From the second chapter of Scene & Structure I pick up easily my best writing instruction in years. I find it awkward to share this revelation. It’s not new instruction. It’s not sophisticated instruction. Define your characters’ self-concept then oppose it.
I immediately recognized what Bickham wrote as what I’ve read elsewhere—even seen codified into software—but from a different angle. Previously I’ve read this int he form of a question. This question: “What are you character’s goals?”. Fuck if I know. If I knew I wouldn’t be sitting here reading your book I’d be writing my story. Defining characters’ goals never made sense to me because doing so was step two. I needed step one. Now I’ve got it.
Still Bickham twists this just right for me. He doesn’t ask, “Who are your characters?”. He asks me to consider who my characters think they are. Discussing characters that way released a long dormant epiphany for me. I distinguish between asking my characters to tell me who they are—anthropomorphic bullshit —and them defining who they are. I never speak as if my characters exist. However, them thinking they do is perfectly reasonable.
- Brother Gane – believes himself helpful and proficient but still hasn’t found the proper place to be either.
- Mr. Johnathan Goffe – observes but doesn’t get involved. His profession as photographer symbolizes this perception. Moreover he feels the world around him has separated itself from him to be observed.
- Tritti the Pilgrim – feels a destiny outside her home village. She knows she is equal to any task. She is naive.
- You – is a skilled killer just this side of assassin and an avid startrotter.
- Conner’s Father – denies his former profession by embracing fatherhood.
- Ailchas – soldiers as one lucky and skilled enough to become an old one.