by Glenn Benest and Dale Pitman
His studio has become his refuge and his prison - a place of boundless imagination and lonely isolation. Brian Archer, creator of a series of successful graphic novels about a vengeful supernatural being called “The Highwayman,” has become a recluse after the adoration of a female fan turned to rage and violence.
But all that changes when he meets a renowned and beautiful illustrator, A.J. Hart, who carries emotional scars of her own. Their work together is fueled by the unrequited passion they share and a mysterious bottle of black ink that arrives one day at Brian’s doorstep.
The impossibly dark liquid has mystical properties, making their characters appear so real they eventually come to life, reigning terror on those who mean them harm and if not stopped—threatens to unleash an apocalypse on all mankind. Brian must break free of his self-imposed exile and solve the mystery that
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This post has to do with creating great characters, a topic I think about a lot, now just as a novelist and screenwriter but as an writing instructor as well.
I just read a quote recently from Edmund Burke, the great statesman, which got me thinking about this subject.
This is what Burke said: “We must obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature.”
It reminded me of Darwin and what he discovered about survival. That it wasn’t the most powerful species that survived (like the dinosaurs) or those that were most intelligent, but those which could adapt.
This dynamic element of survival relates most directly to us as storytellers. What makes a great story? Is it great dialogue? Yes, that helps of course. Or is writing great narrative? Of course, we want that, too. Or do we think most often of great storytelling when we remember those fictional characters that truly moved us emotionally?
For me, that is really the heart of what makes great movies and novels and plays.
And what makes a great character? One that truly grabs us where we live. Why do we bond with that character on a visceral level? Because they are facing something that truly challenges them as individuals. They become heroic because they are willing to face those demons and as result of that struggle they change.
This is also what we call the character arc. It is at the very heart of what makes a story work. We can never overlook that in writing screenplays or novels or stage plays. The heart of the human condition is whether we can change when faced with adversity. And that ability to show that change realistically is what makes for great writing.
So when you devise your outline it is not just about creating a plot – and that doesn’t mean we don’t want a good plot. But even more importantly we want a character who goes from one extreme to another – from cowardice to bravery, from trust to betrayal or from hate to love. That is the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish.
The more extreme the change the character goes through the better it is for your story. When we think of the great novels and the great movies, the protagonist has a huge mountain to climb, they have to evolve or they will fail. And that is what truly makes a hero or heroine, the ability to change in the face of adversity. Your plot is simply there to force them to change. It’s not there as a thing in itself. And if the character arc is extreme, then that’s what you’re truly writing about. You need to understand yourself and others to write about it truthfully. It’s at the heart of every great work of fiction.
Study the great novels, observe how people change, see how you’ve done it yourself and most importantly, create characters who are forced to change, step by agonizing step.
-Did you have to do any special research to write this book?
Our book is set in downtown L.A. and we did scour the area looking for interesting places to set our scenes – Central Market, the Higachi Buddhist Temple and other places a lot of even the locales don’t know about.
-Since this book is in the horror and paranormal genres, was it hard creating believable situations and issues or did you take them from real life and embellish on the situation?
The Protagonist is a graphic novelist so the fact that both Dale and I are writers we had a lot to relate to here. Brian Archer is also a recluse and I have to confess, I can be pretty reclusive myself at times. That fueled a lot of his issues.
-Other than yourselves, If you could work with any author, living or dead, who would that be and why?
We mention a great many writers in our book, but the central figure hovering over them all is Edgar Allan Poe. He fascinates me and always has. In fact, I wrote a play about him some years ago. I know how he tortured he was and yet he was able to produce so many great stories, poems and even some novels. He was also a book critic which a lot of people don’t know about. There is no greater genius than Poe, who was given very little praise in his own life but turned out to be one of the greats.
-Did you find anything challenging while writing this book?
Because Dale and I were primarily screenwriters before we began this journey, we had no idea what it really took to produce a good novel. A screenplay is only 110 pages, this novel is over 300 pages. When you do a rewrite, it’s not like you’re re-writing a hundred pages. A novel really challenges you in a way a screenplay doesn’t. Not to say, it’s easy to write a screenplay. But you don’t have to worry about who’s telling the story, should it be first person or third person or omniscient, or any of the vexing problems you need to conquer in a novel.
-Are there any books that influenced you while writing this book?
I do love Dean’s Koontz’s books and of course Stephen King. I read Doctor Sleep for example, the sequel to The Shining and that gave me some things to think about. But as I mentioned earlier, Poe is the real source of inspiration here and H.P. Lovecraft.
-What kind of feedback are you getting from readers of the book?
We’ve gotten fantastic early reviews from book bloggers around the country and in England. The reviewers really seem to respond to our characters and even to one of the unexpected narrators of the story – Deke – the protagonist’s white German shepherd. Some of the novel is told through his point of view and readers really seem to love that.
-Any closing remarks?
This is a horror novel but it also has a very strong love story between the protagonist, a graphic novelist and his new illustrator, A.J. Hart. They have both been damaged to some degree and together they find a safe place to heal and are able to love again.
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