Supporting Archetypes

Prompt-7 (1)

Every story has ONE protagonist. Sure, there are stories out there told from the perspective of multiple characters, but every reader connects to a single character more than the others. They root for their success above anyone else’s.

That’s where the idea of a supporting character comes from.

Supporting characters are those that help us to see the protagonist better and function to bring out their qualities.

In her book, DIY MFA, Gabriela Pereiera explains a few archetypes of the supporting character. Those archetypes are the villian, the love interest, the BFF, the sidekick, the mentor, and the fool. It must be noted that not every character fits nicely into those categories, but can be under the umbrella of one.

My favorite supporting character archetype to write is the mentor.

I think the reason I gravitate toward the mentor is because this is a character whose wisdom and experiences help the protagonist to see reason. This character is helpful and is generally the type of person I would like to spend time with in real life. My current Work-in-Progress features a mentor character. He lends support and helps to showcase a softer side of a troubled protagonist.

The only thing I’ve had to be cautious of in the use of mentors is making sure that they don’t solve all the problems for the protagonist. Their purpose is to shed light on solutions, but ultimately the protagonist must learn from their selves how to overcome the conflicts of their tale.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

 

Lesson From an Aspiring Author: Chapter One

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I am two years into my amateur writing career. It’s been that amount of time since I began to publish this blog. Since then I have written a completed manuscript, started on several new stories, had two short stories and a poem published in small publications, joined an online critique group, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and received critical feedback from two published authors on Works-in-Progress.

My aspiration is to become a published author. Ideally I want to be published via the traditional route, but I am not completely opposed to self publishing (after I’ve given the traditional publishing industry a try.)

Two years into this writing gig I can look back and see how much I’ve grown. When I sat down to craft my first post I had no idea the road that would lie ahead and the people that would become a part of my story. I’ve learned so much about writing and I’ve gained wisdom beyond measure from successful authors.

That’s why I’ve decided to start this new writing series.

In the past, I’ve gone through a book with you on Saturday mornings. I’ve delved into chapters of books written by professionals and established my own writing voice as a result.

In this new series, Lessons from an Aspiring Author,  I want to start to share parts of my journey with you as I reflect on where I’ve been on this great charge to write books.

Today I’m starting with some HUGE advice when it comes to starting a new book.

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Chapter One

I was surrounded by strangers. I stuck out like a sore thumb as everyone else in the room seemed to be well acquainted. There were people with published books surrounding me. I couldn’t recall ever feeling more out of place than in this moment.

Then it was my turn.

All the eyes shifted my way as I was asked to join a group of others in a small circle. I joined them and handed them copies of my first chapter. One by one they started to read. The silence was deafening as I tried to interpret their facial expressions for any signs of approval.

Once they had all read the chapter, the published author within the group started off the critique, “This is a good first chapter, BUT…”

I took out a pen and soaked up her wisdom like a sponge.

Of all the things I’ve learned about the first chapter of a book one of the most important is that the first chapter should leave your reader with questions. Don’t try to give them all the answers they will need from chapter one. Make them curious. Make them intrigued. Give them enough of a glimpse into the life of your character without telling them the whole story outright.

Example excerpt from my critiqued piece: “They say that the day I was born was a tragedy. Not because I took my first breath, but because so many took their last. Fourteen years ago a group of angry men stormed into Times Square armed with their faulty religion and began to open fire on the tourists. Amongst the innocents was my Uncle Mark.”

Now, although when I sat down to start a new story it was necessary for me to know this information about my setting, it is not important for the reader to be given this knowledge on the first page. Think about The Hunger Games. Chapter One of this book opens with Katniss waking up on the morning when the tributes would be selected. Suzanne Collins doesn’t spoil the story in the first chapter telling you the history behind the thirteen districts. She tells you enough so that as a reader you can understand that Katniss’ world is different from ours, but she waits to reveal the details until you have already forged a connection to Katniss as a reader.

The focus of the first chapter is to introduce your character in a way that intrigues your reader. Introduce clues to the larger problem they will face, but refrain from giving the big conflicts away too soon. Let your reader get to know your character and focus on that as you venture through the first portion of the book.

The Ameri Brit Mom

An Exercise in Characterization

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As many of you know I am in the final phase of draft 1 of my first novel. I’m in the process of tying up loose ends in the plot and bringing forth a resolution. This is definitely the hardest part thus far of writing as I’m trying to make sure that all conflicts are brought to a nice close. One that doesn’t feel too forced, but rather is naturally based on the characters and their personalities.

So as I prepare to bring about natural endings to the multiple conflicts of my book I was inspired by a student to take part in an exercise in characterization.

Every year right before Christmas Break I have my English students present to the class about a book they read on their own over the last quarter. One of my more motivated and well-read students created a presentation on Prezi. He had recently read The Catcher in the Rye, and decided to describe Holden Caulfield in 100 words in addition to the assignment.

He stood in front of his peers and recited his list of adjectives and pronouns followed by a standing round of applause from the class.

After his presentation, several of my students inquired about how to get a copy of the book to read over Christmas break. In his presentation about the main character, this student piqued the interest of his peers. They were intrigued by his descriptions of Caulfield and the students’ obvious enjoyment of the book.

So this morning as I sit and think about the novel I am working on I decided to take some time to find descriptive words and phrases for my main character. My novel is actually told from two perspectives so I decided to split up the number a bit. Below is my main characters each in 30 words.

Character: Kurt Robinson

homeless, driven, disciplined, self-conscious, embarrassed, articulate, former carpenter, honest, trustworthy, intelligent, recovering addict, ex-boyfriend, father, friend, resourceful, pickpocket, nervous, frugal, dirty, brunette, bearded, park bench-dweller, friendly, rough, lonely, veteran, round, faithful, happy, reader

Character: Michael Walker

writer, son, self-conscious, editor, minimalist, caring, distant, runner, graduate, obsessive, charming, boyish, traveler, coffee-drinker, friend, city-dweller, Volvo driver, clean, well-groomed, spectacle wearer, trusting, secretive, mourner, brother, grey-eyed, blond, fatherless, in-shape, hard working, beloved

As a writer this exercise has been helpful in rounding out the story. I think back to different scenes in the story where different adjectives are presented to describe these characters. These words contribute to how I bring a natural close to those plot lines. I hope that this exercise intrigues you. And if your wondering about some of the words that seem contradictory I guess you will have to wait and see how the same character can be both honest and a pickpocket, or both a friend and secretive.

 

photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/The-Catcher-Rye-J-D-Salinger/dp/0316769487

 

Fiction Teaser: From Mid-Manuscript

The following piece comes from a manuscript I am currently working on. It is a portion of a chapter from the middle of the story so there are some details and background that are missing. I’m not quite into the editing phase yet so be patient of any grammatical or spelling errors. I’ve chosen to reveal a little piece of this puzzle which I pray will one day be a novel. Thoughts and encouragement are welcomed in the comment box below!

Michael slammed his Macbook shut with frustration on his large mahogany desk. Writer’s block was real and he had experienced this blockade of ideas and articulation for well over two weeks. He rolled his chair backward and settled on the idea of exiting his office space to clear his head. He grabbed his black and aluminum coffee tumbler and began to walk briskly toward the third floor break room.

“Still can’t shake it?” Michael’s intern, Rebekah, asked passing him in the row of cubicles outside of his four-walled office. Her spiky black heels caused her to be slightly taller than Michael. “Let me grab the coffee this time. You should do a lap outside. I’ve heard fresh air can do wonders for creativity.” She didn’t give him a second to protest and slid the tumbler out of his sweaty hands. At that Rebekah headed down the corridor to the break room and Michael diverted his course to include the stairs to the ground level.

He stopped once the metal door to the office stairwell closed. A deep breath escaped from his lungs. For weeks Michael had been noticing the young intern from Harry S Truman College. Rebekah was no longer the stupid college girl that she had been when his boss hired her, but had become at first a friend and then a crush. Michael tried to ignore Rebekah and keep his feelings a secret, and it wasn’t until this facade of unfazed persona began that he became acquainted with the dreaded writing difficulties. Every word brought to mind the face or body of this beautiful young co-ed. He had once been quite the wordsmith who prided himself on his rise through the ranks at The Chicago Tribune, but he had found that Rebekah was his kryptonite. The trouble was that Michael couldn’t bring himself to say anything to her. She had no idea that her constant checking in on him was actually making the writer’s block worse.

He wasn’t exactly the most happening bachelor in the city. Over the past five years he had done little outside of his profession. Occasionally he would journey back home to escape the city, but apart from those visits Michael’s nose was to the grindstone and his focus was superb.

Rebekah had become the complication that he had not planned for. Everyday he would look at the deadlines that had come and gone and have nothing to show for it. His work was mediocre at best and Michael had never been one for anything less than award-winning. He began each work day opening up his laptop and typing her name. Then her name followed by words he wished he had the courage to say to her in real life. He would delete and write. Delete and write. That was the typical work day for the past few weeks.

Michael bent down in the empty concrete stairwell and laced up his new Nike trainers. He bounded down three flights of stairs right to the opening on the busy city streets. It was another beautiful mid-May day. The sun was beaming and the breeze was a perfect seventy-five degrees. Michael sucked the perfect temperature through his nostrils and for a second he relived his days as a track and field runner for NYU. Back then he had lived for this weather. It was perfect for getting the right amount of oxygen moving through his lungs without the piercing tinge of cold or drowning heat. He closed his eyes and then his feet took over. Despite the fact that he was wearing tight fitting khaki Chinos he began to jog across the sidewalk.

Three loops of the block later Michael’s feet came to a halt outside of the Tribune glass doors. He doubled over to catch his breath. It had felt so great to clear his mind and pretend that he was the carefree college runner that he had once been. The doorman opened the doors for a now winded and sweaty Michael and proceeded to the elevator for the third floor.

Ten minutes later Rebekah appeared in the doorway to his office.

“How was the fresh air?” She kept her distance in the doorway folding her arms and giving a slightly flirtatious smile.

“It was nice to escape. I think it has given me a little edge.” Michael muttered looking up over the laptop at the co-ed.

“It could’ve been the jog, but also I did add a shot of espresso to your coffee.” She pointed toward the tumbler that Michael had practically inhaled the moment he returned to his office.

“Whatever you did keep it coming.” Michael smiled and then refocused on the task at hand. His boss had asked for a business piece over a week ago. He hated to miss deadlines, but at the time he had used up his shelf of ideas and instead had produced a variation of sentences all with the theme, “Rebekah, will you go out with me?” As he typed away he received an email in response to an interview for the business piece and began to lay plans to interview a young duo of entrepreneurs who had recently opened a booming consignment shop for working-class citizens.

Relieved that he had regained a semblance of focus Michael began to jot down bullet point questions to ask during the interview. He was deep in thought when his iPhone began to buzz across the desktop. After examining the screen he realized that his mother was calling. He pressed “save” on the monitor and accepted the phone call.

“Mom, hey, I’m at work.” Michael said before his mother even had a chance to address him. This was his way of saying he didn’t have time or energy to talk presently.

“Michael, are you doing okay?” Mona’s raspy voice echoed through the receiver.

“Yeah, Mom, I’m fine. Everything’s fine. You know how it is. Lots of deadlines. Not much time.” Michael began to make excuses for why he couldn’t spare time to chat.

“I won’t be long. As you know, Evelyn’s birthday is this Sunday. We would all love to see you come around for your sister’s birthday. Simon just said the other day it’s been about five months. Can you spare some time for us this weekend. It would mean a great deal to…”

“I’ll see what I can do. No promises.” Michael cut her off.

“It’s not a long drive. We aren’t asking for more than a couple of hours.” Mona’s voice now had a bit of sadness in it.

“Okay, okay. Sorry, mom, I’m just really behind. I’ll make time though I promise.” Michael began to speak with remorse. It was hard not holding it against his mother that she had started another, younger family with her current husband, Raymond. Evelyn was born when Michael was a junior in high school. He had avoided forging a relationship with her because he knew he’d be leaving and he wasn’t too keen on her father. Simon was born when Michael was already off at NYU. In fact, this new family was the real reason he chose to go to school in New York. Distance was a great excuse to lose touch and pouring himself into his work was a great excuse to avoid the thirty minute trip once he moved back to the Chicago area.

“See you Sunday. I love you.” Mona waited to hear the three words in response that she had been longing to hear for weeks.

“Love you too, Mom. See you then.” Michael ended the call and typed the event into his calendar on his phone. He had to do a little configuring to realize that Evelyn would be eleven. He reopened his laptop and in his search engine typed, “Gifts for an eleven year old girl.”

As he was sifting through the search results Rebekah’s silhouetted figure appeared once again in the doorway.

“Mr. Robinson, I’m about to head out for the evening. My friends and I are going to hit a gallery hop in the arts district. Is there anything you need before I head out? More coffee or a critical eye for editing?” Rebekah brushed her long blond hair off her shoulder. She fidgeted with her tight black blazer and straightened her red camisole underneath making sure it overlapped her black pencil skirt at the waist.

“Have a great evening.” Michael barely broke his glance at the computer while they spoke.

“Thanks you too.” Rebekah half smiled, but got the hint that Michael was not paying her any mind. She turned to leave.

“Rebekah, hold on…” Michael began impulsively. He looked up at her and met her gaze. “Could you help me with a gift idea for my half-sister?” He pushed his palms into his forehead. “It’s rougher than it sounds.”

“Every girl loves a journal, speaking from experience.” Rebekah responded without even glancing at the computer.

“Journal? Yes. Perfect. Thanks.” Michael reverted his glance to the computer.

“Anything else?” Rebekah asked.

“No. Have a great time.” At that she turned and walked away. Michael’s heart was pumping out of his chest. He had held a conversation with her. In his mind he knew that his focus had once again been blown for the day so he began to pack up his computer and put it in his satchel. The interview with the entrepreneurs would have to wait til tomorrow.

It is unlawful to plaigarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. Always give credit where credit is due.