Friday, May 11, 2012

Aspiring Advice: The Dream/Fear Cycle

This post is going to make me sound like a complete writing noob, but hey! You figure out a good thing that works and it's worth sharing. Check this action out!

We like characters, right? Can't have a story without them (can be done but, wooo - good luck). And in every story arch you have your introduction, the problem and the goals needed to overcome said problem. We get that down and we'll have a cool plot and solid story.

What about solid characters? They have goals and aspirations. If resolving the plot is all our characters have ... that's what 2-Dimentional characters boil down to. How do we make them 3-Dimentional?

The theory: Every character has a dream, something they want to accomplish more than anything, before the conflict in the story presents itself. Characters have to work out the pattern of their dream while dealing with resolving the plot at the same time - two stories in one! The pre-conflict pattern looks like this:

Look at this mad Paint skills!

Now for the 3-Dimentional part ...

What if the character's dream is influenced by fear?

 "Don't take my last waffle!"

Let's say a character is in line to inherit his father's billion-dollar business. He is scared to death of the stocks and responsibility. His goal (dream) is to find a way out or have someone run the business for him. Obstacles will get in the way, adding fear upon fear.

Complicated character, huh? I like it!

Or maybe someone wants to be a solider - not to protect the country, but to prove he is brave. Let's see what happens to that bravery when war starts.

It is a cycle - it never ends. Even when the story is finished, the cycle is never fully resolved. Even if that dream is attained, there's that fear of losing it.

Give it try. Invent a character whose dream is based on fear. For your already established characters, ask what are they afraid of. If we know their fear, we'll know their motivation, which in turn will reflect upon what they say, do, and think throughout the whole story. And if we set this up with all our characters, with their own unique fear, imagine how diverse the voice is going to be!

This is not the rule, just my thought on the matter. I'm not even sure if this pattern exists elsewhere. All I know is this is the element my stories have lacked. Applying them to revisions has made a world of difference. If characters have something to fear, it's easier for us to sympathize with them. Get those 3D glasses ready!

Have you heard of this cycle or something like it? Found any holes in the theory? Got a pencil sharpener?

I'm David, and Loki is a "puny god."


  1. Okay, this is a really, really great post. I think I need to sit down and think through this cycle with each of my characters in my WIP.

    Geez, don't you know that I'm still trying to process all the info from last week. If you keep writing posts like this, my brain will NEVER get a break...which I guess means please keep writing posts like this :)

  2. That's good advice though probably one of those things I do subconsciously.

  3. I start with my characters - their dreams, motivations, fears, weaknesses - and the plot just becomes the showcase to highlight them as they go about accomplishing and solving their problems.

  4. David, I bet you could sound like a writing noob if you wanted to.. I think you're talented enough to pull it off. That said, this post is anything but noobish. I always struggle with creating cardboard characters who need to be fleshed out.. so as has been said already.. good topic, great ideas. I've been subconsciously creating characters motivated by fear.. more of a teen angst/loner type fear of being alone, with a desire to be popular, (at the beginning of the story, only to learn popularity isn't the be-all/end-all they thought), but I've never really articulated that it was fear that drove them.

  5. Great Post and never a truer word spoken. My last character saw his mum die as a child and watched as his father crumbled with grief. This gave him the fear of growing close to anyone incase he should go through what his father did, and made him...not a very nice person towards others.

  6. A thought provoking post, David. I think that fear can definitely be a strong motivating factor. It's getting that character to spin so that it takes on 3-dimensional characteristics that is so important for a writer to accomplish. You make it sound so easy lol

  7. You are one smart cookie. THis is awesome! I love characters you can tell the author has been inside their head.
    And on a side note, I totally look like that when someone takes the last waffle. ;)

  8. Because my current WIP is contemporary its ALL about the internal fear. Mostly of failure but tons of other things too. And figuring out what your secondary characters fears are too will help make them 2-D as well.

    LOVE the poster. Haha. Batman will be MUCH darker I'm sure. Here Hulk, smash. Ha, love it.

  9. I like to make my characters face their greatest fears, but I hadn't thought to cycle the dream in also. I love it!

  10. Fear plays a pretty big part in my WIP, unfortunately, my beta readers didn't pick up on all of it and therefore couldn't find some of the motivation. So I'm working on it. Thanks for the post, it gave me some ideas.

  11. LOVE that pic.

    I have two current projects. In one my character is afraid that she's the product of everyone else's dreams and aspirations.

    In the other my MC is of not being good enough to achieve her dreams, even though she is a bonified genius. :)

  12. You know, David, I'm waiting for your to gather all these mind-boggling craft-enhancing, "not really a rule but MAN does this sound like a cool idea" ideas into something I can purchase and download to my Kindle for PC.

    Yeah, like this post :-)

  13. I always think of fear as a great motivator...I think I might lean on survival too much as an author, I don't have alot of characters who dream big.

  14. This is a wonderful post! Seriously you're a genius of some sort. I favorited this page just so I can come back to it :)

    And I totally remember those flimsy 3D glasses. Ah the good 'ol days. Oh and The Avengers was an amazing movie :D

  15. Fear is a nice tool to use for character depth. But sometimes I think writers get caught up on fear of something instead of an abstract. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the truth. Those are the fears I like to tackle.

    Great post, David!

  16. This is a great idea, and it would work for both good guys and bad guys.

  17. Thanks for posting this. This is a really good idea. I'm going to try it.

  18. Great idea! I have a character in novel 3 with no known fear...time for me to dig a little deeper.

  19. Fear is a big motivator for one of my characters right now. It just impacted the other main character in a big way. It also just triggered the main plot, though they don't know it yet. Fear is fun to work with. (As long as it isn't mine. ;D )

  20. Definitely going to be thinking about this one on this round of revisions I'm starting. It makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

  21. Pretty much anyone is puny compared to Hulk! (I so loved The Avengers).

    Interesting thoughts! I think that all character's have to be driven by some sort of dream, or aspiration, otherwise, they wouldn't be doing anything (and that would make a boring story). But, I also think that most dreams are based in fear, in some way, or at least contain a fear -- the fear of failing, mostly. Exploiting that fear would lead to a more emotional look at heroes and heroins (or main characters, if they aren't exactly hero types), which would be nice to see more explored in fiction.

    Thanks for sharing!



  22. Okay, you make it sound so easy. Definitely gonna try it. Thanks David:)

  23. I love Loki ;) Got a little crush on the evil dude. No matter how pathetic he seemed in some scenes in THE AVENGERS, haha