In early September, I started a series about Beemgee’s story development tool. Although I no longer provide book coaching services, I still wholeheartedly encourage you to write, particularly, a novel. From my experience, writing will change your life.
In hopes you have an interest in learning the craft of fiction writing, I will continue this series but limit my posts to what Beemgee provides without injecting my thoughts, comments, and opinions (well, maybe a few every once in a while).
Now to Beemgee/Character/Action.
“The action is what the character does in response to the task. The action is usually the character’s attempt at solving the external problem. Action here refers to acting as in doing (not in the sense of pretending to on stage or screen, and not as in action-movies either). The reader/audience gets to know and care about a character through what the character does. Action might be representative of the archetype of which the character may be an example. This means that while a character does lots of things in a story (i.e. performs a succession of individual acts), there might be an overriding connection that can be summed up in one verb. As in, the good guy FIGHTS the bad guy. Usually the action leads to conflict, even if it is peaceful, like loving, because it is in opposition to another character’s action. Often for main characters, there is one central action which is indicative of their true nature. For a protagonist, such a key deed is well-placed in the centre of the story, at the midpoint.”
If you want to read Beemgee’s, “The Character Action that Pivots the Plot,” click here.
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In this post we’ll continue to consider Beemgee’s character development process. Perceived need is the next attribute in our quest to build our protagonist.
Recall, our hero has an external problem. He’s been thrust into a situation or he’s been assigned a mission. Either way, along with this problem comes a desire or want. Succinctly put, our hero desires a solution. In essence, he wants another state of being, one free from the external problem. This naturally yields a goal, what he has to achieve to reach this state of being. Most often, a goal consists of a number of tasks that must be performed in order for the goal to be achieved.
This leads directly into the topic of today’s post, the perceived need. Here’s Beemgee summary:
“The perceived need is what the character believes she or he needs in order to reach the goal. If the goal is the apparent thing that ought to be achieved in order to solve the external problem, then there may well be certain knowledge, objects or people that the character needs to find or attain first in order to reach the goal. A character may have to do a number of things before it is possible to reach the goal. Attaining these needs marks stages or phases of the story journey. What stages are there in this story?”
In a more detailed article on this subject, Beemgee offers several examples. I’ll use one. Say the goal is to reach a certain place, one too far for an easy or strenuous stroll. Obviously, our character needs some form of transportation. Let’s say he decides that he needs a car. Quickly, the issue of access and availability arises. Where and how is he going to get a car?
Examples like this illustrate how plot (events in a story) develop. Of course, after acquiring the car and driving to the intended destination, the hero may learn things have changed. He’s now at a port city and learns the treasure has been moved. It’s now on an island. How does he go there? Well, a boat of course. Obviously, you see where this is going and all we’ve considered is the issue of transportation. We haven’t yet discussed the equipment he will need to open the golden-laden chest.
It’s critical to note that these perceived needs and the journey(s) they create deal only with the external story, not the most interesting and reader-grabbing internal story. That is where the real story gold resides. That’s where the hero is battling his psychological problems, including the why he needs to find the treasure. In the best and most powerful stories, this ‘why’ won’t be for the hero to increase his net worth. It will be something deep, like he needs the money to pay for his only child’s heart transplant, or to show his father that he’s not a lazy, good-for-nothing idiot.
All great stories are built on character arcs, usually of the positive kind. The hero starts off believing a lie and over the life of the story discovers the truth and winds up in a better place, at least psychologically.
In sum, the external plot mirrors the hero’s internal journey, the ‘road’ he travels to a better place, a state of being where he may or may not have achieved his external goal, but certainly one where he’s resolved his inner need (assuming a positive character arc is the author’s intent).
Perceived needs could be described as the power source that moves the story train down the tracks while allowing the hero inside a passenger compartment to deal with more personal issues.
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In early September, we embarked on a long and detailed review of a wonderful story development tool known as Beemgee (fyi, that’s also the name of the company that created the tool).
Beemgee’s focus is both plot and character. We started with character. The three attributes we’ve considered so far are external problem, want, and goal. Today, let’s look at task.
Simply put, task is what the character has to complete to achieve the goal and solve the external problem. Task is all about what a character does, his actions. It’s not about what’s going on inside him. Rather, it’s about his external world and how he behaves toward it.
Think mission. Rarely does a character have to complete one task. A mission, say, to travel to the deep, dark cave and destroy the dragon, is comprised of a series of tasks. For example, the hero might have to investigate the cave’s location. He might have to acquire special supplies and weapons. He might have to enlist an ally or two. To accomplish the mission, our hero engages in a multitude of activities.
These actions, including what happens when our hero reaches the cave and engages the dragon, will fill a vast portion of our story plot. This fact should trigger at least a brief moment of satisfaction for us writers.
Think about it a minute (you might want to review the external problem, want, and goal posts (not goalposts). We’ve given our hero a problem he must address (it’s been festering for a while or it hit him out of the clear blue sky). He wants to be free of the problem, thus he sets a goal for himself. For example, he must kill the dragon before he can rescue the princess. Now, we’ve given him a mission comprised of a multitude of steps he must complete before he can achieve the goal and solve the external problem.
See how all this fits? Do you see how your story is developing? Of course, we’re just starting, but it appears Beemgee is a viable way to construct a story worth writing, and hopefully one attractive to our readers.
One final thought. Our protagonist isn’t the only one with these four attributes. Think about your antagonist. Commonly, his external problem is the protagonist and what he’s trying to achieve. Thus, the antagonist’s goal is to stop the protagonist by pursuing a mission filled with multiple steps.
Characters with opposing goals create conflict. These battles are seen all along the path toward goal fulfillment, no matter whose goal we’re talking about. During every action by the protagonist to complete a task (locate the map that reveals the cave), he is faced with opposition, a hardy resistance to his success.
And, everyone knows without conflict, there is no story.
Take out a pencil and start thinking about the task your protagonist must accomplish to achieve his goal. Do the same for your antagonist and his helpers. By the way, does your protagonist have an ally with a somewhat conflicting goal? Will it hinder your hero in some small or large way?
This activity will help you learn more about your characters. Remember, they are defined by the actions they take. Don’t be too dictatorial, you might miss out on how they can surprise you.
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For now, let’s focus on the protagonist. We know he has an external problem, and he wants to solve that problem. His want is a desire for a future state. His goal is more tangible. It’s a point in time he has to reach. It’s the point at which he solves his external problem.
Readers want to know our protagonist’s goal, how he’s going to solve his external problem. They’re constantly asking themselves, “will Wild Bill reach his goal?” Readers likely won’t buy into our story if the protagonist’s goal is nebulous.
Would you get excited enough to invest ten or fifteen hours of your precious time in a story where the hero’s goal is to “feel better about himself”? Not likely. We want him to stop the serial killer. We want him to win the girl. We want him to discover the vaccine, win the election, or expose the conspiracy that sent an innocent man to prison.
Goals transform a random walk into a chase.
As you probably suspect. The protagonist goal (to be a fitting goal) takes a while to accomplish. Our hero’s journey, and thus our story’s plot, will comprise the steps he has to take to reach his goal.
It might take the entire novel. Or, our hero may accomplish it by the story’s midpoint. If the latter, the second half of our book will deal with the consequences of our protagonist reaching his goal. Maybe, he realizes, reaching his goal didn’t fulfill an inner need, and there’s something else he needs to do. Maybe he discovers there’s another wall to climb before learning the truth, or finding the princess.
It’s your turn. Take out a pencil and start brainstorming. If you haven’t already, give your protagonist an external problem, and describe what he wants. Finally, give him a clear and definitive goal.
In my next Beemgee post, we’ll consider our protagonist’s task.
Let’s beemgee. If you missed my September 3rd post, Beemgee is a company that offers a story development tool of the same name. Note, I didn’t say a story writing tool (think Scrivener). Before we can write, we need to know a few things (preferably many) about our characters and what they’ll be doing. Of course, if you are a pantser, you just start writing and discover your story as you go along.
This is my second post about Beemgee. This is also my second story development series. See my Sanity Snippets posts to review H.R. D’Costa’s method for outlining a novel. I encourage you to buy, read, and study her book, Sizzling Story Outlines.
Beemgee is clear that story development requires a detailed and thoughtful consideration of both character and plot. It recommends starting with character since plot emerges from what our characters do.
My first post in this series was about our protagonist’s external problem. This is either a situation he finds himself in or a mission he chooses or has been assigned. External problems are not limited to our protagonist. Other characters, especially the antagonist, will have their own external problem. It could be the same but usually, as far as the antagonist and his helpers are concerned, it is directly opposed to the protagonist’s problem. Think of a detective and a killer. The detective is working to discover who killed the victim. The killer is working not get caught.
For now, let’s limit our thoughts to the protagonist. After we’ve discovered his external problem we should address what he wants (we really don’t have a story unless our protagonist wants something). The answer is rather simple. He wants a resolution, to be free from his external problem.
There’s actually two different types of want: the wish, or character want, and the plot want. We’ll limit our consideration to the latter. However, to put the two wants into perspective, review this example (from Beemgee):“Marty McFly wishes to be a musician (character want). He also wants to get Back to the Future (plot want).”
As to the plot want, Beemgee puts it like this: “The desired result of this solution is usually a state of being: solving the problem leads to marital bliss, wealth, power, immortality, survival, etc. So the want tends to be abstract – a state as opposed to a specific thing or point in time. It is distinct from the wish because it comes about because of the external problem. The want is the implied reward for achieving the more concrete goal of the story.”
Here’s an example from my second novel, The Boaz Scorekeeper.
Micaden Tanner attended a high school graduation party at Club Eden, a secluded cabin owned by the families of five classmates known as the Flaming Five for their basketball prowess. Twin girls from another school also attended the party and never made it home that fateful Friday night. A few days later, Micaden is arrested and accused of kidnapping and murder although the twins have not been found. He quickly learns he has been set up.
Micaden’s external problem is apparent. He stands to lose his freedom if he’s convicted at trial.
What Micaden wants is also apparent. He wants to be free of his external problem, his arrest and his upcoming trial.
There’s more. He wants justice for the twins. In essence, Micaden wants to live in a world where the Flaming Five are held accountable for the crimes they committed that fateful night.
In my Sanity Snippets series we’ve been progressing through H.R. D’Costa’s steps in creating a story outline (based on her excellent book, Sizzling Story Outlines). If followed, these steps will produce a viable first draft outline. D’Costa refers to this as “the first iteration” (two other books detail the second and final phases, “iterations” of her outlining process). I hope to continue creating posts (every 7 to 10 days) that track each step in the “first iteration” book.
However, I’m at the point I need to start planning my next novel. Although I’m still a few weeks away from completing the final edits of The Boaz Stranger, my mind is daily tempting me with random thoughts that could reveal the makings of a new idea. To capture, clarify, and organize my mental wanderings, I intend to Beemgee.
What in the heck is Beemgee? It’s a story development tool I recently discovered. That’s also the name of the company. From its website: “Tell a Better Story. Your tool for character development and plot outlining.”
After publishing ten novels (with the eleventh one due by November 1st) I can honestly say I need a story development tool. As you might have gathered if you are a consistent reader of my blog, I’m trying to transition from being a pantser to a plantser, possibly to becoming a plotter.
My story writing tool of choice is Scrivener. It too has many features that enable a writer to develop his story before beginning to draft. Features such as the Corkboard and the Outline views are excellent. However, Scrivener isn’t designed to provide a library of craft information.
This is where Beemgee excels. It provides a virtual storehouse of writing theory and instruction. Whether you are new to creative writing or a veteran, you will find interesting and instructive guidance on how to “[t]ell a better story.”
Beemgee’s focus is two-fold, character and plot. These are the two main characteristics all stories require. I’d safely declare that Beemgee offers a graduate level course in how to develop both character and plot. And, since it asserts that plot arises from characters (their actions and their interactions/conflicts with other characters), let’s start with character.
First, let’s get grounded. As stated, I’m at the initial stages of planning my twelfth novel. I intend to use Beemgee’s powerful software development tool to prepare before starting my first draft in Scrivener. If you are considering your first novel, why don’t you come along?
Again, to find a viable novel-length idea, we’ll start with our characters. Just so you know, this isn’t a universal approach. Some writers start with a chosen genre (mystery, romance, thriller, sci-fi, etc.), or a story seed. Since Beemgee is firm in its position that plot is produced from characters, that’s where I’ll begin.
Although my previous random thoughts have showered me with a vague picture of one of my main characters, he is sizing up to be the story’s antagonist, not the protagonist. For you, it might be different. You might one, few, or no clue about your story or your characters. That’s okay. I choose to trust the Beemgee process. I hope you will do the same.
To me, Beemgee is unique because of its approach to character development. It doesn’t per se start with the character’s backstory. It starts with his external problem. What do I mean by that?
Notice, I said “external problem” not internal. The internal problem/need comes later. Beemgee defines external problem as follows: “[t]he external problem may be a predicament the character suddenly finds him or herself in or a mission set to her or him.”
Think of a detective in a mystery story. Usually, there is a murder early on. At some time shortly thereafter, the private investigator is hired to find the killer, or the detective of a police agency or prosecuting attorney is assigned the case. Now, in this context, we know the external problem. It’s external to the private investigator or detective. And, as Beemgee says, “[m]ost stories begin with the protagonist being confronted with an external problem.” See how plot evolves from character and we’ve only addressed the first question in Beemgee’s character development tool.
So, what problem will your protagonist solve, or attempt to solve, in your novel? Of course, the list is endless, but I have a hunch it has something to do with yourself, not necessarily your personal problem, but something you are aware of from the news, or maybe a twist on a short story or novel you’ve read. Right now it could be as simple as a politician (say a U.S. Senator) with an addiction problem.
Take out pencil and paper and start brainstorming potential external problems. Don’t worry that you know virtually nothing. Don’t worry about the problem’s insignificance. That issue may reverse itself when you create another character, say your story’s antagonist. Stories thrive and survive on conflict. So think of characters who are opposed, they are on opposite sides of the external problem. For example, our detective wants to find the killer. The killer wants his freedom and will do whatever necessary to avoid being caught. And, maybe to kill again. But, that’s a different horse for now.
As you brainstorm, don’t forget to look at your own life, or that of your spouse, friend, barber, doctor, or other acquaintance. Does one of them have an external problem? Fiddle with it, manipulate it. Turn it into a problem your character wants to solve. Here’s an example. Is your friend’s boss battling a financial problem? Is the boss on the verge of declaring bankruptcy but needs to find a better alternative. Define the boss’s external problem. What will he do to ‘solve’ it?
If you brainstorm and drill deep but still come up dry, try Google. Read a few newspapers. Most every article can be fictionalized.
Writing a novel is messy work. It’s difficult at best. “I hate writing, but I love having written.” This quote is attributed to many writers, including Dorothy Parker and Frank Norris.
There’s nothing more challenging and rewarding than completing a novel. Well, that might be a stretch but at least you know what I believe.