I’ve finally found my notes from “How to Write Your Novel”, hosted by WEA in South Australia. Martina Taeker was the excellent presenter. Here are some snippets from my notes – bear in mind that, being notes, they aren’t very well written or laid out. But you get the idea.
Specifically on villians
For a successful book, write strong villians. Write as strong a villian as you can. Then the protagonist has to rise above it.
On characters in general
Minor characters are the “extras”, the people on the street, the waitresses, bell-hops… providing the colour of the back story. Their dress tells us where we are. They may or may not speak. A minor character could be the cow in the paddock.
Secondary characters are the supporting actors/actresses. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between secondary and major characters. Secondary characters support the driver of the story. Side-kicks vs. the actual hero. They are the pit-crew. They are navigating. Physical, emotional, or moral support.
Major characters drive the story. So they are active. A lot of new writers have passive major characters. Major characters have to take control, or keep attempting to take control. ‘Active‘ refers to the mental attitude of the character, not just physical actions.
Secondary characters can on occasion take over the driving of the novel, if the major character needs a rest, or has an injury, etc. But never for long. Major character must be present 90% of the time in a book. NEVER kill a major character 1/2 way through a book!
Goal-less characters are a common mistake made by new writers. Should never have a character without a goal. No-one can root or cheer for a goal-less character.
There are two types of goals per character.
Firstly, story goal – one per character, that is big enough for character to go deep and strong. The story goal for the character has to be BIG – and the longer the novel, the bigger this has to be.
Secondly, scene goal – these are steps or stages that get to the BIG story goal. 1 per scene is good. Goals are for all major characters, and some secondary characters too. Helps if secondary characters have their own goal, and are not just along for the ride.
What causes a character to go for their goals. New writers often forget to give characters appropriate motivation. Go for the core. Less is more. 1 to 2 motivations per character. Jealousy and greed are NOT motivators. They are symptoms of deeper issues. So if you come across these motivations in your characters, you have to take it back to the core motivation. You don’t have to describe the core motivation(s) to the reader, but you have to know what it is / they are. Core motivations can also lead good characters to do bad things, and bad characters to do good things.
That Aristotle Thing
And finally, I have found the Aristotle thing I mentioned in my previous post – and it’s Aristotle’s Incline. With apologies for the (somewhat) incorrect reference to Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy! I believe they are both culled from Aristotle’s Poetics.