Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Temporal and Spacial Location

"Once upon a time when the world was young there was a Martian named intelligent creature with the genes and ancestry of a man, but he is not a man. He's more a Martian than a man. Until we came along he had never laid eyes on a human being..."

"This is a story of long ago..."

"Many ages ago, when this ancient planet was not quite so ancient, long before man recorded his history, it was the time of Middle Earth; when man shared his days with elves, dwarves, wizards, goblins, dragons...and hobbits."
The Hobbit (1977 animated version)

"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."

"It was the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari war. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. It's goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs and wanderers...It can be a dangerous place, but it's our last, best hope for peace...The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5."
Babylon 5 (introduction, season 1)

While it needs not be as dramatically or as plainly stated as in the preceding examples, every story will have a temporal and a spacial location. Not only is this important to the setting itself, but it will help you to more clearly define your characters and their place in the story. It's not technically a character trait, but it is important when it comes to developing and defining the character. As much as (if not more than) the genre, the where and when of your story will, in all likelihood have a powerful influence on the development of the character. In a cyclical sort of process, the story's temporal and spacial elements will also influence the development of your characters, who will in turn influence the development of your story, which may further influence your characters, and so on into infinity.

The temporal locus defines when the story is set. The spacial locus defines where the story is set. Feel free to mix and match different genres as seemingly disparate or incongruous elements—even the seemingly impossible—may be found in the same story, and may prove entertaining to both your audience and yourself...but try not to overdo it. Most stories will have aspects of at least two or three genres (sometimes more), but it's best to avoid throwing too many diametrically opposed themes into the mix least until you're gained a certain amount of experience and you feel reasonably secure in your skills as a storyteller. Although it can be tempting to throw all of your ideas together on your first outing, few things will kill a story faster than an "Everything-and-the-Kitchen-Sink" approach.

Next time: Mary Sues and Self Inserts

Friday, September 20, 2013

Human and Non-human Characters

"Strangely enough, the first character in Fried Green Tomatoes was the cafe, and the town. I think a place can be as much a character in a novel as the people." -- Fannie Flagg

In addition to the two-dimensional and three-dimensional (see previous 'blog), your characters can be further subdivided into human and non-human characters. Although these names are deceptively simple, both types have at least two things in common:

1. Human and non-human characters will both be three-dimensional
2. Human and non-human characters will both be unique and important to the story in some way

It is likely (unless you are working on a seriously experimental story) that most of your characters will fit the "human" category. The human character is an individual. Qualities which define him or her include a capacity for independent thought, human or human-like behavior and thought patterns, a capacity for self-expression, the ability to feel, and clear, easily understood motivations. (The human character need not exhibit all or even most of these qualities; still, the audience will likely be able to see at least one or two...even if the character himself cannot).

Despite the description, however, the human character need not be an actual human being, or even look like one. Some, perhaps most of your characters will fit the classical definition humanity, but others may not. Some of the most interesting characters in literature and media, protagonist and antagonist alike, fit the non-human-but-still-human description. Frankenstein's monster is probably the earliest, or at least the most instantly recognizable example in modern literature (dating from 1818), but consider the following:

Jaws, title creature of the novel and movies of the same name; any number of the inhabitants of the Oz chronicles, from the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman to the Cowardly Lion, Tik-Tok and others; Kong, title ape of the 1933 classic, two remakes and probably a half-dozen spinoffs and sequels; Star Trek's Doctor, Commander Data and dozens of others; Sauron and Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien's classic Rings cycle; 2001: A Space Odyssey's psychotic supercomputer HAL 9000; and, perhaps, no fewer than half the inhabitants of the Star Wars universe. The list goes on.