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Theme-Character Integration Part 17 Building a Lead Character from Theme

Theme-Character Integration

Part 17

Building a Lead Character from Theme

Previous posts in this Theme-Character Integration series are indexed here:

The essence of Story is CONFLICT. 

If you have a "story idea" - the key to developing the Characters who live out and thus illustrate (show don't tell) your story idea is to answer the question, "Who would have to conquer (insert story idea problem) in order to live Happily Ever After?" 

Plot (as I use the term throughout these Tuesday posts) is a series of events connected by "because." Plot is all about what people do in response to stimuli in their Environment -- "environment" being the world you build for the characters which stimulates the particular character to live out the events that illustrate your story idea.  Sometimes a novel first surfaces in your vision as a Plot Idea. 

Story is the sequence of changes a Character undergoes while living out the events of your plot which is the result of the environment the Character is embedded in.

The Romances I love best start with the Lead Character departing their environment and plunging (often willy-nilly) into a new environment they have to figure out as they go.

Re-read the opening of THE LORD OF THE RINGS - it is iconic. The most interesting part of a lead character's life starts when they leave their Hobbit Hole.

So a change of environment (going on vacation, being evicted from an apartment, divorcing, marrying, quitting a job, being "head-hunted" by a firm giving you a job way over your head)  makes a human much more keenly aware of environment, and brings long-held routine choices done subconsciously up into conscious choices.

Conscious choices cause actions which are the events of the because-line of Plot.

The way a Character handles change of environment depends almost entirely on their ability to judge other people -- and that ability accurately assess others is a product of the previous environment.

The ability to assess others accurately (insight) is a learned ability - usually learned in the school of hard knocks, for example marrying the wrong person then getting divorced and having children's lives displaced.

The process of learning to judge others accurately, and thus move smoothly through life, managing difficult situations generates plot which reshapes Character, producing Story.

For example, pulling a group together to produce a salutary result (e.g. organizing the parents of the PTA to pressure the school board to increase college opportunities for the system's Science Curriculum graduates) would make a first book in a Romance Series with a powerful heroine destined to be elected Governor, maybe President, over decades -- lots of novels.

We're talking LEADERSHIP here. 

What does it take to be a leader? 

What element of Character do you need to propel your Theme into the stark, clear, questioning hearts of the readers?

One indispensable trait of Leader Characters is the ability to see into the heart and soul of Others -- to understand what is going on inside others and then place those others into positions where their short-comings actually become major assists in the project.

In other words, the Leadership Trait that you, the writer, get to develop in your Lead Character is the ability to develop more Leaders.

THEME: Human society must mature to where every individual is a Leader.

CHARACTER: The victim of an online Bully, despised by parents for not fighting back effectively, secretly wins a Scholarship to Harvard and leaves home to earn a way into the Space Program.

To compete at Harvard (or pick a School with high standards), you not only have to be smart, you have to gain an understanding of the hearts and souls of your competition.

What you choose to do with that understanding reveals your strength of character. 

And there's your story generating plot -- the character destined to become a Leader gains a little power by understanding the competition and chooses to behave differently than HS classmates or parents behaved when they had power over the character. 

Why do they choose differently, and what difference do they choose to impose on their behavior? That's the story.

The plot is all about the consequences of those choices and what HAPPENS as a consequence of the consequence.

Is that beginning to sound like Harry Potter?

Here is an article to read about judging others, and how the ability to judge correctly can be employed.  Read to the bottom of the page to discover why it is titled DOUBLE STANDARD.

Note particularly what you can do in a Romance with a Character who sees in another a piercing Truth the other is not aware of.  


Judge every man to the side of merit

Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6        


On the most elementary level, this means that if you discern a negative trait in your fellow or you see him commit a negative act, do not judge him guilty in your heart. "Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place," warns another of the Ethics' sayings, and his place is one place where you will never be. You have no way of truly appreciating the manner in which his inborn nature, his background or the circumstances that hold sway over his life have influenced his character and behavior.

However, this only explains why you should not judge your fellow guilty. Yet our Mishnah goes further than this, enjoining us to "judge every man to the side of merit." This implies that we should see our fellow's deficiencies in a positive light. But what positive element is implied by a person's shortcomings and misdeeds?

Differently Equal

An explanation may be found in another Talmudic saying: "Whoever is greater than his fellow, his inclination (for evil) is also greater." - a rule crucial to our understanding of a fundamental principle of Torah, man's possession of "free choice" regarding his actions.

Indeed, how can we consider a person's choices to be free and uncoerced, when there is so much inequality in life? Can we compare the moral performance of an individual whose character was shaped by a loving family, a stable environment and a top-notch education with that of one who has experienced only rootlessness, violence and despair? Can we compare a person who has naturally and effortlessly been blessed with a superior mind and a compassionate heart to one who has no so been privileged? Are their choices equally "free"? Are they equally accountable for their actions?

------end quote------

There are several hundred Science Fiction Romance SERIES of long novels wrapped up in this very condensed outline of a question about Character vs Action, about Story vs Plot.

The essence of story is Conflict. Inner conflict generates story -- external conflict generates plot -- THEME connects the two.

Why is this a principle of ART -- of novels? Because that is the structure of the universe which we recognize subconsciously but just can't quite grasp consciously.

In fact, consciously, humans tend to fight this idea is if it is an existential threat.  

The idea that those with the potential for greatest good have that potential for true great-goodness BECAUSE they also have an equally gigantic potential for Evil -- and that CONFLICT within the great leaders, movers and shakers, (such as Elon Musk?) is what generates their life story, and the public life's plot.

To become a fully mature species able to take a productive place in Galactic Society, humanity may need a social structure which cradles, buffers, develops and supports Leadership in everyone, but particularly those with the strongest inclination toward Evil.

If we could take our worst villains and point their energies at a productive target (colonizing Mars?), and cheer them on shouting their praises for doing GOOD, perhaps Evil would be vastly diminished -- to the point where the UFO people watching us from afar might invite us into Galactic Civilization.

If that's your theme, find the Character with the potential to settle that internal conflict in such a way that it reconfigures the external (public) conflict into a peaceful resolution.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

This post first appeared on Alien Romances, please read the originial post: here

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Theme-Character Integration Part 17 Building a Lead Character from Theme


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