Nonfiction · Writing

How “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” Works: The Characters

Part 1 explains what the heck I’m doing here, and also all the plot-related stuff in the My Story Can Beat Up Your Story system by Jeffrey Alan Schechter.

This part is about character roles. Schechter breaks them down as follows:

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Protector/Mentor/Window Character – The keeper of the hero’s moral compass.
  • Deflector/Bad example – Tries to pull the hero away with a different moral compass.
  • Believer – Believes and trusts in the hero just as the hero is.
  • Doubter – Challenges the hero’s methods.
  • Thinker – Reflects on hero’s course of action before taking own action.
  • Feeler – Intuitively shoots first and asks questions later.

As always, this varies. Sometimes one character plays two or more roles, that’s totally fine. The Feeler doesn’t have to actually be a violent person, “shooting first” is just an expression. Sometimes there are several different constellations, for instance one for the hero and one for the villain. Often they pair up in-story the same way they pair above, not only thematically but in how they appear in the story. Sometimes each pair divides along theme/story question lines (see part 1). For instance, Star Wars has a theme related to faith vs. technology, and each pair tends to have one faith person and one technology person. Here’s the full breakdown for Star Wars, just because it’s a helpful illustration:

  • Protagonist – Luke Skywalker.
  • Antagonist – Grand Moff Tarkin. (Not Vader! I believe this changes in later movies though. Tarkin is the one whose actions spur on Luke’s, and he’s also on the opposite side of the faith/technology dichotomy. Vader’s on the faith side with Luke.)

a_1393970590vader

  • Protector/Mentor/Window Character – Obi-Wan Kenobi, although it doesn’t always have to be a literal mentor.
  • Deflector/Bad example – Darth Vader, although this doesn’t always have to be a villain.
  • Believer – R2-D2.
  • Doubter – C-3PO.
  • Thinker – Princess Leia.
  • Feeler – Han Solo.

And here’s how it breaks down for What Dreams:

  • Protagonist – Ristin Skuyler, inventor extraordinaire.
  • Antagonist – Sem Semilenth, alien inventor extraordinaire.
  • Protector/Mentor/Window Character – Rama, the alien who changed Skuyler’s life.
  • Deflector/Bad example – Captain Hakim Macklehenny, who’s not at all a villain… He just thinks Skuyler’s life should go a very different direction.
  • Believer – Gardner, the actual narrator of the book.
  • Doubter – Sky Marshal Rene Denman, who thinks all this is a crock of shit.
  • Thinker – Dice Jonie, Skuyler’s assistant.
  • Feeler – Wikk, kind of a collective “younger brother,” a deeply emotional character who’s there to kind of counteract a lot of the “science-y” central characters whose emotions are a lot less healthy.

There are points of flexion — Dice Jonie is actually a combo Thinker and Believer. I have another character, Wams, who’s a secondary window character. You get the idea. The variations depend on your set of characters and your plot structure. I need a secondary window character and a secondary believer, because Rama and Gardner are absent for large portions of the book.

Character chart
Super fancy chart.

I’ve mentioned before how this system solved an extremely longstanding issue with Dice’s portrayal (like, YEARS of issues), and it’s also helpful in constructing scenes. Who needs to be in this scene? Well, just look at the chart, who does need to be in this scene? A believer or a doubter? A thinker or a feeler? It’s also helpful just for your personal use in understanding how the characters relate to each other.

~~

To sum up and recap a little, I don’t like the whole “beating people up” affectation of the book, but that’s irrelevant to the system itself. I really, really like the system. It gives me helpful charts I can refer to, and it keeps me on track when I go “Um, what’s the point of this section again?” but it doesn’t actually dictate my content in any way. I don’t even have to force it into the shape I want, the whole thing flexes and bends along with me as it is. It provides valuable insight into the workings of my story that I can use no matter where I am on the plotter-pantser spectrum.

What do you think? Would you ever try this system? If you do, let me know how it works for you!

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2 thoughts on “How “My Story Can Beat Up Your Story” Works: The Characters

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful post! I’m deciding whether I want to invest in this book or not and your review and sharing how it relates to your own project, especially, makes it more helpful than other reviews I have read. Your story sounds wonderful and I look forward to reading more of your blog!

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