Characters are subjects or protagonists in a story. You may not always need a character while writing, but you will definitely need a subject.
In The Book of Joy, the chapters are dialogues that went on between HH The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They aren’t the characters, but the subject is joy. In books and literature that leave a mark on you, you resonate with the characters. You start seeing yourself in them or somebody who you know.
But the turning points are when the protagonist shows proof of bravery, courage, overcoming tragedy, fighting fate- all of those are subjects that you work with in the book.
Typically there are three basic plot types that encompass a lot of what we read:
- Icarus – a rise followed by a fall in fortune
- Oedipus- a fall, a rise and then a fall again
- Cinderella- rise, fall, rise
This is the emotional narrative of almost all literature that you read. Of course there will be a few that will not fit this.
I will talk about the first type of story in this blog- Icarus.
Icarus was the son of a master craftsman Daedalus. They were imprisoned in Crete, one of the Greek islands in the very creation of Daedalus- the labyrinth. For us folks today, it was the first version of the maze. To free themselves from the maze, Daedalus built wings for both of them, made of feather and wax. He warned Icarus, to not fly too high, as the sun would melt the wax, or to fly too low as the sea might wet the feathers.
Icarus did heed his father in the beginning. But as he gained confidence with the wings, he began flying too close to the sun. The wax melted and Icarus fell to his death.
Stories that start out like a rise (an eventual rise) and then fall, plummet to their death are the Icarus style stories.
That was Icarus like a character.
Now let me explain that style with an abstract but using characters.
There’s a beautiful family of 5 living in the suburbs. Mom and dad are raising their 3 kids. They have been brought up in that town. Everybody knows everybody in that town. It’s a great place, it’s a good marriage and the kids love their large sprawling home. With time, Dad gets more and more successful with his business. He hires additional staff so that he gets to spend more time at home.
Then suddenly he starts coming home later than usual. He misses family dinners. He forgets to take Joy to her dance rehearsals. And then one day he comes home and tells Mom that he’s in love with his secretary. She’s pregnant and that he’s moving out to do the right thing by her.
They divorce later that year.
The abstract here being marriage or trust or love or family. At times you need characters to drive home concepts.
The last example has no characters, only the abstract.
When you are just falling, it feels right.
It feels like sunshine on your face, on a cold winter’s day.
It feels like warm feet in front of the fireplace.
In tough summers, just that feeling raises your spirits.
In slushy rains, they are all about stolen kisses under the umbrella.
When you fall in love, everything seems just right.
And then you start revealing bits of yourself to each other.
There’s friction then at times,
At times it is wonder and joy,
And yet many more than we’d like,
There are “words”.
Then there are choices.
Sometimes you choose to stay and work on it.
Sometimes you choose just yourself.
At other times, you let the other person choose for both.
It’s tough with all the choices.
You just have to make your choice,
And then find your peace with it.
This was about love. Falling in love was Icarus flying higher and higher, revealing truths about those in love was about skimming the sea or melting the wax.
Most stories that you conceptualise, will have a rise and fall perspective to it. Characters and/ or subjects will be your creative choice. Often if you know the sentiment or emotional (rise/ fall, rise/fall/rise, fall/ rise) pattern of your story, it is easier for you as the writer to make your choice of either.