunts and uncles, and close friends
at work. And, while they dreamed of
Borders, Barnes and Noble, and other
giant stores, their works have never
graced the doorways there.
One outcome of
this problem might be the fatalistic
notion of writer failure. But this
is not advisable. Instead, many
writers realize the web offers many
writers websites of different kinds,
and they publish there. This, I
believe is the correct response and
one which will permit the writer to
eventually achieve his or her goals
of greatness, or at least the goal
of becoming read by a fair-sized
audience. (And, for most of us, this
is all we wanted anyway.)
But I’d like to
add one more note to the chord – the
thought that your writing in a small
book should be something to which
you can point with pride. Thus, even
though you have a favorite
manuscript and a salesman offered
you a cheap print run, make it a
point to hesitate. During the delay
that you deliberately create, take
time to examine the contract sent
you by he printer (calling itself a
publisher). Second, take time to
make our manuscript worth the
Thus your goals
become two: getting a fair deal (for
example, not paying US $2,500 –
$8,000 for a book run just because
you are in some part of Africa,
compared with the $500 – plus it
might cost in a more competitive
market), and leaving a worthwhile
piece of literature for the future.
For example, I
think of the small presses of New
Mexico, where refurbished printing
presses from the past are combined
with local writing to create new
books as an art form, in print runs
of no more than150 books. We who use
self publishing can do the same,
knowing that 150 is probably high.
But if we can control the print
quality and cover art, and write the
best we have too offer, our product
will achieve its own success. We can
sell it in small quantities (what is
it they say – “one book at a
time”?), and take pride in our
The point is to
ignore the grand showcase of selling
a blockbuster novel (not that we
would ever refuse). But rather to
have a mature view and to prepare
small print run books as a
contribution to our own unique art
form, and to know we have achieved
our true goals.
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Publishing New Writers,
February, 2006 (no. 702)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
Fax (847) 428-8974.
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