CV Series: Structure through Character

The previous blog posts make it look as if I’d figured out every detail of my world before I even touched on character. That’s wrong. Character was one of those domino offshoots that happened right at the beginning. It weaved in and out of Worldbuilding and Magic, but it was the spine from which I created Story.

To take a hard deviation from the analysis of fantasy writers, the novel that most influenced and inspired my structure for Castle Valley was Anna Karenina. Despite its intimidating page count, there is nary a scene in Anna Karenina that does not drive the plot forward. Tolstoy has no strict guide by which he alternates perspectives every other chapter, or that each character gets an equal percentage of page time. Despite this meandering journey through different character’s heads, the reader never doubts they’re being carried forward by a deft hand. But the structure that builds the story is almost invisible. So how does Tolstoy manage this effortless pace?

Through character. This novel is about characters. Therefore it only makes sense that the plot is driven by characters. Everything they do, every decision they make, every conflict they encounter is born out of their fundamental selves. This forward motion is only enhanced by the fact that part of “self” is always changing. The characters are rooted in certain fundamental notions: Anna loves Vronsky, Karenin doesn’t want a divorce, Levin wants a family. That isn’t to say the characters never try to combat or reject their fundamental selves. But they are often trying to find their true, best state of being in spite of outward and inward pressures. This kind of character arc has a place in any genre.

So how do I tell a story about three estranged sisters working towards a common goal at cross purposes? I do what they tell me.

In a period of mild crisis about whether my idea was “enough,” I spent a lot of time trying to impose different structures: The Hero’s Journey, Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, Freytag’s Pyramid, etc. These structures absolutely have their place in certain stories. They even have a place in mine. But, as cheesy as it sounds, I can’t discover what the characters are going to do before I’ve written them. I understand their arc. I think I understand them. But for me, plotting out every scene in exacting detail before I’ve even opened up the Word document, has only ever killed spontaneity. If you’re not surprised by your story, no one else will be either.

Story structure is ingrained in our psyche whether we realize it or not. Often, after I’ve done a bit of free writing, I’ll find that whatever I’ve just done naturally inhabits those essential structures. Instinct has always been a better friend to my writing than over-analysing. I know some major plot points. I know as much about my characters as I possibly can before I start actually writing. So I’m going to take the leap…and find out what happens.

This post will be a work in progress, as I figure out whether or not I was full of it.

BONUS PICS: Character Moodboards







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