Canned Wisdom #3

It’s Monday morning again, and it’s time for some food for thought:

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Previous week’s Canned Wisdom can be found here.

What’s a strong character? Very often the phrase comes with the word female inserted in the middle, and we get the phrase strong female character.

A lot of the time it seems that those who talk about strong female characters refer to characters who are strong in a worldly sense – strong within the world of the story. They may be rich and powerful, or they may be athletic and beautiful, or perhaps they’re extremely intelligent or have magical powers. Stuff like that.

That’s fine.

There’s nothing wrong with having characters that are powerful.

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Even a little light can remove a lot of darkness.

However, I think that from a storytelling perspective there’s more to the phrase strong character than just worldly power. A strong character is someone who moves the story forward on their own rather than someone who has the story happen to them.

 

This doesn’t require the character to be physically or mentally strong, and it doesn’t mean they need magical superpowers. What it does mean is they act and make decisions, and that these acts and decisions have an impact on the story. The character doesn’t just react to things that happen to them.

Example:

In a story I’m working on, the character Roy ends up an unwilling guest (prisoner in all but word) at a mansion up in the mountains. Naturally he wants to escape from there.

In the first draft of the story, the mansion’s cheeky old caretaker suggests that Roy could go down to the lake to fish in order to relax for a bit. That would be a great opportunity for Roy to escape, but it’s also an opportunity that gets handed to him by someone else. He doesn’t have anything to do with it at all.

In the second draft of the story, Roy asks the caretaker if there’s a fishing rod available.

The flow of the story is essentially the same in the two different versions: Roy escapes from the mansion by pretending to go fishing. The difference is that in the second draft, Roy comes up with the idea and sets it into motion himself.

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Morning coffee – and there’s more than one strong character in this picture, but that’s for me to know and for you to wonder about.

I hope this all makes some kind of sense to you, but if it doesn’t, feel free to leave a comment and ask. I’ll try my best to answer as soon as I can.

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Canned Wisdom #3

Soundtrack for a Fading Champion

Whenever I start on a more serious story project I put together a playlist for the main character that reflects their personality and how I see them. Once I have a number of songs selected I pick out five signature songs and list them in a blog post along with how they relate to my character.

This time the character is Roy, a werewolf wrestling champion at the end of his career, and these are his signature songs. First is a short spotify playlist, and then there’s a youtube video of each song along with a few comments about how it fits the character.

1. Clawfinger – Bigges & The Best

Roy’s a world class wrestler and this is his theme song. He’s tough, merciless, and confident. He knows he’s the best. No matter what the critics and the press and the rising stars say, Roy know’s they can’t beat him. He’s just that good – just that tough.

2. The Phantom of the Opera

This is about the mask the phantom wears. It’s about what he hides from everyone else. There’s the obvious public face of Roy the wrestler – the persona represented by the previous song. But, there’s more than that to the mask. Roy also hides a dark secret that no one knows and that few have even seen hinted at. He hides it, and hides it well, for if people knew, they’d see him for more of a monster than just a werewolf.

3. VNV Nation – Beloved

This video is for the original version of the song, with a very sweet little animated video to go with it. However, I’d also recommend the orchestral version (Allegro Grazioso) which carries a lot more sadness in its sound, and as such is more fitting.

This song represents Roy’s love for Toini, his childhood friend who was killed in action so many years ago – and he still loves her just as much.

4. Depeche Mode – Wrong

Roy may be a world famous wrestler and multiple times world champion, but his life hasn’t been easy, and it’s not what he wanted. He’s made wrong decisions. He’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time, hung out with wrong people and said the wrong things.

Time and time again. Wrong.

Sure, he’s got fame and money, but he’s alone and disillusioned. Bitter. Cynic. A consequence of all that’s gone wrong and all he’s done wrong.

5. Empathy Test – Here is the Place

There’s also a charming live version of this song here. It’s well worth watching, but I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the album version first.

Of the previous songs, three are of a failed and miserable past, and one is about a fake public persona. This is the song for the future Roy dreams of. It’s about going home to where he came from and to where he belongs. It’s about nostalgia and it’s about having somewhere you belong and where you’re safe.

Final Comments

There are plenty of songs that qualify, but didn’t make it. I could easily have picked five tracks by VNV Nation alone.

As a character, Roy is pretty sad. He’s had a tough journey, and he’s close to giving up, but he’s not a quitter. He’ll keep going. Stubbornly, stupidly, until there’s nowhere else to go and nothing left to do. He’ll deal with it when he gets there. That’s just the way he is.

Sort of, I think…

The story’s still being planned. The real writing has not yet begun.

Soundtrack for a Fading Champion