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I need some advice please (1 Viewer)

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mstooey

Member
Hello everyone

My name is Tina and I am new here. I have been working on this story for some time. I have about 100 pages written. I am stuck and fighting with myself on how to continue. My story has two main characters one is reading the diary of the other. I was wondering if anyone had some good advice on how I can work this out. I dont know whether or not to write the diary portion as the story teller or as the writer of the diary. Should she be telling the story herself or should I. I also wondered if I should write indivdual entries like a diary should be written. If I do that then I will be missing a lot of detail. She begins writhing in it as young child. Any advice.
 

Ethan

WF Veterans
Hi Tina
There is a third alternative, write the whole thing in the third person. Tha tway you can comment on both parties thoughts/feelings etc and include diary extracts if required.
Hope this helps a little and Welcome to WF.
 

Nickleby

WF Veterans
Much will depend on context. If the contents of the diary are important, or if they serve as a good indicator of the diarist's character, then it's probably a good idea to include them. On the other hand, if the entries are repetitive or mundane, you might consider summarizing them through the filter of the person reading them, which can reveal things about both characters. A third option is to combine the two viewpoints, that is, provide bits and pieces of the diary but include the second character's reaction to them. Yet another option is to include those bits and pieces as preamble to each chapter, so that the reader gets an impression from the first character but doesn't get bogged down in the diary.

Welcome to the forum!
 

Lewdog

WF Veterans
Well from what I've seen, some people start it off as if the person is reading the diary in their head as an actual entry, then it changes to the writer of the diary talking in first person. Does that make sense to you? Think of it like how the movie, "The Neverending Story," goes. Where they start reading the book, then it switches.
 

2pebbles

Senior Member
I think Lewdog's suggestion is a good one: a transition from the diary as it is written into the diary owner just telling the story. Do you need reactions from the character who is reading?
 

Nee

Senior Member
All or any of these suggestions would do...however, do you know how this story will end? That will determine which of these would be better for your story. Using literary devices to tell your story is fine but, it still comes down to whether your story can stand on its own regardless of which way you decide to bring it to the readers.
 
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dolphinlee

Senior Member
I think you need to write out the diary entries anyway. What is it that the reader is seeing? How are they going to respond and why?

If you don't have at least a rough idea of what was written then I do not think you can go forward.

Once you have done this you might have a better idea of how to proceed.
 

Morkonan

WF Veterans
...Any advice.

A few months ago, I answered a similar post on another writer's forum. I used the same forum handle. So, if that was you, you already know my advice. (PS - Never give your real name, even your first name, on Teh Internetz, ok? It's not a good idea. Edit your real first name out of your post. That's advice I'd give anyone, right off the bat.)

If you're not that poster on that other forum, then I'll try to go with what information you've revealed so far:

There is only very rarely and only in certain unique sorts of stories "two" protagonists or "main characters." Rethink what it is you're saying, here. Stories can be confusing enough without having two main characters that you have to focus on and, more importantly, get the reader to focus on. Think of all of the best stories you've ever read. How many of them really had more than one "main character?" Truly examine those stories you have loved so much. Examine their mechanics and what their intent and message was, if any. Was there really more than one main character that the story focused on? Doubtful... Such things get confusing when there are too many perspectives in the pie, so to speak.

So, who is it? Who is the main character, really? Your story needs focus, to start with. That is why you're having some problems, if you're truly trying to adapt your story to serve two main characters. You need to develop not "two main characters" but a "focus character." Sure, you can get intimate with any number of characters, but you need something for the reader to hang on to. You need to give them something solid, something to guide them through your story. A reader is going to have a tough time splitting their attention between multiple characters of equal focus and importance. That doesn't work well. So, who is it, really? Who is your main character? What character has the most significant or interesting change during the story? What character is impacted the most by the events as they play out in the plot? Who does the story seem to revolve around? Set a pivot around each of your two characters and then spin it... Which one seems to be the most interesting when the whirlwind of the story is spun around them? That's your main character, or should be. Who effects the plot the most? Who drives the story?

First, I'd need you to pick one character that best fits the description of a "main character." Then, I would be better able to help you.
 
Morkonen said:
There is only very rarely and only in certain unique sorts of stories "two" protagonists or "main characters."
Eh? I really don't think it's at all uncommon to have two or more main characters. I can think of three different books I've read in the past year that have more than one MC. Just read 1Q84, definitely two MCs. Currently reading Gravity's Rainbow, I'm a hundred pages in and so far there are two (I think). Vanity Fair has two. Middlemarch. It's true that these are longer works, for the most part, but I could probably find shorter ones if I tried.

Nickleby's suggestions to the OP on how to handle the diary are good, IMO.
 

Morkonan

WF Veterans
Eh? I really don't think it's at all uncommon to have two or more main characters. ...

See, that's the thing - I find the phrase "Main Character" disturbing.

What's a "Main Character?" I know what a "Protagonist" is. I know what an "Antagonist" is. I know of a wide range of archetypes used to support the storytelling process. But, what is this "Main Character" that so many people talk about? /boggle

Let's take a genre with lots of characters in it - The Epic. For funsies, I'll use a psuedo-epic "The Lord of the Rings", since many people will be familiar with it, due to the movies.

Who's the Main Character in The Lord of the Rings? Obviously, it's Frodo. Right? Maybe? Probably... But, all of his supporting archetypes, sidekicks, rascals, fools and mentors undergo quite a bit of character development. Most have their own bits of perspective pieces and some have a great deal of page-time. Are all of these commonly considered to be "Main Characters?" Is that what that term is all about? Or, is it supposed, instead, to denote "Protagonists?" Who's the Protagonist? (Hard to say, really, since it's more of a tour book epic. Is Middle Earth a Main Character, then?) If they're all "Main Characters" then who are the supporting ones? Is a Mentor Archetype a Main Character? Sure, it can be, using the phrase as I think it's usually intended. But, just because a story has bits and pieces featuring lots of characters and their own perspectives doesn't mean that all such characters are "Main Characters." Is the nameless_guy_on_the_street_#39 a "Main Character" because he has a speaking part and we get to see that he thinks the kid who just ran over him with a skateboard is a young hooligan?

So, in this epic tale, I guess people would call Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Pippin, Merry and, perhaps, even Legololololes "Main Characters." OK, that's fine. Now, how do we organize a story around that which isn't an epic? ... In other words, if you have lots of "Main Characters", is it automatically an epic? Obviously not. If "The Breakfast Club" was originally a novel, it wouldn't be an epic. It's too small in scope and scale, despite its cast of characters.

With lots of main characters, one thing that you can do to help guard against confusion is to separate them by time and distance. Hence, the "Epic" is born by combining both measures. Even separating them by some sort of cultural or social boundaries works well, though may not qualify as a standard "epic", by turning what may otherwise be an "epic" into a modern drama. Let's say you have a political piece with lots of players in it. But, you run a serious risk of confusing the reader with a massive cast if you don't do something to make it sensible and to prevent all these characters from bleeding into each other. So, instead of them all sitting in the White House's Oval Office, you may split them up amongst different departments, even including some regular civilians or military types. In a movie, this sort of thing is much easier as everyone looks a bit different, right from the get-go. Of course, that's not saying you can't have all your cast of "Main Characters" sitting the same room the whole time. It's just going to take longer for the reader to become accustomed to switching perspectives while all the "Main Characters" are staring at the same water fountain. (Plus, you gotta do something about supporting the reason for so many different perspectives amongst "Main Characters" all experiencing the same thing at the same time... I wish I had read "Twelve Angry Men" as a book, instead of only having seen the movie, just to see how its mechanics would have worked.)

My reason for requesting the OP "decide" on which character is truly the "Main Character" (Protagonist) is to solve some potential problems. For instance, think of writing a story in which you develop two different characters completely, but never have them interact with anything together. In short, they have nothing in common. Nothing. That's what is described, so far, in the OP's outline. What sort of story would that be? Well, on its face, it isn't much of one and it's going to be hellishly difficult to pull of in a sensible way. So, as a writer, my instinct say's that they must be connected by something more than just a diary. That must be done. Sure, the diary is a shared bit of experience, but unless there's some particular focus on its significance as "The Diary" then you have nothing of any substance. There has to be a solid connection between these two.. "Main Characters." There's no other way to write that story and have it make sense. How to do it? That's easy - Connect them through other events, places, things, people.. something. On another forum, this very same sort of hook for a story came up and my suggestion/example (IIRC) involved having one character as an investigator and the diary-writer as the deceased, presumably murdered. However, the connection could also be achieved through the use of another character, like a husband, child, antagonist, messenger, commonly held sidekick sort of thing.. whatever. A "place" connection could be a house that the reader recently moved into and the diary could involve events that occurred in the house in the distant past. Think of an old antebellum home and a diary from the days of the Civil War or something... (cue Gone with the Wind soundtrack) What if it's a diary-reader during the Vietnam era that is reading a diary from the Civil War era? Connection made - Both of them are sharing similar experiences, losses, strife and anxiety and the one who is still living benefits in some way as, obviously, the dead character is beyond "change", limiting what a writer can do in terms of the immediacy of character development. So, now we have our connection, our sensible cast of "Main Characters" and some good opportunities for storytelling. Job done, cue end-credits...

But, developing two characters, equally, like equal protagonists that have no connection to commonly shared experiences is just darn hard to pull off, in my opinion. That's what's outlined, so far, in the OP. Harder still is to make such a story appealing. You might read such a story just to see how it was done, just like I would. But, would many normal readers who didn't have an interest in writing mechanics be as entertained? Doubtful. Literary aficionados might get a kick out of it, for some reason. But, other's wouldn't. Instead, they'd be constantly hunting for something that connects these two "Main Characters" in this story, aside from the mechanism of a different character's flashback/backstory being used in the form of a diary. What will that be? If you're going to have two "protagonists" that don't have any shared experiences, are they working on two different goals? Are they character driven stories that have two separate plots? Why should I, as a read, be enthralled by reading what amounts to two separate stories? (Though, recently, someone one an award for doing that, IIRC. I'm sure they had a much more detailed plan, though.) It's just much simpler to make sense out of this by stamping the label of "protagonist" on one of these characters and then structure character development of both with that in mind, in my opinion.

I definitely have issues with the term "Main Character." This is my problem, obviously. I don't expect it to be shared. :D It's used so frequently for so many purposes that it just gets too confusing for me to parse its meaning in all the different posts in which it occurs. It's.. frustrating. I'm no simpleton, I do "get it" most of the time. But, most of the time, it's a darned ambiguous phrase, isn't it? :)
 
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live. die. be.

Senior Member
I definitely have issues with the term "Main Character.
I've actually never thought of it like that, but you've made a really good point here, Morkonan. In the future, I think I'll be using that word less because of how ambiguous it is.

As for what mstooey asked, I'd recommend leaving it in diary form for the most part, since it tends to make the writing more intimate, closer to the reader. (I wrote a story almost entirely in letters one time. It was fun.) You could keep the diary format, and have interludes where you skip to the friend who's reading the diary, for her reactions. Those interludes
could be in third person. Hope this helps!
 

Staff Deployment

WF Veterans
What's a "Main Character?"

[/hugewalloftext]

It is very simple, Morkonan.
When someone asks who the story is about, the character you answer with is the main character.

If it's two people, you have two main characters. If it's an ensemble cast like Community or The Breakfast Club, there are probably no 'main' characters. The main character can be the antagonist, like in Amadeus or Dracula. Or it could be some nameless schmuck. Doesn't matter.
 

Bloggsworth

WF Veterans
Possession by A S Byatt is another that might give guidance, it uses correspondence rather than a diary, but the principle is the same. When in the character of the diarist the writing should be in the 1st person as any diarist who writes in the 3rd person should have been shot at birth on the grounds of self-importance! This may mean that your protagonist has to be in the 3rd person; the other, and I am sure, harder option is to have the diarist in the second person and protagonist in the first:

"I opened the diary at the weekend you went to visit Jane Austin, and saw that you tried to play croquet against others more expert than you, I feel for you, I once tried to ride a horse..." That way your protagonist can interact with the diarist. The problem with this approach is that you will really have to keep track of who is doing what and when if at some point(s) in the narrative you wish for your diarist to appear in "Live action" so to speak.
 
I prefer the term "main character" because it avoids the good guys vs. bad guys setup implied by the terms "protagonist" or "hero" (and "antagonist" or "villain").
 

Morkonan

WF Veterans
It is very simple, Morkonan.
When someone asks who the story is about, the character you answer with is the main character.

If it's two people, you have two main characters. If it's an ensemble cast like Community or The Breakfast Club, there are probably no 'main' characters. The main character can be the antagonist, like in Amadeus or Dracula. Or it could be some nameless schmuck. Doesn't matter.

And, when we're talking about the mechanics of crafting a story, how does the term "Main Character" add significance? If a Main Character can be anyone, then how does one craft a story who's structure differentiates between Main Characters, as in this topic? Certain mechanics can add to a story. A story with lots of "Main Characters" gets a certain treatment, taking care to include all sorts of character development for each. But, in this one, we are talking about two "Main Characters" that are out of sync in time with each other. One hook, time, is lost. We can't just set the scene of school library and plop our "Main Characters" down in it and watch the shenanigans. The reader is going to be constantly going back and forth in time and will be dealing with two Main Characters who's only interaction, presumably, is through a third-party - A diary. In a literary sense, that might be interesting. But, it's a difficult thing to construct effectively if you're going to be focusing equally on both "Main Characters." Hence, my problem... Plus, I don't really like the phrase "Main Character" that much to begin with. :D
 

Staff Deployment

WF Veterans
And, when we're talking about the mechanics of crafting a story, how does the term "Main Character" add significance? If a Main Character can be anyone, then how does one craft a story who's structure differentiates between Main Characters, as in something something something, hard to follow

As far as I can tell there's a very clear thematic link between Ms. Tooey's two characters. That is the best possible reason to make the story about the two of them, despite the chronological gap.

And main character is just a term. It means: Most important person. Primary focus. Person the story is about. What would you call it?
 

Morkonan

WF Veterans
... What would you call it?

Protagonist.

Now, if there are two "focus characters" or whatever, then you have to decide how you're going to handle PoV. Who's the narrator? Can I be effective with an omniscient third-person narrator? Two first person narrators? And, if they're both first person, that's a bit strange... Will the reader be able to smoothly transition, back and forth? If it's one first-person perspective with limited omniscient third-person for other characters, then I just have one standard protagonist, unless I'm trying to get tricky. And, if I'm trying my hand at avant garde stuffs by being tricky, will I succeed? If I do, I'll win accolades for succeeding at being unusual. If I don't, the work won't get published.

I have no issue with something like two focus characters in a story with a limited omniscience third-person narrator. That could work. If both character's stories are in first-person, then you have to strongly tie those characters together in order to help the reader smoothly transition from one to the other and back again. But, there's a catch - With a "diary", one assumes it's told in limited omniscience first person. That's what diaries are, after all. But, one also will assume that the diary-writer is only present in the present time via the diary. So, what is written in the diary is "written." (Yul Brenner jumps on the stage..) In other words, it's not evolving, not "active", and the character therein is not directly effecting the character reading it. At least, not on an immediate level. So, in some respects, that "diary character" is static and the reader of the diary reacts to that other character, rather than interacts with it. This makes tying them together difficult unless you use something that is remote from both characters, like a place, or a shared trait, like a family heritage or some sort of shared experience.

IOW - Keep the story flowing well, without jarring speedbump episodes between the two characters. That's easy with certain sorts of baseline planning, like figuring out the narrator, and gets very difficult the more distinct and separate, as well as important (focus), that you want to make each of those two characters. I think that's especially true if you're going to be giving the same treatment to both.
 
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