Rule #6

I went looking for a yin/yang picture, but the one I wanted to use was a no-go. So, I picked a random picture from my archives.
I went looking for a yin/yang picture, but the one I wanted to use was a no-go. So, I picked a random picture from my archives.

Since starting this review of the Pixar Rules and trying to apply them to my (failed) novel, a discovery is dawning at the edge of my consciousness.

Character is key.

So is plot and an emotional journey and all that jazz, but central to all that is character. I think I know my main character, but yesterday, while hanging out over on SFFWorld.com, I started some “table talk” with another author. While in our respective characters, we are trying to learn more about how our characters would react to certain situations. At a dinner table with a stranger, what would my character focus on? What questions would he ask? I am finding it really hard and I wonder if it is because I just don’t know my character enough or if it is because I haven’t been in his head, so to speak, for some time.

Anyway, it got me thinking about Pixar’s 6th Rule:

What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

Funny thing is – I did exactly that in my novel, but apparently, it didn’t work out so well.

I think the concept of this rule is valid. It is imperative to put your characters in uncomfortable positions and confront them with challenging situations and people. But I also think it has to be done is such a way that, well, it makes sense.

This is where the melding of character and plot makes or breaks your story. And using the above ‘rule’ as a writing exercise, and not as a hard story element, might be a more prudent approach to learn more about your character, whether those situations end up in your story or not.

Adding challenges to your story is always fun, and one does learn a lot about your characters when you do that, but remember to ensure a smooth story line that will keep your readers from going ‘Huh? Why is this happening?’

Until later, write in character.

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23 thoughts on “Rule #6

  1. I love this series!

    One thing I’m a little puzzled at in these rule is that they aren’t explicit about character flaws: all the pixar movies establish a protagonist with a clear flaw, show the character beating his head against that flaw and then finally a ‘black moment’ where it becomes clear he must change and an epiphany. I think that is at the heart of their success, in many ways.

    I come at that from a similar place to you, where I’ve struggled with characters. I think it is my weakest point, and unfortunately, probably one of the worst things to be weak at. But nothing like recognizing it as a first step to fixing it.

    1. That is interesting they don’t mention the character flaw, but I suppose these rules are not the end all of what it takes to write a brilliant story?

      Definitely on the recognizing it to be able to fix it. I really suck at self-evaluation (I guess we all do) and recognizing what I am doing wrong is key to improving.

    1. That’s an excellent list! I’ve seen a few of those around and always thought, oh, I don’t need to do that…

      But maybe I do. I’ll try it this weekend.

      Thanks!

  2. Working on your characters should definitely take 90% of your effort. Plot should be the other 90%

    I actually heard an interesting interview the other day with the editor of an anthology of mysteries. The interviewer was telling a story about another author who wanted to work on her plots by reading a stack of mysteries, and the editor could barely contain himself wanting to say how wrong that was. His contention (which I have to agree with having spent the last 6 months working on a mystery of sorts) is that mysteries are all about how the characters react to what is happening, not seamless, clever plots.

    1. I like that – an even 90-90 split. 😉

      Very true, SM. Something that I know instinctively, but is so hard to get right. And since it is hard (for me), I tend to shy away from it and plot the heck out of my stories. One of these days…I’ll get it right. Maybe.

  3. I’m sorry your character got stuck with mine, Nila. He’s a real jerk, although I like to think he’s just rough around the edges, and there’s more to him than anyone sees. 🙂

    1. Ha! Personally, I like Cullen. Andreu, however, has just spent a bunch of time with an asshole and he has very little patience for the dark and brooding type at the moment. 🙂

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