Man Vs. Self: How To Create Heroes With Heart

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The Dark Knight Rises will make millions this summer, but poor Wonder Woman will probably never get her film or tv pilot made.

There is a reason that Batman is the most popular superhero in the DC universe and it is the same reason that people can’t get enough of Spider-Man, Ironman or Wolverine…

Often we creators have a hard time figuring out what to do with our protagonist after we’ve told the story of their first adventure.

Maybe your readers just aren’t invested in your characters and your dwindling website stats prove it. …or maybe you’re halfway through an arc before you realize you don’t know how to end it.

Batman and Spider-Man have been around for over half a century and people still aren’t bored. They both have heart.

And if you can get your head around the “Man Vs. Self” conflict, you can create characters with just as much depth…

Man Vs. SOMETHING:

We all remember learning about different conflict types in our high school literature class. The official number varies, but the conflict types can be generalized as: “Man vs. Nature,” “Man vs. Man” and “Man vs. Self.”

Examine your story: What is the source of conflict?

The word “story” implies that there is an ending. We have talked about this on the podcast How to Write Comics that Engage Your Audience as well as on last week’s Interview with Brian McDonald. If you can’t define your conflict, you have no way of knowing when your story is over.

As creatives, we love webcomics because they lend themselves to experimentation. Unfortunately, as a result, they’re often directionless.

Clear conflict creates direction.

Character A must do B in order to prevent/ensure that C does/does not happen.

Think of the stories that you follow. Can you clearly state the conflict? Chances are, the stronger the story, the more easily you will be able to do so.

Perhaps no genre of storytelling presents conflict as clearly as mainstream comics: Hero vs. Villain; The Fate of the World in Peril; Zombie Apocalypse is Nigh.

The monthly issue format mandates that a conflict is presented in 22 pages. Webcomics could learn a thing or two from this constraint.

Batman has to face the Joker. Ironman will take on the terroists single-handedly. And even Scott Pilgrim knows that he must be the one to defeat Ramona’s evil exes.

Once all Seven Evil Exes are defeated, the story is over.

…Or is it?

“Man Vs. Self” Is King:

All great stories, no matter what the external conflict is also have an underlining “Man vs. Self” conflict.

Though other conflicts in the story may be more obvious, the Man vs. Self conflict is the most engaging.

“Will Iron Man save the world?” is the exciting, marketable conflict. But “Will Tony choose to put aside his self-serving ego?” is the deeper, more compelling conflict that makes Tony Stark a character who is infinitely revisit-able.

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Tony Stark Saves the world… and himself in the process.

Iron Man might defeat the terrorists and save the world from a nuclear war, but he hasn’t really won until he stops drinking and decides to put others before himself.

Great stories use external conflicts like Man vs. Nature or Man. vs. Man to bring about, expose or mirror the inner Man vs. Self conflict.

When Man Vs. Everything BUT Himself:

If your hero only exists in your story to complete a series of events and arrive at a predetermined outcome (or perhaps even that has yet to be worked out), once you end your arc you won’t know what to do next.

Do you simply to come up with another repeat adventure, this time with extra twists and turns? …a more exotic location? …a sexier love interest?

Do you need to kill off more characters this time just to ensure it will be bigger and better than the first and prove “the stakes are higher”?

When those things happen in stories that you’ve seen, you get bored, right?  …or mad?

Don’t do that to your readers.  Dig deeper.

When a Man vs. Self conflict is missing from your story, you get sequels that pale next to the original (although this time with bigger explosions!). You finish watching these films or reading these stories, disappointed that even though they turned the volume “up to 11,” they lack heart.

“Heart” in this case is another way of saying “a compelling Man vs. Self conflict.”

James Bond vs. Jason Bourne:

James Bond is good at everything he does. There is no scrape he cannot get out of, no woman he cannot seduce, no villain he can’t outthink. Bond, James Bond makes for a fun, escapist protagonist because we want to be him– confident, brilliant, victorious and uncomplicated.

On paper, Jason Bourne is a character with the same skill set as Bond. And yet when his is a very different story. Why? Because Bourne is a man against himself. In him we see good and bad. He has done heinous things and yet he has the chance at a clean slate. Except he cannot escape his past.

We all have regrets whose consequences haunt us, don’t we? Sure, they might not be chasing us through the streets in an attempt to assassinate us, but the themes addressed in Bourne’s journey ring true.

We may want to be Bond, but we see ourselves in Bourne. Which is the more compelling tale?

Scott Pilgrim learns the Power of Understanding

Scott Pilgrim leans the Power of Understanding to overcome Ramona’s evil exes.

Yes, Scott Pilgrim has to defeat Ramona’s evil exes. But more importantly, he needs to stop being a slacker and learn how to treat a girl with respect. He doesn’t get there right away, but by Volume 6, our boy is all grown up and when he sets out on his own we have a hunch that this time he won’t screw it up.

Great stories and relatable, unforgettable characters don’t happen by accident.  

So don’t devote all of your time to developing the tiniest intricacies of a confusing plot or four decades of villain’s backstory and forget that the hook for your readers, whether they know it or not, will be having an honest and relatable Man vs. Self conflict for your protagonist.

In good storytelling, heart is essential, but the explosions are optional.

Comment and Share:

Think deep about what you want to say about the world.

How can you use your protagonist’s “Man vs. Self” conflict to explore that theme?

What “Man vs. Self” conflict is the true undercurrent to your other external, event-driven conflicts?

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{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

Tegan Clancy

Great Post!
Side note, if you like the Bourne Movies, you must read the first 3 books by Robert Ludlum, Identity, Supremacy & Ultimatum. The same great character the movies were based on, but totally different story plots! Jason Bourne is truly one of my favorite characters I love to hate, for exactly the reasons you state!
The rest of the books in the series are just trying to make money off the movies and are written with “co-authors” and don’t honor his Jason’s true character.

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Michael Mayne

I must admit to never having seen the Bourne movies (or, needless to say, read the books) for some unknown reason.
But James Bond has never really been an appealing character to me. Sure, he’s cool, but I can only handle him in small doses, or pastiches. Beyond that, it’s always seemed like 007 has had way too much history for as static a character as he is.

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Michael Dambold

Tegan, they are amazing!

I completely agree with you, Michael. Bond never held interest for me, because the end was always pre-determined. Bond’s only problem were women who were angry at him. I sat through a Bond movie (they’re all a blur) and being fairly bored and uninterested in the plot or characters. I can’t even remember the plot, honestly.

But when I saw the Bourne movies, I was riveted. I first saw them with a group of friends one night. We were a fairly loud group and were like the MST3K guys in the ways we would lampoon films we didn’t care for. However when the Bourne movie began we all fell silent for the entire run of the film. Definitely a difference in the way a ‘hero’ or ‘anti-hero’ can grab an audience.

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Mike

I kind of agree with you about most bond films- though I still enjoy them- its more popcorn level than great cinema. Casino Royale (my fav. bond film) had such a positive response and did so well I think in large part because it added more human-ness to Bond, and is conversely why I didn’t like Quantum of Solace nearly as much – it didn’t have hardly the same humanity as the first one.

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Chris Oatley

Mike, I have “guilty-popcorn-pleasures” too. But interestingly, the “Casino Royale” version of Bond is suspiciously similar to our butt-kicking-buddy Jason Bourne.

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Michael Mayne

Casino Royale was like that for me too! The only Bond film that’s actually gotten me invested in the character (also the only one I’ve seen twice).

I’ll definitely have to check out the Bourne movies!

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Ben Hale

Great article. I never realized how the conflict that a character fights within themself can add a richness and deeper level to a preexisting conflict in your story. Definitely some food for thought.

Something else that stuck with me was “The monthly issue format mandates that a conflict is presented in 22 pages. Webcomics could learn a thing or two from this constraint.” I often wonder if creators of web comics struggle with the speed of release moving much slower than their own ideas. Is it difficult to hold off on an idea you’re really excited about (plot twist, new character, etc.) when you know you won’t be able to get to it until months in the future?

http://www.NeedYourDisease.com

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Michael Mayne

Something I kind of picked up on with a few manga I’ve read is how to keep a pretty steady pace of action.

I noticed several stories were broken down into bite-sized, six-to-twelve page mini-arcs. Every six pages or so, something important was revealed (be it a physical item or a bit of character development), or something major happened (a conflict arises/falls, a character is introduced, etc.)
Some books even sectionalize this little arcs as distinct chapters, so it’s even easier to see how well-paced the events are.

Still, every page needs to have its own hook at the end, but it was nice to know that every few pages had some kind of digestible revelation or revolution.

I’d like to apply this approach to a webcomic when I get the chance. I think doing as such would help somewhat alleviate the tugging anxiety of having future events so far down the pipeline. When you’re constantly setting up and resolving smaller elements of the story along the way (especially at a regular pace) it would help keep you as a creator satisfied with how much you’re sharing with the audience at a time.

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Ben Hale

I like the 5-6 page revelations practice. I really need to read more web comics, because a hook on every page just seems like too difficult a task. Regular comics must be a totally different beast all together because the reader has the whole thing in front of them at one time. Granted, I’ve done neither so this is really just my outside perspective.

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Lora Innes

The latest issue of my comic is a double sized issue. I’ve never done this before, as it equates to six months of story telling! I like the 20 some page issues that take only 3 months to tell.

This was a risk, so to make it feel like it was still moving along briskly, the whole issue has been told in 1 to 5 page story chunks. I think it’s really helped.

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Sam Kirkman

Lora, your work is simply incredible. One thing that frustrates me about what we do, is the time it takes to do what we do. Wack a do. It leves little time to curl up and enjoy the works of our fellow artists. But it is SO crucial that we do so. The Dreamer is one of those comics that is so worthy of that curl up time. And that you find time to write insightful essays as this… THANK YOU!

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Ahoy Michael!!!

Just a quick note, i love this 5-6 page rise and fall system. I am not a big writer type person but i love parting things into pieces and then organizing the content to make sense to the grander goal. I think the tiny bite are easy to consume and give we creators those “little wins” we need.

Also, i am working on a post for my blog with tips for creators to keep in.mind as they creat awesome short stories!! i will let you know when that happens!!!

Take care!!

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Albone

I took Lora’s advice when she suggested that I go with the monthly issue format with Rival Angels for Season 2 and I think it’s all-win. My chapters/issues are more concise because I have to get in, leave an impression and then get out. I think my readers are also digging it.
“Is it difficult to hold off on an idea you’re really excited about (plot twist, new character, etc.) when you know you won’t be able to get to it until months in the future?”
Yes and no. I have script that will take me past Thanksgiving, but the story has been plotted almost a year out. I’m excited by what’s coming up, but having it written is enough (for now). Case in point, Lora created an awesome character for Rival Angels in 2009 but it wasn’t until a few months ago (3 years later!) that we actually got to see her. It was a long wait but totally worth it.

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Chris Oatley

For Prehistoric Sideshow, we have a total of 3 “Seasons” of story. Each season is about 200 pages… …ish.

Each season has a planned season finale and the third season has a definitive ending to the series as a whole.

And despite the fact that 200 page Graphic Novels are common, we broke those 200ish-page season arcs down into four “books” per season.

Book 1 = Act 1 of the season arc, Book 2 = Act 2 Part 1, (2nd Act Break to Midpoint) Book 3= Act 2 (Midpoint to Act 3 Break) and Book 4 which is Act 3/ Cliffhanger.

And because of that, each individual Book has a clear Ending/ Cliffhanger and it’s OWN beginning, middle and end (Act 1, 2 and 3). And we experience dynamic character change at every single “ENDING” which will make for a really engaging reading experience (hopefully).

Point is, creating as many “endings” or “arcs” as we do, has made an otherwise unwieldy story MUCH, MUCH easier to write.

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Michael Corley

I really like this point of view. I can’t do anything with the parts of my webcomic I have already produced, but I *can* start plotting out the next major “arcs” so they have a logical flow and help develop both the internal and external conflicts.

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Sam Kirkman

And I’m looking forward to seeing it back in the saddle again!

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Michael Mayne

Coming up with the external conflict is, I think, more trying for me. Man v. Self is relatively easy for me to establish, as it’s what actually connects us to a character. Had a personal struggle yourself? You’ve got material for a Man vs. Self conflict! =D

The fantastical or at least engaging external conflict is what I tend to have more trouble developing. In real life, we can overcome certain inner conflicts through quiet reflection or other mundane dealings—hardly anything to write home (or much less a story) about.

Now, with Bonnie Lass, admittedly the external conflict came first (as I set out only to make a quirky, short-term adventure) and I had to work the next one in. Bonnie’s Man vs. Self in the first arc ended up developing into her search for motivation—she starts off letting the standards of others (namely her father) set her own bar, but by the end she’s at least started to let her own intrinsic whims be enough to carry her through new adventures.

In the arc I’m working on now, Bonnie’s newfound self-motivation still renders her pretty selfish. When the external conflict arises, she sets out to take back what’s “hers” by any means necessary. Rather early on, she forsakes her comrades to go it alone, against all rationale. Her internal conflict this time becomes Man (er, Woman) vs. (Over) Self-Reliance. She’s learning to balance her sparking inhibitions with her likewise need for teamwork and camaraderie.

Lora, the story I was working on during our little Twitter exchange last week has long been a victim of having the internal conflict mostly tangible but the external conflict(s) too loose and unrelated. Chalk that up to it being another re-imagining of centuries old folklore, as I’m trying to make established “character-defining” events from the usual tales still relevant to the character’s internal conflict this time around, while also giving them fresh spins.
The character in question: Robin Hood. I’ve taken previous efforts with the character public before, so I guess there’s no need to act like I’m working on a super secret project. haha!

I’ve just always been in a sort of limbo with the internal and external conflicts of this story. The ‘Why’ I want to create this story simply boils down to me liking the potential of the character, not necessarily having gone into it with a personal statement in mind.

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Scott Wiser

When mapping out external and internal conflicts – I find it helpful for them to have many parallels between them – and those similarities/contrasts will help you discover / express your theme. On the example of your Bonnie Lass’s selfishness and over self reliance, perhaps the external force she fights is even more selfish than she – and the only way she can beat it is by discovering it’s weak spot where it is also over self-reliant – and she must give up her selfishness to completely beat that external force – and that could be manifest in a life changing event where she HAS to be selfless from now on. And maybe have her do some things in the story that seem unselfish, but she does them for selfish reasons. And once you’ve explored the many facets of your subject “Woman vs Selfishness” then you might find you them easily by answering (internally and externally) the question : How does this woman win her battle with selfishness?”

As far as Robin Hood goes, I bet one of the reasons you are so interesting in that character is the many explorable facets he has – the many possible THEMES in that character which haven’t been explored yet. How many things you could learn from this intriguing character. Perhaps you could study people in real life (or historical figures) who remind you of him somehow … and if you pay to attention to what you feel and think about as a result of their actions, then plummet into the possible internal reasons they act that way, it’s possible you’ll know better what personal statement you want to make (Theme) and how you want to say it (Internal & External Plots).

Hope these thoughts help. I bet if anyone can figure this out, it’s you.

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Jande

Scott, thanks for that first paragraph in your reply to Michael. I think that’s going to help me a lot.

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Michael Mayne

Scott, thank you! All very sound advice, and definitely worth thinking over and over!

You’ve brought to mind that I may need to amplify the conflict a bit more towards the end, to bring it to a point where her imminent revelation outwits the force of Bonnie’s up-till-then parallel-driven adversaries in a more satisfactory fashion.

And with the Robin Hood stuff… Yep! The fact that he’s quite an open-book character is what’s both drawing me to the story and stumping me in regards to how much of the existing lore I should try to play off of. =D
I think one thing I’ve always wanted to do with this story is humanize it. There’ve been a few outings in recent decades where the character of Robin Hood has been more than an archetype, but they’re always still quick to draw a sword. I wondered what it would be like to have a Robin Hood that was more of an aggressive pacifist, more like Spider-Man than, say, Wolverine. Witty, but not campy, as opposed to deadly. I find a character like that to be interesting not just for his values, but also for the challenge in making him engaging and actionable!

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eri

When mapping out external and internal conflicts – I find it helpful for them to have many parallels between them – and those similarities/contrasts will help you discover / express your theme…

Wonderful advice Scott, thank you! I think of myself a bit like Michael in the original comment; internal conflicts come more intuitively to me rather than external ones. I’ve never consciously thought of the external action, no matter how small, as a symbolic manifestation of the internal struggle but played out by those other than the protagonist. But it makes so much sense! I’ll definitely keep that one at the front of my mind.

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Scott Wiser

You people rock. So glad I could help. I think I learned as much from writing the “advice.”

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Michael Mayne

Sometimes that’s what it takes!
We may not articulate ourselves the best when we’re trying to sort things out for our own good, but in our efforts to help others we force ourselves to break down some of our more abstract ideas to the basics.

Help me help you! Or something… =D

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RobinofLeyLines

I definitely agree with Scott’s suggestions — the more parallels, the better! Particularly since it gives so many ways for the same ideas to be explored. True, internal conflicts CAN be solved by quiet contemplation, but that contemplation rarely is sparked in a vacuum. We have to make mistakes, gain new perspectives, try new things, practice new skills. Sometimes we have to observe a pattern, swear never to repeat it, and then watch ourselves do the EXACT SAME THING despite what we learned!

External conflicts also can be small! Given the right (or wrong!) state of mind, a trip to the grocery store can be a feast of setbacks, small victories, disappointments, big risks — all part and parcel of a grand adventure. At the end of the day, our internal struggles often CREATE our external adventures through the choices we make, the skills we hone, and the weaknesses we leave unaddressed.

It makes me think of a personal experience where I trapped myself and knew it! I was part of a Lion Dance Troupe — a traditional Chinese dance that utilizes martial arts principals, while operating huge, people-sized puppets. I was in the band. It was my first year, and we had about two dozen performances in half as many days. The teacher had become a fill-in father figure for me, activating my perfectionist qualities. I knew the dangers of it. I knew that Perfectionism would drive me to take on too much, to create artificial standards and expectations. Furthermore, I knew that somewhere it would end in “disaster” (ie, imperfection) because nobody can BE perfect all the time!

I knew all that, but I couldn’t stop myself from doing it anyway. I took on more responsibilities, more roles, more instruments, more jobs. Benches? Moving them. Every instrument polished and ready? Done yesterday. Scrolls and decorations? Already packed. Talking with the venue owners and coordinating our every movement? Travis WAS doing it, but I took over.

Miraculously, I made it to the very last day and the very last performance before I slipped up. I forgot a power cord in a van, and didn’t have it for the speakers (which I had also taken responsibility for in addition to the drums, cymbals, and gong) — the teacher was very upset. I was crushed. I broke down crying. I almost left the school — I felt like I was unfit to stay.

Except that part of me that KNEW that was my pattern? It was still active. Still “recording.” Even though I was caught 98% in that old perfectionist pattern, that 2% of objective observation was still going, and it transformed that EXTERNAL experience into a very valuable INTERNAL process.

I bet you can find many different facets of your character’s internal struggle, and pair each one with an external situation that might challenge, or accentuate, that small piece of their over-all struggle!

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Ok Michael, I have been crazy all week but I am finally here to chime in on your response cuz it had my brain tingling!

ROBIN HOOD!!!

That is awesome and I thought of a great “fresh spin” angle you can come at it with! Take a small sliver of the current “tale” of who he was and why he did things and screw with the rest! Make is out as though the true story is untold because he had others covering up for him. Make him a hero still but for a bigger, better cause than only stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Maybe he was stealing to find certain special items that would be used for a greater, wilder cause and then he gave away the rest because he was still a good man. See, there is a web of ways you can turn that and get the re-imagining of a very iconic character in a newer and deeper light!

Just seems fun to me!

Take care!

Oh, and I have also finished the short story tip blog post I was working on and you can find it on my blog site, ( http://dutzart.blogspot.com/ )

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Michael Dambold

Love this article guys. Seriously thought-provoking.

I keep thinking about Wolverine. When I came across him in the 90s, the only thing I knew about him was that he was a good guy with a dark past. I only had access to the X-Men animated series at first, but the Wolverine stories grabbed me. The fact that he had not only this secret past, but this secret past was a secret because he regretted almost everything he did, and his deepest fear was to lose control.

It seemed as if he would have been happy to simply give it all up and have a family, never to fight again. It struck me, just with the animated series, that his deepest desire was to stop fighting and become normal, which is why he adopted Jubilee as his surrogate daughter and cared for the Morlocks (sewer based mutants that everyone hated) like he did.

Granted, when I read the comics there was a great expansion on this, but the thing that kept me enthralled in any medium with Wolverine was his constant struggle with the competing desires to kill everyone and watch them bleed to death, and the desire to love and care for life, nurture it and protect it in all forms. He saw Jean Grey as the ultimate caregiver and mother-figure, and that identity was revealed to be the reason he loved her so deeply. She represented everything he wasn’t, and everything he wanted to be.

Boy, you guys definitely got me thinking. Love it!

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Chris Oatley

Brilliant insights, Michael. And, yes, this is EXACTLY why we LOVE Wolverine and IDENTIFY with him. Sure, he’s also AWESOME, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

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Michael Mayne

I concur!

I was doing some thinking while I was on the road earlier about how this stuff applies to Dragonball Z… Most people, if you ask them what DBZ is about, they’ll start mentioning all the monkeys and aliens and martial arts explosions, and be pretty content with that being what it’s “about.”

But really, once the series transitioned from Dragonball to Dragonball Z, there was a noticeable shift in its core as well. The overarching story began to revolve around, wait for it, family values. Sure, there are planets exploding and flying martial artists everywhere, but the reason we’re rooting for the antagonists (and willing to put up with crappy filler episodes) is because they’re trying their best to protect and foster their families. Goku’s not just a good guy because Frieza is a bad guy; Goku’s merits stem from his optimism and earnestness to protect those he cares about (i.e. nearly everybody), which becomes infectious among the rest of the group, including the most battle-hardened. The stakes are so high all the time because we are shown just what exactly these characters are fighting for.

Sure, it’s not the most eloquently woven tale, but it’s plenty good fun and certainly has a heart to provide the pulse for its action!

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Michael Dambold

Thanks Chris! I kind of love Wolverine even more now that I’m talking about it.

Michael, exactly. The kicker for DBZ for me was the first few episodes. I hadn’t seen Dragon Ball, so I was unfamiliar with the previous premise. However, in the first episode that this mysterious child that everyone loves, has grown up and run from his Martial Arts past. He and his wife even refused to teach their child anything about fighting and were striving to be pacifists.

Low and behold, the very life he fought for was for nought because his brother shows up and reveals that not only is he not this mystical monkey-king child, he is an alien. Not only is he an alien, but the weakest member of a race of mercenaries for hire. A race whose entire business is to destroy planets for profit and sell them like used car salesmen, and that he was sent as a child to wipe everything off of the planet for cash. He wasn’t even royalty, just a blue collar worker! The only thing that saved him from his ‘destiny’ was a bump on the head, and it’s revealed that he’s the most powerful of his race, and his son is the most powerful being in the universe. I think that premise alone held DBZ for the first two seasons.

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Michael Corley

Wolverine is an evolving character. When they found the angle of “failed samurai” I think he truly took off.

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Chris Oatley

So awesome.

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Jande

Thanks for another thought-provoking essay, Lora. I think that up to now my graphic Novel, Aedre’s Firefly, has been character driven. My main character though still a child has been filled up with a lot of confused expectations about what her life is about. She struggles not be like those who abuse her, yet she is full of rage and self-pity, often acting out in secret, unable to realise yet that she has the power to change not only her own life for the better, but the lives of those around her. (run-on sentence or what?)

My own problem with writing the tale is I’m still not sure if she’s going to take any action that isn’t pre-determined by other people. I’m unsure of my ability to tell the story well enough. But then, I guess that’s the risk we take when we step out there and create, isn’t it.

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RobinofLeyLines

I can relate to this issue SO MUCH Jande! In my first story, I realized about 600 pages in that my main character, Grey, never ACTED. She just re-acted, and the plot moved around her. She had no real character! It was so frustrating to discover, but it was also an important thing to think about — I realized that her internal conflict was actually that she didn’t know who she was. Grey always defined herself by what she WASN’T, instead of who she WAS. Only by tackling this issue head-on could I finish my story!!

It’s never too late to explore a character with greater depth!!

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Emily Hann

Jande and Robin, that is a really interesting and important point. “…my main character, Grey, never ACTED. She just re-acted, and the plot moved around her.”
Ugh, as soon as I read that I realized that was what had happened with my first attempt at a webcomic, years ago. Really important point!

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Tegan Clancy

I do believe Bourne would hit that martini out of Bonds hand if they were to dual! The first movie has one of the most believable fight scenes ever in a hallway!

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Tegan Clancy

Sorry that was suppose to be a reply thread!

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Michael Dambold

Actually Bourne would have taken the martini glass, broken it, and jabbed the stem of the glass into Bond’s neck. :D

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Tegan Clancy

Touché! I may have to storyboard this!

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Andrew Crisp

Hi there. I’ve been reading the articles on this website for a while now, but this is my first comment here. I hope you’ll forgive any awkwardness on my part.

I’m currently working on a webcomic I’ve entitled “Icefall” which is planned to be the first of a few stories featuring a character I’ve had in my head for a while, but after reading this article, I’m not entirely sure if my character can carry a short series or not. Or, more to the point, I’m not sure her inner struggle is one I can get people to care about.

The character, Teri Holland, is a lieutenant in a mid-22nd century space force. She’s a born explorer, and joined the Exoguard primarily because it was the only way she could reach the worlds she wants to visit. She had to work very hard to get into the survey program, and was awarded a slot on the newest survey ship, on a mission to Saturn, which by that time was the farthest humanity had reached in space. Basically, she’d achieved her goal of reaching farther from Earth than anyone else much earlier than she thought (she’s in her mid-twenties) and she’s worried that the rest of her career will be a long downhill slide. There will always be more distant worlds to explore, but Teri can’t guarantee that she’ll get onto those missions.

I suppose the closest thing I can think of to her plight is like athletes today, who may have a decade or two of peak performance before age, wear, and competition pushes them out of the top spot. Add in the fact that space exploration by her time is hitting some tough obstacles, technology-wise, and a growing apathy towards space from the Earthbound population, and Teri’s lifelong dream could come to a halt at almost any time.

“Icefall” is planned to be how Teri faces her doubts, by pairing her with a scientist who is facing a similar problem (his actions on the survey will determine the future of his career), and then trapping them both underground with only four hours of air left. Teri has to get both her and the scientist out alive, and to do that, she has to face and overcome her own doubts. She would emerge from the story with a renewed motivation to continue on, regardless of the obstacles ahead or of any guarantee of success. At least… that’s how it looks like from my perspective. I’m not at all sure how it will look from the outside.

(To be fair, I’m operating under a large cloud of doubt here. Most science fiction stories in the visual media these days focus on rebel or outlaw characters – Firefly or Cowboy Bebop, for example – or on super-badass killing machines – Commander Shepard or the Master Chief come to mind. Teri is neither of these, and I’m worried that no matter how good her inner story is, nobody will even look at her twice).

Thoughts?

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Michael Mayne

If you haven’t already, see Scott Wiser’s response to my initial comment below.

Basically, I’m going to echo some of what he suggested to me.

I think there is great potential here BECAUSE you’re not setting out to create just another deep space badass. Escape the genre. Your setting may be space, but there is some reason it must be space and not just a rock quarry on Earth.

If you need to dig deeper to find that reason, so be it.
Sounds like you’re maybe running into the same sort of problems I do. If you can articulate what it is Terri is fighting within herself, you can amplify that outward and have her external conflict(s) be tangible metaphors for that as well.
How intrinsic are her own self-doubts that they’re going to get in the way of her surviving this underground situation?

I get the impression that you don’t want to have her blasting through any kind of visceral enemy forces at all, so you’ll really need to manifest her inner struggle within the external environment she’s trapped in.

Or maybe there you have it. If she’s trapped physically, seek out what it is specifically that could be trapping her in a circle of doubt. Her way out of that is her key to getting out of the situation she’s in.

Also, this scientist’s potential to help her career, surely that will have to factor into how their interaction with each other underground plays out, and possibly how she ultimately realizes how to overcome herself.

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Scott Wiser

Man, thanks so much for the mention, Michael! Great thoughts on Andrew’s story. I noticed there are actually 3 in your post facing DOUBT. Teri, Doctor, and YOU. Your own struggles to create a story that transcends … that’s the story I want to see turn out!

Once you’ve developed you story structurally – then visually, will you be more able to know how to HOOK your audience at the beginning. You mentioned some genre conventions … but the reason they became conventions in the first place was because of APPEAL. Having a solid core to your story will instantly add more appeal to your characters, also doing version after version – pushing your characters and other designs will help you at least turn the audience’s head. Perhaps you could design the cover last – when you may be better informed of what will work best.

Have you read http://www.remindblog.com/ ? He does a great job at ignoring genre and telling a quality story. There’s no reason (except not putting in the effort necessary) we can’t do the same.

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Andrew Crisp

Thank you for your reply. I’ve read Scott Wiser’s reply to your post further down, and given them both some thought.

I’m not entirely sure how to proceed here. Part of me wants to tell *everything* in the spirit of “here’s what I’ve got on the table, what am I doing wrong?”, while part of me wants to keep as many details as I can covered up for fear of spoiling the story. At least, with this being a webcomic, I don’t have to worry about NDAs or publisher agreements!

You’re right in that I don’t want Teri to slaughter her way to victory (much less with snappy one-liners or packing up for a guilt trip afterwards). This story is very much a man-vs-nature one, but I have in mind further stories that will pit her against human opponents. That said, I’ve never pictured Teri to be much of an introspective person. She’s more doer than thinker.

I pictured Teri’s inner doubts as only starting to surface and trouble her on the day of the excursion, so she’s never had a chance to really examine them or even talk with a friend or coworker about them. Now with her and Forster (the scientist) being trapped, the doubts may play on her will to survive – “why try to save yourself when you don’t have anything worthwhile to look forward to anymore?” Such doubts, even small, might be the difference between making that extra effort and giving up (says the guy who’s never had to fight for his life).

Getting out of the trapped situation is “easy enough” but with no guarantee of success (their only mapped route is blocked off, but they are in a cave network, with several side passages that weren’t mapped. Some may connect and thus lead to a way around the cave-in, or they may lead in circles or to dead-ends, or have a way to the surface that will take longer than they have air to breathe). So there are doubts aplenty about external conflict. I figure that, by having to deal with the external doubts, Teri might realize that her inner doubts are just that – doubts. They are no more a guarantee of failure in her career than the cave-in is a guarantee of her death. Or so I think.

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Michael Mayne

I hear ya!

A short prologue of sorts exemplifying Teri’s “go-get-‘em” attitude through previous ventures might serve well to juxtapose her sudden doubts as the main story begins. Introduce us to the Teri that’s been blazing the trail, let us know what her own standards of excellence are, then whap us in the face with her sudden fear of failure. Let the audience know what she’s capable of with her track record, then bring us along for the endeavor wherein her capabilities might not be enough.
Sounds like you’ve already planned on working from that. Just go full steam with it, in my opinion!

A close call in the past may even add some believability to her present doubts. If she’s of the mind “I shouldn’t have survived,” or “I don’t know how we made it,” or something similar, then being thrown into another (similar?) extreme situation would definitely justify her feeling like her success is fleeting.

With the external conflict, maybe the best way to deal with those obstacles would be to incorporate real survival tactics for miners and spelunkers. If Teri has such a shining record, I’d be willing to believe she’s got some auxiliary instincts on how to traverse isolated areas like powered down facilities and labyrinthian mines. Instead of just wandering around aimlessly, maybe she’s keen to pick up on subtle atmospheric changes and and patterns in the layout of the tunnels… Cool, specific stuff like that breathes extra life into the characters.

Audiences can get bored if they think the characters are succeeding and failing purely by chance. If Teri, or even Forster, have at least a fledgling knowledge of how they *should* try to escape, this will engage the audience. You can still throw chance obstacles in their way, but if neither one of them has a direction for getting out, your audience is going to be left simply waiting instead of following, their interest waining and diverting elsewhere.

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Andrew Crisp

Hi again.

First, an apology for my not replying for so long. Two reasons for it: the first was I’ve been very busy getting my comic’s website set up and running (on top of my day job), but my comic now has a home and people can see if my story measures up. Try not to laugh to hard at my art ;)

Second reason for my silence was the fact that I was floored by the number of different responses to my contribution here. I’ve never had so many complete strangers respond positively to my ideas like this. Or at all – whenever I toss something out onto the net it’s always rewarded by silence. I speak my piece, and the universe replies “meh”. So I was a little overwhelmed. Thank you all.

Micheal, it’s interesting you should mention about a close call in Teri’s past. I’d had one written in – a crisis situation that happened several years before the story, one where the only details I figured the reader needed to know was that Teri had faced a life-threatening danger before, she got through it (mostly by keeping calm and doing her duty) and that her experience there made the top brass notice her. So when she applied for a transfer to deep space survey, the powers that be saw her previous experience and figured she’d be a good fit.

Making things too easy or winning by chance is more of a concern for me, plot-wise at the moment. Fledgling knowledge would certainly describe their situation with the cave-in; nobody in the survey mission are experienced cavers, and survival rules for a cave-in on a low-gravity, airless world don’t even exist yet. I figured Teri would fall back on basic survival rules, as well as a technological advantage in the form of her suit’s computer suite able to “build” a map out of the areas they already explored (to clarify – the computer can’t predict where they should go, but it could construct a map of where they’ve been, and “mate” it to the map they already have, so they could at least see if they’re getting closer to the surface and a known exit, or farther away). I’m not sure if that’s too little ability for a believable escape or if I’ve made things too easy – though that may be as much a matter of how it’s handled in the story.

Beyond that, well, all of the comments have given me food for thought, and at least some inkling of areas to avoid or aim for in my script. I can already see parts of the script that will need rewriting (though not, thank heavens, anything that I’ve already committed to comic pages). There’s a lot more I’d like to respond to here, but at this point I think I’ll just have to trust my story’s current version and see how closely I can hit the mark.

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Sly

I’m going to echo other people and say not only does it sound like you’ve got some sound material, here, I want to read it!

Teri’s story seems really sad to me, that she’s worked so hard for her dream all her life, and now that she has it, she can’t “live” it because she’s afraid it will all be taken away from her. I think the having to explore the cave off the map ties into the “now what?” that a college graduate realizes when the map to the path of success has ended and they are on their own in new territory. That works with Teri, who has followed the path to her first assignment and now has to learn that the first assignment isn’t a destination, it’s the start of the road that has no map.

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RobinofLeyLines

First off — Welcome new commenter! Glad you took the plunge and shared your story with us — it sounds awesome!!

I think you have some really powerful material here. As Michael touched on, you’ve got a great tangible metaphor with entrapment. It sounds like Teri might feel trapped on multiple fronts — Trapped by age, societal limitations, and even by herself! I could immediately relate to Teri’s struggle, because I’ve seen a very similar situation first-hand!

I have a friend who is a PhD and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. She was recently asked to give a presentation on something she did a year or two ago. Instead of feeling excited, she was really stressed out! NOT because of the presentation — she felt fine about that — but because she was worried that she’d never accomplish more. Particularly that people she respected would look down on her for not having “accomplished enough.” I think your story strikes the same key notes — very real and very human concerns!

What I’d be most interested in is seeing how Teri might react to different stresses in different ways due to her current mind-set. People will often project their own issues onto external situations/people. Will she view the cave-in as a challenge at first, a physical problem that she can conquer when what she’d really like is to overcome entrapment in her own life? Or will she respond to the closed-in environment as though it is a living thing, like she might to people in her life that she views as obstacles — an administrator that might not give her additional assignments, or the unreasonable expectations of a parent or loved one? So much of a story is how a character’s actions are out-of-place for where they are, but in-place for their personal challenges!

Good luck!!

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Chris Oatley

I agree, Andrew. Thank you SO MUCH for reaching out and for contributing your insights to the conversation.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Ahoy Mr. Crisp! Welcom’ ta’ the fray!

Ok, quick note/idea I had as I was reading your post. Please let me know if I am way off with it.

When I hear about Teri, I feel that a great approach to her story is almost one of a small God Complex. Mainly I mean that she so accustom to success that the mere possibility of failure or even the depletion of challenges just debilitates her. “How can I go on when there is nothing left to conquer?”

This is an opportunity to really show growth as she learns new skills to get herself and the scientist out of their current situation and she learns the practice of continued growth that will take her to new places and height in both society and in space itself. Life isn’t over, she has simply outgrown the “box.”

I don’t know if that helps kind of collect her struggle under one umbrella or not but when I boiled it down in my head, that is what came forward.

Hope it helps and I am glad you took the step out to join us!!

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Emily Hann

Hi Andrew!

I am a huge sci-fi fan, your story sounds really intriguing. I hope you continue with it so I can continue to be a fan!

What everyone else said was so great, I just have a small point to put in. I’m suffering from the same doubts about my story (“no one else will notice this or care about the story”) but I think that’s totally normal. It’s really hard to see what your project will look like from the outside world, which is why it’s good to get your circle of trust going with honest and helpful feedback. I firmly put my faith in the idea that if you REALLY care about something and really show the world your passion, someone will notice it. And not only notice it, but greatly appreciate it.

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John Forsyth

I don’t think I’ve had as many ‘ah-ha’ moments from any other podcast/blog. This article is another great one. It seems simple; the idea of a good story needing a good man vs self arc, but looking at the many failed sequels where all the character growth took place in the first movie, it seems that that single concept is either getting ignored or is not understood.

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Chris Oatley

John. Thank you so much for sharing this encouragement. This is the stuff that keeps us going. And we MEAN that. Literally.

I love it when I read a great book or listen to a great podcast where it’s just a long chain of Aha!s for me. It’s so rewarding. Whether we succeed at that or not, it’s definitely our aim.

And to support your point, look no further than Iron Man 2.

What’s interesting is that the KIND of rewarding character change that took place in the Tony Stark story in The Avengers PROVES that you CAN still do a follow-up story to an origin and have it be really rewarding for the audience. You just have to get even more creative and work even harder to craft it.

I’m writing this thinking of all the different character dynamics that were revealed in Tony’s story alone – and it was all because he found himself in PLOT situations that served his “Man Vs. Self” conflict and triggered the same conflict in the others (Cap’, Nick Fury, Hulk etc…).

OH MAN, and then his freakin’ SPEECH to Loki at the END!!! GAAAAAAH SOOO GOOD!!!

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Chad

Yes yes yes YES, Chris. That was hands down my favorite part of the movie! Absolute stroke of genius having the ‘ego’ character masterfully take down a villain driven by ego. UGH, I could watch just those 3 minutes or whatever of the movie over and over again.

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Sam kirkman

You should have heard the crowd! Everyone just exploded with laughter. I’ve got to say that was a very satisfying movie moment. Whedon is SO good with that sort of thing.

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Wouter

A lot of very, very interesting comments here as usual – not that I’m becoming blasé by the shear amount of ideas and input everybody contributes – and fantastic topic to discuss, thanks Lora.

It got me thinking too as the main protagonists in my graphic novel don’t have a lot of inner conflicts as such. Let me try to be a little clearer: they are very far from a Bruce Wayne or Jason Bourne, as they don’t struggle with their own nature as such. I like to see them as being in constant struggle with their own beliefs and the situations they are being faced with. How do you find a way out of a challenge without betraying what you stand for or going against your own persona.

I think conflicts can be explored in so many ways to make your characters more compelling that it can be the part (not the central part per se either) of almost any kind of story. I actually didn’t realise this until I read this post, guess it’s also got to do with how deep you dig. It all goes back to good character development and how it’s a constant process. I’m currently busy writing up the script for Volume 2 of Cpt Wayne and I see it a lot more as an opportunity to explore my cast’s psyches than having to struggle to stay fresh and new – wonder how long that will last…

Thanks again Lora and Chris for making us stop and look around, I’d be back in my cave drawing and writing if it wasn’t for people like you!

Oh, yeah and I’d like to point out that Martini is totally overrated, shaken or stirred…

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RobinofLeyLines

I was gnawing on this idea earlier this week, only I was looking at it from the idea that the Antagonist’s Tale (vs the Hero’s Journey) revolves around an internalized struggle instead of an external one. Sparked by Tom Hiddleston’s performance of Loki in Thor and Avengers, I searched for other antagonistic characters with heroic depths to chart out the lessons villains could teach, instead of the heroes. Focused mainly on Loki & Megamind, but I was happy to get a nod in to The Bard as well. :)

(For the curious, the article is on my Tumblr here: http://robinofleylines.tumblr.com/post/22790011456/forget-the-heros-journey-women-want-an-antagonists )

It’s really interesting to look at this same energy from the Hero’s point of view. It’s something I’ve been unconsciously exploring with every character, but hadn’t consciously thought about until now. Responsibility vs identity. Growing up vs staying young. Duty vs desire. I’m excited to play with these dynamics more as the story goes on…

Is it weird to be looking forward to my characters’ failures? When a character falls short is always the part that feels the most interesting. That’s when these dynamics come into stark relief. I bet we would see more of Bond vs. Himself if he DIDN’T save the day every once in a while!

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Michael Mayne

Great essay, Robin!

Seeing characters (heroes or villains) fail endears them to an audience. If a villain’s motivations truly came from an honest place, you can even question the hero’s actions in the end.

I don’t know if it’s truly a rarity to find such internal conflicts in the antagonists, or if I’m maybe just not as perceptive of it as I’d like to be.

Take Frollo from the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
He’s decidedly wicked, but at the film’s offset we come to understand that he’s striving for a “greater good”—his vision is just twisted and shortsighted. Perhaps the seniority of his authoritative position has contorted once altruistic aims into personal, self-serving desires. Being a Disney flick, we don’t get to focus on Frollo for too long, but he’s certainly one of the most multi-faceted villains of the Disney animated canon.
In the “Hellfire” sequence, we even see that Frollo himself realizes he is a slave to the sins that affect his very persona. Instead of overcoming these internal demons, he resolves to leave them in control and punish those that do not meet his poisoned set of standards. In the end he is done in by the divine power he was unjustly using as both a shield and a sword.
Ultimately, though, he was just a self-righteous dude in a position of power. Left unchecked, he wound up confusing his own inclinations and wants with the universal truths. Frollo himself doesn’t really evolve much over the course of the movie—he just comes to the stage packed with inferential history. His internal conflicts essentially CREATE the external conflicts for himself and the protagonists.

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RobinofLeyLines

It’s been years and years since I saw that film!! Perhaps I should look it up again, the villain sounds really interesting! (I’m on a villain kick at the moment…)

I think characters that walk the dynamic between hero and villain are the most interesting. While I believe most people are fundamentally good, I believe people become disconnected from that essential goodness, mostly by fear. Fear drives people to create habits that define what is “familiar” and “normal” for them, even if that’s dysfunctional and unhealthy. That becomes the comfort zone, and the more it’s reinforced, the farther they get from their inner selves.

…buuuuut now I’m just rambling philosophical. Regardless of hero or villain, it’s interesting to explore the deeper motivations of a cast!

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Sam Kirkman

That is a wonderful essay Robin! This all goes along so well with what Brian writes about in The Golden Theme in the chapter “The Hitler Within you.” He mentioned that Mother Teresa started down her path of altruism on the day, “I discovered I had a Hitler inside me.” Then he states, “In order to be good storytellers, we must recognize that monsters are nothing but the worst versions of ourselves.” It’s a wonderful discussion about the roots of evil and it’s existence even in the most virtuous of beings. If we write characters that deny this truth, whether Hero or Villain, It will be shlock.

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Chris Oatley

Great writing, Robin. We should get you to write a guest blog for Paper Wings really soon! (Wink wink. Secret fist-bump.)

I didn’t get to finish it but I certainly will. Awesome insights.

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RobinofLeyLines

Oh no! I forgot the secret code word! Uh! Oh! Um! Spangled banner jelly stix! The fish flew to the blue moon lagoon! Mayday! Mayday! *flails hands and makes explosion sound effects*

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David Hansen

I haven’t seen Megamind (although it sounds incredible, putting it on my watch list for this week.) But my favorite example of a villain-as-protagonist, possibly my favorite example of great storytelling in general, is Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, a musical in three acts, written and directed by Joss Whedon, who also did Avengers.
I won’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but it’s about a supervillain competing with his heroic nemesis, Captain Hammer, over a girl. Doctor Horrible and Penny (the love interest) share a common goal, to change the world for the better, but their methods are vastly different. Penny works to feed and care for the homeless, and Doctor Horrible’s philosophy is that “The fish rots from the head, so why not cut off the head… of the human race?” So he has to fight an internal battle and learn that as he gets closer to his career goal (a position in the Evil League of Evil) he gets farther from Penny, and she gets closer to Captain Hammer. In the end, he’s going to have to make a choice.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen the movie, watch it. It was released online for free right off the bat, so you’ll be able to find it pretty easily on hulu or netflix.

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RobinofLeyLines

I thought about Dr. Horrible when I was writing it!! I definitely think he’s stuck in the cycle still — in an attempt to be spoiler free and vague, the spiral is still going down along the same tracks. It would be amazing to see a sequel…*sigh*

I was talking with a friend about ways to escape the antagonist’s downward spiral, and so far we can only think of two solutions. Either they win, and gain a new perspective on their lives because they escape the “Fail to Win” cycle, OR the unit adapts and welcomes them back openly without conditions (provided the antagonist is capable of taking such an offer genuinely in return). I feel like there has to be more options than that, but there’s not a lot of examples to work from. Even Elfaba of Wicked doesn’t really escape the cycle — she self-exiles, but neither she nor the unit really is transformed.

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David Hansen

Whedon has said that a sequel is in the works, a story outline plus a few songs have been written. I’m hoping for more news soon, now that The Avengers has been finished.

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Michael Dambold

Robin, what a fantastic essay! I have to say that the writing for Avengers was so well done that, even though I had little interest in Loki before the movie, that he became one of the deepest villains portrayed in cinema in the last decade.

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RobinofLeyLines

I was in the same boat! The film Thor got my interest, but Avengers took that interest and ran with into full-blow fan-dom for me. I haven’t been a fangirl for anything in AGES! It feels…kinda fun, actually!!

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albone

I read your article a couple of times, and I have to say that I’m still a little confused. I get that you can sympathize where the antagonists are coming from, their origin story so to speak, but wouldn’t you get off that ride when say, the Prince of Lies, Loki starts killing people? Or says he wants to take everyone’s freedom of freedom away? Isn’t the point between antagonists and protagonists that antagonists choose to defy the Golden Theme and think that they are in fact, not the same as everyone else by committing their/will crimes on others?

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Albone

Wait…I think I get it. You’re saying that a better villain made is one whose origin story we can empathize with? Because that makes a lot of sense. (It came to me on my bike ride home) :P

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Sam Kirkman

Magnito Is a great example. His origin story is one of the most poingient I’ve seen. Mystique’s is a good one too. In the world of the X-Men I find myself really sympathizing with the bad guys and wondering why Xavior & the good guys bother protecting a populace that hate them. Goes to the deeper cord of good, loving those who persecute you, the toughest kind of good I guess.

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Albone

Eh…you sympathize with the mass murdering terrorist? I mean, we’re talking comics here, but he sank a Russian sub killing two dozen people so he could point the nukes at…not Germany, but the United States. What about that do you connect with?

Mystique sent her adopted daughter (Rogue) to go kill Ms Marvel. She almost succeeded, by erasing Ms. Marvel’s mind leaving her an invalid. Then, she picked Ms Marvel up over her head and tossed her off of a bridge. And that’s why Rogue can fly and has super-strength.

The X-men realize that guys like that are making it worse on all of mutankind, and that if they don’t stop him, someone else without mutants best interests is going to. Plus, they’re good guys. They’ve suffered some horrific stuff too, but don’t use it as an excuse to murder the population.

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Sam Kirkman

Thanks for clearing that up for me.

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RobinofLeyLines

We hashed this out on Twitter, but I thought I’d summarize the discussion here for the benefit of the rest of the PWP folk. I found it really valuable – I hope you do too!
—-
Albone: Read your article and wonder if the point of it is,can a reader get behind an antagonist whose reasons aren’t selfish?

RobinofLeyLines: I think you could ask the same question for heroes. Lots of heroes do things for selfish reasons, and we cheer them on anyway. “I want to be the best XYZ!” “I want to earn the love of this girl!” “I want to do XYZ so I can be happy with QPR!” In fact, the motivations of villains and heroes are often identical, if you dig deep enough. It’s their methods that separate them. Or, sometimes, simply the perception of the reader. Have you seen Amon from Korra? From the equalist perspective, Amon = good guy.

A: Which is what’s supposed to separate hero from villain…the methods and motives. Brian McDonald’s Golden Theme, eh? That’s exactly what I was looking for. So, you’re not condoning, in Loki’s case, lies, murder and conquest?

R: No, not at all. But I relate to them. There is a certain pride, self-esteem, and freedom in being 100% wicked. If being “good” means, in your situation, being a person you don’t like or accepting oppression, what are the merits of being good? And if a hero lies, murders, or conquers “evil” for the “greater good” — are they really so virtuous? Or simply the winner? In History we DO have villains. People that go too far. However, more often, we simply have people. That’s what I find interesting. I think it comes down to how the person carries themselves in the quiet moments that defines true virtue or villainy.

A: That’s where I’m a little confused. Are you saying you empathize with, for instance, the BTK killer? I mean, because he had problems with his Mom growing up.

R: Then yes, coming from a toxic home myself, I can relate to how warped one’s self perception can become, leading to bad acts. His actions? Goodness no. That said, I don’t know his motives, so I can’t say if I would, or would not empathize with them. However, I cannot relate to his actions. The harm I have done has never been to other people. Harming others seems…cowardly. I think I empathize more with the IDEA of the villain, but only of certain kinds. It depends all on the WHY.

A: I made my wife read your article (which she loved btw, especially female expectation on them) to try and clear it up.

R: I’m glad she enjoyed it. I think this is a phenomena that most women in our culture can relate to, but men may struggle with.

A: I’ve seen women’s struggles in the womens-studies books I’ve read. It really is hard out there for the ladies.

R: It is…and it isn’t. I think we play a part in our own oppression. Being one’s self is difficult for everybody. I think that’s the difference. Most men that “are themselves” are (generally) celebrated in our culture. But with women…

A: I was perplexed by your article because there’s something else that I’ve never understood…why Spike gets a pass after his attempted rape of Buffy. Rape victims have sympathized with him and I’m WTF? Why? So after your article, I was wondering if I’m just that dunce. Is it okay to murder, and rape if your reason is good? But it seems that the origin is what you empathize with, not the actions. I’ve always thought that Spikes attempted rape of Buffy was okay to people that didn’t like Buffy. Something I picked up from my womens studies books.

R: As a Spike fan…I don’t really have an answer for you either. I’ve wondered about it myself. I think it’s the remorse, ultimately. I like Buffy just fine. She’s not my favorite, but I’d never wish something like that on anybody, even if I hated them! I think the issue is literal vs. symbolic, here. In NO WAY am I condoning the ACTIONS of murder, rape, or abuse. More, I empathize with the symbolic process of a villain STORY on a psychological level. If we view Buffy and Spike as SYMBOLS…well, women’s identities are invalidated and violated all the time.

A: Agreed, and since before we starting keeping track of the years on a calender.

R: If a woman is assertive = “Ice Queen”, “B****”, “Butch”. If a MAN is assertive = “Alpha” “Top dog” “leader”

A: Which realistically, is to take power away from said woman with a simple word or phrase.

R: Exactly. So, symbolically, there is a societal violation of women that express themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes literally too. I’m not saying “woe is me” or “shame on you for being a man!” Simply “sometimes, being ME and being a woman is hard.” Sometimes, in order to be MYSELF, I feel like I have to say “FINE! Label me how you want! I’ll be your villain! But I’m still ME!” So I relate to villain STORIES and SYMBOLS. Because they are symbolically doing what I have to do every day.

A: And it happens all over the planet, which really makes me sad, especially trying to write an empowering female webcomic.

R: I think that makes your story more important. Because it’s so hard to be an empowered woman when you have to stand alone.

A: So, out of curiosity, did you want Loki to win?

R: In his unbalanced state? No way!! Haha! That would be horrible for everybody! What I’d like for his character is for him to find a way out of the negative Failure cycle. That requires transformation. Megamind achieves his transformation by winning, but I have to believe there are other options for villain transformation. New purpose, perhaps. Validation by the unit for who he IS. Or an acceptance that his birth doesn’t define him, but his actions.

A: LOL, I’m sorry if I’ve off as dunce, with the questions.

R: Please don’t apologize! Dialog and discussion are great for me to learn other perspectives too! This is really interesting for me! And my perspective is hardly the only valid one! I can see how you’d equate “Villain journey good” to condoning terrible things.

A: I appreciate that and I wish I could’ve worked it out sooner. (which is why I solicited the Mrs’s help) :P But, I do think going forward, I will be writing much more rounded villains and heroes from this discussion. Seriously.

R: Awesome!! I can’t wait to read them! Thank you again for discussing this with me. It was really valuable to me!

A: Thanks for the excellent discussion, because you never know how they’re going to go, hot topicy and all that. XD

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Whew, I’m here finally and man, the forum is blowing up with great comments! Great work everyone!

Thank you Lora for another great post that has my wheels spinning!

To answer the questions of how Man vs. Self affect my story, here I go;

Internal:
After I take some time to establish the setting and characters of my story I will introduce the struggles as they approach Kodi and his environment. Kodi’s biggest struggle and a major theme to the story is his desire to basically grow up and mature in enough time to make a difference in his world. He is relatively very young as a living star ages and he has a lot to grow into. The problem is that the universe needs his talents and abilities now and though he greatly wants to reach the point of helping everyone, he doesn’t know how. He thinks he is just a normal-ish creature like the rest of the universe but what he doesn’t realize early in the story is that because he is a white dwarf star, he is one of the universes brightest and most pure forms of light. He is part of a lineage of some of the universes greatest defenders and warriors and yet he is just a kid. How can a child/adolescent really grow up enough to make a difference. This is what he pushes for and what he must discover about himself; what it means to be grown up.

Externally:
The outside forces that push him toward this theme of groaning up are great indeed. Something has changed in the universe. Wild, black-hole creatures that were content to stay in their little areas of the galaxies are starting to attack and seek other places. MANY home worlds and lifeforms are at risk and the most powerful weapon against their darkness is light itself, but even that some can consume if needed. There are many amongst the Starfish and Brights that defend against them regularly but something is different, more dangerous now. The monsters are more driven now.

The brighter the space-light, the better they can fight them off and that is where Kodi can make a difference. With the power of his pure and bright light, he can be a might warrior against the darkness. Can he grow and harness his power with enough intensity and in enough time to tip the scale? Will the young man in him own the responsibility that his power demands or will the child in him freeze or worse, run away from those that need him?

HE may be their only hope.

Whew…not to be arrogant or anything, but I get excited just typing this stuff! All tingly and honored to be the host of a story like this. I guess for me, growing up was one of my greatest struggles. One that I still fight today even at 30.

Thank you all for letting me join you with my journey.

Footnote: yeah, I cheesed out with twisting the words of Stan “The Man” Lee into that last part, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Brilliant man he is.

Also, I see that many of you are discussing short stories and I am working on a blog post on my blog that will discuss tips on helping you create great shorts! I will let you all know when it is finished!

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Chris Oatley

You’re so awesome it should be illegal.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Thanks!!!!

Laws, what Laws? I don’t need no stink’n laws! Ha ha!

I try, and I keep wanting to make a Judge Dredd reference here about “being the law”. Yep, i’m a geek!

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Sam kirkman

Good stuff there Cap!

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Thanks Sam! That means a great deal coming from you!

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David Somerville

Hi Chris, Lora, and Wingers!

I just started listening to the podcast a few days ago, and am completely hooked. I’m hoping to join in all this great discussion on a deeper level very soon, but I wanted to introduce myself and say thanks, first!

This podcast is a total inspiration for a would-be writer/artist like myself … and that’s after listening to only a few episodes! I look forward to joining you all on the adventure of creativity going forward. Cheers!

+David

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Chris Oatley

Welcome, David!

So glad you like the show! Good folks and good blog posts here too.

Looking forward to connecting.

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David Somerville

Thanks, Chris! I had stumbled onto Greg The Megabeaver’s Prehistoric Sideshow and loved it, and didn’t connect it with Paper Wings until after I had listened to the first few shows. Terrific work on that, as well as the podcast … can’t wait for 2013!

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Sam kirkman

Hey David welcome! Great piece on your blog on how a book is born by Weldon Owen. Thanks for sharing that. Had to tweet it. Let’s al be goat farmers!

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David Somerville

Sam, I couldn’t stop smiling when I read that. I loved it. Classic example of informative and entertaining at the same time! …and I love “Adrift” on your blog — talk about showing just enough. Really great work there.

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Sam Kirkman

Thanks David!

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Emily Hann

Hi David and welcome!

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Eric S

Good article! I’ve been struggling with this very thing for the last few weeks in the writing of my comic. I’ve found lots of ways to change various aspects of the conflicts within the story to better reflect the internal one of the character. (I’d share more details but I’m in such an early stage lots of things are subject to change as I gain a greater understanding of to how to tell the story I want to tell.)
Subtext, subtext.
Also, great appreciation for suggesting “Invisible Ink” and “the Golden Theme”, bought both now and loving the insights into the craft.
^_^

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Chris Oatley

Awesome to hear, Eric!

I was just encouraging a friend of mine to stay focused on figuring out this “man vs. self” arc. It’s super-hard but it’s SO worth the struggle.

Keep us posted!

I can’t wait to hear what you come up with.

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Leigh Fieldhouse

I think another important thing to keep in mind is to keep both sides of the internal conflict balanced. So essentially when the character comes to make that choice at the end of the story A is just as bad/good a choice as B. So when the character chooses it actually shows their growth or lack of.

Darth Vaders choice at the end of Return of the Jedi is a great example. Choosing between saving his son but betraying his master or being loyal to his master but letting his son die. If this choice were not both equally as painful to choose between it would not show Darth Vaders change, as it would seem he took the easy choice.

On a side note it’s great how you know exactly what is running through vaders mind in this scene, his internal conflict, even though he has a mask on his face.

I know Chris mentioned this a while back, but I have just managed to watch the Michael Arndt Toy Story 3 Bluray feature. It is a really insightful but short clip on how to setup a character and story in Act 1. He mentions how the characters flaw comes from the trait/thing that defines them as a person, setting up their internal conflict.

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Chris Oatley

Whoah. Leigh. Great applications of the “how to measure change” concept.

And I love how you’ve explained how to create greater depth by making the choice painful either way.

It’s like, if your hero is going to change for the better and then make it easy on them to make a good choice at the end, then the dramatic change doesn’t pack the emotional punch and it doesn’t provide catharsis for the audience.

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RobinofLeyLines

I love this point and example, Leigh! Particularly how a choice can both demonstrate growth OR a lack of! Sometimes characters aren’t ready to accept a new role or commit to a new action. They have to grow a little more. Zuko in Season Two of Avatar, the Last Airbender comes to mind. Every fan was cheering him on to accept a “good guy” role, but I felt that what they did with the character was far more compelling. Follow your own moral compass and lose your family forever, or do something in your heart you feel is wrong, but regain your father’s love. Not a choice I’d want to make either!!

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Leigh Fieldhouse

If people are interested Brian McDonald has a post on his blog about conflict, and how internal conflict is the most powerful form.

http://invisibleinkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/conflict-resolution.html

“If you have a character who is a recovering alcoholic and has decided not to drink, find a reason to get her in a bar with people laughing, drinking and having a good time. Boom. Conflict. Internal conflict. After that you can write a pretty straightforward scene.”

“Put a poor person in a swanky country club. You get the idea.”

I like how Lora mentions in the article

“Great stories use external conflicts like Man vs. Nature or Man. vs. Man to bring about, expose or mirror the inner Man vs. Self conflict”

As the plot puts pressure on the character to make choices, these choices reveal character.

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Derrick "Captain Dutz" Utz

Brilliant Leigh, just brilliant! Yes, i love the phrase that the external elements forces internal reactions that reveal the character! On the head!

I look at it as a see-saw with so many elements in a story trying balance themselves out, forcing the opposite to react. That constant balancing act helps to drive the story forward and creates tension!

Great observation!

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eri

You know, I feel really silly, but simultaneously enlightened… I’d read the original post, and the comments a few days ago, and went off to do a little write up of my thoughts in regards to my story and the issue of ‘Man Vs. Self’… And only after I tried to do a write up did I realise I wasn’t 100% clear on what was meant by it. I came back and read the original post, and then the comments again (there were so many new posts too!), and I think I now actually GET what is meant by ‘Man Vs. Self’ (at least, I get it better now).

‘Man Vs. Self’ is internal struggle, but it’s a particular facet of a character’s struggle: it’s a character’s internal conflict with his or herself, and the DECISIONS they MUST make. A or B? X or Y?

And when I looked closely at the comments again, I notice that a lot of them either very explicitly articulate this, or imply it very clearly in their examples and questions. Amazing stuff guys. It feels like something has peeled off my eyeballs.

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bustera
Emily Hann

I just got back from my vacation and I’m super excited to get all caught up with these great posts about conflict! I’m really proud of myself for figuring out how to make my Mac read this article to me while I update my blog! I’m now going to make it read all the comments to me in its lovely robot voice.

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Emily Hann

Wow guys, all around amazing comments…

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