bench wars

BENCH WARS: Week Three - Character Archetypes by Kate Meadows

Welcome back! I took a few weeks off for non-book reasons, but we’re back at it again for Week Three!

Just a quick reminder,   BENCH WARS   is my attempt to retain what I learned during Pitch Wars, because as one of those smart kids who read too fast, I have trouble holding onto details. Bench Wars is a remedial class for myself, so I don’t forget everything my amazing mentor   SHEENA BOEKWEG   taught me. This is not in any way affiliated with Pitch Wars.

Just a quick reminder, BENCH WARS is my attempt to retain what I learned during Pitch Wars, because as one of those smart kids who read too fast, I have trouble holding onto details. Bench Wars is a remedial class for myself, so I don’t forget everything my amazing mentor SHEENA BOEKWEG taught me. This is not in any way affiliated with Pitch Wars.


Last time, I said the next step is doing my beat sheets, but sorry to say, I missed a step! So, indulge me as we put a pause on beat sheets and instead turn our attention to character archetypes!

Week Three: Character Archetypes

I believe most of us have run into character archetypes in the past. I know my paladins, I know my clerics, tell me again about healers? Wait, that’s not the same thing.

Character archetypes basically the bucket you put your cast of characters into based on the decisions they make and the actions they take. Since I knew that my characters were fun, but a little blurry, and could really use some help amping up the conflict, I turned to character archetypes to inspire friction and deepen their character development.

My mentor SHEENA BOEKWEG originally walked me through character archetypes before we got deep into my Pitch Wars revisions, and while I didn’t fully understand it at the time, it did help with the characterizations I was working with. Now that I’m no longer under the gun of PW’s nutty timelines, I went back and read a little bit more into it!

Starting, of course, with one of my faves, KM Weiland. She broke down the 8 1/2 Character Archetypes that she uses for her writing, with a ton of great examples. But, I wasn’t quite getting it, so I took a deeper dive. Weiland recommended Dramatica’s eight characters, and I really liked the simplicity of how she presented it, so I started my search there. Literally. I googled ‘Dramatica Character Archetypes’ and the first result was a treasure trove of information!

Awww yis gimme dem textbook learning

Awww yis gimme dem textbook learning

Oof. Dramatica has posted a literal textbook chapter on Character Archetypes, ready for the reading for anyone who has time to spare on 18,000 words. I was fully planning on skimming (my one true vice), but as I read, I kept getting pulled into the concepts. I highly recommend reading the chapter, but my main takeaways were this:

Characters can be broken down into 8 categories that determine their action and decision characteristics. Meaning, this is the core purpose that dictates their action/reaction to the plot, for every choice they make or action they do.

  • Protagonist: Desire to solve the problem of the plot

  • Antagonist: Desire to increase the problem of the plot

  • Guardian: Aid the efforts to achieve the goal, through consideration

  • Contagonist: Hinder the efforts to achieve the goal, through temptation

  • Sidekick: Support the efforts through faith and belief

  • Skeptic: Oppose the efforts through doubt and disbelief

  • Emotion: Respond to the efforts with frenzy and emotion

  • Reason: Respond to the efforts with calm, controlled logic

Granted, these are my boiled down notes that I took from a very long text, there’s a lot that this list does not encompass. We haven’t even delved into the action/decision, driver/passenger dichotomies that Dramatica gets into. But for me, this is a great overview that is helping me decide which of my characters fit into which bucket, and how they’ll drive their responses to the plot, either through action they take or decisions they make. But really, what’s fascinating (haha, jokes on you, it’s all fascinating to me) is the dichotomy that begins to emerge once you drop everything into their motivation quads (haha, jokes on you, I said we weren’t going deep, but now we’re lost in the motivation quads and you have to keep reading to get out of them).

MOTIVATION QUADS

Basically, once you’ve dropped your characters into their buckets, you have to put the buckets on the board. The Motivation Quad board. I am making that part up, but like, who is even reading at this point besides me? Anyway. What’s really interesting is that you start to see how the characters oppose each other once placed into this quad. The Protagonist obviously sits across from the Antagonist, but now we see the Contagonist sitting across from the Guardian. That puts their motivations and actions into direct opposition – a yin and yang, see saw, whatever you want to call it. The contagonist and the guardian work in tandem, tugging the protagonist either with temptation (contagonist) or with wisdom and understanding (guardian). When one succeeds, the other fails, and vice versa.

The same is true for the secondary characters, like the Sidekick and the Skeptic, the Emotion and the Reason. They work against each other directly like the primary quad of characters, but in the context of the protagonist’s efforts. The skeptic doubts while the sidekick believes. The emotion is feeling and uncontrolled, the reason finds logic and control.

Okay, so what?

What does this actually mean other than a fun thing to pin on your character profile, like her Myers-Briggs and zodiac? (I’m a INFJ Gemini skeptic, personally). It means, as I start working on my dreaded beat sheets, and I’m looking for opportunities to develop my characters, even my secondary ones, and find conflict, I can turn to this board of oppositions (kind of like Wheel of Fortune but some how still missing letters) and find moments to differentiate characters and drum up some friction.

So, for the book I’m working on, Space Races, my two secondary characters are too similar: Bex the best friend and Ogden the love interest. They’re fantastically supportive, loving, and helpful. BORING. So using the character archetypes, I can start to separate them. I can find breathing room between them, or better yet, conflict. Now, I have the Love Interest living in the Skeptic role, which introduces conflict with both my main character who wants support from him, and from the Sidekick character who doesn’t want to see the downside of the plan. Conflict!

I’m not completely reconstructing the character based on the archetype. I assigned Skeptic to Ogden because it was already there in his doubt and reluctance. I’m just going to use what’s already established and make it more. His doubt is now going to be the place his decisions come from, and his actions — whether he overcomes his doubt or succumbs to it. That’s now his conflict, internal and external. 

Also, as I was thinking about the characters in this context, I realized that Bex actually isn’t the sidekick. GASP SHOCK WHAT. The best friend has always been the more steadfast supporter, the voice of confidence and advice, and therefore always had a much larger role than the love interest. So once I realized that Bex wasn’t the sidekick but actually the Guardian, it made sense, despite the fact that guardians are usually Obi-Wan wizard types. Bex is older, wiser, has advice to give that supports the main character, and more importantly, guides her towards the right answer for her quest. Bex is part of the main conflict, Ogden isn’t. (Oops. Spoiler.)

Now that I’ve organized and archetyped my characters, I feel like I have a deeper understanding of their motivation and purpose, which will make it easier to work on my beat sheet. Oh boy. I am nervous about this one. But, with my archetypes in their quads, I know what their choices will be, and what kind of conflict I can push them towards beyond the main plot. And you know what every story needs more of?

UNICORNS!!

Wait, no. Conflict! All of this is in preparation of my beat sheets, which is next week’s problem. Haha, I said that last time. But for real. Move over, Shark Week. Beat Sheet Week is coming for ya.

In the meantime, I’m going to go antagonize some Chips Ahoy!s.

xx, Kate

BENCH WARS: Week Two - Reverse Outlining by Kate Meadows

Hey, you came back! Welcome back, I have homework for you.

Just a quick reminder,   BENCH WARS   is my attempt to retain what I learned during Pitch Wars, because as one of those smart kids who read too fast, I have trouble holding onto details. Bench Wars is a remedial class for myself, so I don’t forget everything my amazing mentor   SHEENA BOEKWEG   taught me. This is not in any way affiliated with Pitch Wars.

Just a quick reminder, BENCH WARS is my attempt to retain what I learned during Pitch Wars, because as one of those smart kids who read too fast, I have trouble holding onto details. Bench Wars is a remedial class for myself, so I don’t forget everything my amazing mentor SHEENA BOEKWEG taught me. This is not in any way affiliated with Pitch Wars.


Haha, by homework for you, I mean homework for me. So, last week, I got started on really diving into the worldbuilding I needed to develop for SPACE RACES. Personally, I struggled on getting started, because it’s hard to know what pieces you’re going to need until you need them. I’m a sparse writer by nature, and I have to really push myself to include deeper details, especially on a second draft. Fingers crossed that I addressed a lot of the questions I had for myself and my CP had for me! We’re about to find out, as I get into my next step: the reverse outline.

Week Two: Reverse Outlining

Oy.

Okay, let’s get into it. Reverse outlining is a way of taking inventory for the words you actually wrote. I am a plotter, to a very normal degree:

For my first draft, that means creating an outline using a mix of K.M. Weiland’s novel outline format – hold up, wait, sorry, no. This started with a three page synopsis working through the general story idea, from beginning to end. Taking that synopsis, I then created an outline. From there, I created story cards using Lisa Cron’s STORY GENIUS. For me, that means a story card for every scene, showing a few key things: what happens and what the consequence is and why it matters emotionally. I highly recommend STORY GENIUS as a resource, as I started reading it for fun and ended up with a full outline for a novel by the time I finished it.

However, as you write, you realize all the things you planned actually don’t work here, or they work in a new wonderful unexpected way, or they kind of work but it works better like this instead. Which means that the carefully plotted novel you worked so hard to plan, to organize, to build cards for, actually isn’t the thing sitting open in front of you, right?

This is where reverse outlining comes in. It requires re-reading your draft and really taking a holistic look at it. We’re not looking for errant commas or really bad turns of phrase. We’re looking for structure. What does this scene do? How does it add to tension as it currently exists? I’m looking for the what and the why. There’s a lot of ways to do it, but the most common one you see across the vast internet of writing blogs, is notecards. Your handy-dandy 3x5s.

Me? I like to make it difficult.

draft_notes.jpg

Keeping everything on as few pieces of paper as possible allows me to see everything all at once. That’s 20+ chapters lined on just over 3 pages, including minor doodles. (I probably should have saved this for writing my one-page synopsis, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). That’s what I’ll do for SPACE RACES this week. I’ll start with these simple one-sentence descriptions of the action point for each scene, and from there, create a new set of story cards.

If you haven’t read STORY GENIUS yet, when I say “story card” it’s similar to what some other people do for their scenes. Here's a screenshot of a blank one. It has a spot for the main ACTION POINT, or the general Plot Thing that needs to happen in this scene. From there, I'll fill in the CAUSE column, which includes two sections, The Plot and Third Rail. I'll leave it to Lisa Cron to explain it, but essentially I list the thing that happens and the emotional reason behind it. For the EFFECT column, I'm listing the next action, the consequence, and also the emotional consequence.

storycard.png

STORY CARD

Go read STORY GENIUS to figure out what to really do with these.

For me, it really helps taking advice from the writers of South Park, filtered through Katherine Locke, for when I’m filling out the EFFECT column: making sure I’m using ‘therefore’ and ‘but’ instead of ‘and then’. And then leads to the kind of stories that kids write, where it’s just a series of crazy things happening: and then pennies fell out of my butt! (A good plot point, I’m going to steal that, thanks Little Jimmy!). Using “however” and “therefore” or whichever version you like is a great way to think about the consequences of a plot point.

I highly recommend reading STORY GENIUS (as in, I linked to it multiple times and I’m not even getting money off it), because she’ll work you through the how of building a story card.

Once I’ve updated/created my new story cards, I like to look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair. No, just kidding. Kind of. I like to print all the story cards out and get to grips with all the plots that are happening. I highlight where subplots make an appearance, make notes to fill in some of the emotional beats, or details I want to make sure get added to the next draft.

THE COLORS, DUKE. THE COLORS.

THE COLORS, DUKE. THE COLORS.

Now, I have a map. A colorful and convoluted, but accurate, map of my book, as it exists right now. I know what subplots have started to emerge, what tension is being developed where, and I can look at the whole thing at once without tearing my hair out. I’ve also updated my worldbuilding doc as I read with any questions I haven’t answered, any proper nouns I want to keep track of, any details I want to make sure I refine. Here’s everything important all laid out nicely.

Time to smash it to pieces.

But, that’s next week’s problem! For now, I’m just going to focus on doing inventory! And possibly investing in new highlighters.

xx, Kate

FYI: A lot of writers use Scrivener to make their story/scene cards. When I got started writing last year, I wasn’t ready to invest money into something, and also Scrivener seemed difficult to learn for what I wanted it to do. It may be something I get into later, but for now, what I created was a Google Slides doc with a Master Page template. Every time I need a new card, I add a new slide and it automatically numbers it for me. I can rearranged them by dragging the slides, and the numbers update. This is basically all I needed it for, so I haven’t made the migration to Scrivener.

BENCH WARS: Week One - Worldbuilding by Kate Meadows

Hello hello! Welcome to Week One of Bench Wars!

Just a quick reminder, BENCH WARS is my attempt to retain what I learned by doing Pitch Wars, because as one of those smart kids who read too fast, I have trouble holding onto details. I skim to get what I need, and frankly, I miss things. So Bench Wars is the remedial class for myself, a refresher so I don’t forget everything my amazing mentor taught me. So, let’s get into it!

Week One: WORLDBUILDING

When I started working on SPACE RACES, I did the bare minimum of homework (hello, high school). I realized last minute that I wanted to draft something new for Camp Nano, and essentially had two days to outline a new project based on a very simple idea. With the stubborn determination that is my brand, I pushed forward and wrote 50,000 words in 30 days with very little planning. Before I started, I had two or three barely filled in pages of history, biography, culture/worldbuilding. I had a plot, a general idea, and an aesthetic. This is as close to pantsing as I get. 

Which means my draft zero is full of holes and questions and broad strokes at worldbuilding. Yikes.gif

So, this first week, I'm going to focus on really filling in the worldbuilding. SPACE RACES takes place across multiple planets and multiple race tracks, with people from across the galaxy coming together. I don't need to get Star Wars EU levels of depth for this next draft – some of that can definitely come later – but I do need to know a bit more about the systems in place, the company that ruined my MC's life, the world she lives in and the universe that she touches. Naturally, I turned to my favorite and probably your favorite place for ideas about this world – or rather, worlds – my MC lives in: Pinterest.

Oh yes, I lost hours of time creating these little mood boards. You’re welcome.

While poking around on Pinterest can spark a ton of great ideas, it’s not the most conducive to actually nailing down the specifics. Since I know rough ideas, I have names and some vague locations, what I really need is to start building out systems. How do people live and breathe and work in these environments? How do they get food and water, how do they get mail?

No, seriously, I’m asking. I have no idea.

My first instinct is to go through the questions my mentor sent me to worldbuild for MONSTER RIOT!, but those are so specific to what we were doing for that story, they don’t apply here. My second instinct? My rogues gallery. I have a few authors I turn to when I need a little guidance, the first being Delilah S. Dawson. While she has taught classes on LitReactor about worldbuilding in the past, she also did one of her fantastic #TenThings daily tweet threads about it. But what I think I need is something more in-depth than ten tweets.

Turning to Delilah’s weird half-brother of the literary world, Chuck Wendig, I found a blog post he did about worldbuilding a few years ago: 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding. Yes! Great! Wait. This is all really great information about why you want to worldbuild, which is important! But right now that’s not what I’m looking for. I need some advice on how to worldbuild, especially for a second draft.

Okay, one last favorite: K.M. Weiland. Her blog is a fantastic resource for character-driven plot and making sure you’re hitting all your very important beats. Doing a little googling, I found two great articles about worldbuilding that poses the specific questions I need to ask myself.

While the story I’m telling isn’t fantasy, I think the same amount of care and context needs to be given to a pseudo-space opera and the worlds inhabited within it. And to Chuck’s point, how the worldbuilding serves the story. I’ll be thinking about all the whys and hows and whats as I start to fill in the gaps I left while doing my mad-dash through draft zero.

Lastly, I want one more element to my work this week: a form to fill out. Personally, I love checklists. Having something I can make specific progress on is like cake to me. With that in mind, I’ll be dropping into a blank gdoc this awesome list of Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede to fill in as I think about everything Delilah, Chuck and K.M. told me to wrap my noodle around.

Google is going to be my best friend as I work through all these questions this week, between how cities function and race tracks and aerial tramways (I just googled to figure out what those are called), and I highly recommend doing a search for “worldbuilding + [topic]” to see how others have answered these questions before you.

Let me know if you’ve found any really helpful tips, tricks or articles about worldbuilding, as I am always looking to add more resources to my brain box! I’m hoping by the end of the week, I’ll have a much better idea of all the nitty gritty fun details, and haven’t spent too much time on Pinterest…

xx, Kate

ALSO! Special shout-out to my one and only CP for SPACE RACES, Maria Dong. A fellow 2018 Pitch Wars mentee, she was kind enough to give me feedback and kindly tell me, hey girl, you gotta fix this, this and this, in a truly helpful way. Do yourself a favor and follow her on twitter!

BENCH WARS: Introduction by Kate Meadows

Hello again!

I know, so soon. But I wanted to fully kick off March with the beginning of my process for what I'm calling: BENCH WARS!! 

BW_Main.png

Okay. I know. It's not the best title, but it’s a slant rhyme and I love them. Recently, I participated in the 2018 Pitch Wars mentorship program, and worked with a fantastic mentor to turn my first manuscript, MONSTER RIOT! from a slow, quiet, character piece into a fully-formed stakes-driven story, existing in a robust world of ghosts, monsters and high schoolers. Pitch Wars was a great experience, and I honestly learned so much in such a quick span of time. I love a good crash course / immersion learning process, and I had a fantastic community of co-warriors and my mentor guiding me through it. 

MONSTER RIOT! is querying now (fingers crossed, my little weirdo book!), and to distract myself, I'm going to revise a book I drafted during Camp Nano in July. The book has so much potential but also so many problems, the least of which is that it doesn't even have an ending, but I know that I'm a better revisionist (reviser? revision-izer. I'll edit this later, I'm sure) than I was six months ago. 

SO! In an effort to retain the information I bumbled my way through while simply trying to keep up the pace needed to finish Pitch Wars, I'm going to re-create the process for my Camp Nano draft zero.. I’m calling this process BENCH WARS because I’ll be doing my best to remember what coach told me, sidelining myself to learn and stretch my skills.

Each week, I’ll be picking apart my game plan for that week’s work, whether it’s plot restructuring, character development or worldbuilding. This is partially to hold myself accountable, and partially to keep track of the pieces I want to work on. I’ll start each week with my personal to-do list, some resources I’ll be using, and at the end of the week, do a recap of the progress I made and what I learned.

I hope that you find some of this useful as you are revising your own project. As always, every writer’s process is different and what works for me may not work for you. Take this as more of a journal of what I’m doing and less as strict rules about writing.

So for now, I’m going to park it on the bench and start planning my next move!

xx, Kate

BENCH WARS, so far:

WEEK ONE: Worldbuilding
WEEK TWO: Reverse Outlining