You’ve heard the expression “writing yourself into a corner.”
But what if you’re writing your main character into a corner?
Say you want to describe your character’s emotions in a scene, but the character doesn’t show their feelings, or doesn’t know how to express them.
Say this is just one of many traits that makes up your MC.
They also have:
Perfect aim/good with a gun (but afraid of them)
Good at hand-to-hand combat (but afraid of being touched)
Excellent intuition (but sometimes ignores it)
A natural ability for driving (but never learned to drive)
I’m sure that you all know the drill. You’ve been working on a character and you’ve got them down pat. They’re super cool, they have an interesting backstory, and they’re probably even relatable. Problem is, you were writing them and you got to where they were supposed to be in the story so you had them do something really cool. Now that thing that they did has turned into a sort of crutch for your character.
Your main character can’t fight without their sword, or shoot without their gun, or not do anything if their wristwatch isn’t on their arm. I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point with our characters, but here’s how to stop that from happening.
Make your characters interesting enough that they don’t need things to make them interesting. The more interesting your characters are as people, the less likely it is that you will write yourself into a corner where your character has to do something cool with an item just because it’s there (unless the story calls for it). You can make a character who is boring and not very interesting seem cool by giving them tools of awesome power or a certain skill set which makes them good at what they do. On the other hand, having a very interesting
“Sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone.”
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
You may have heard one or more of these phrases before, but they all boil down to the same thing: if something is working well, there usually isn’t any need to change it. On the surface this is true, but there are some important underlying factors that can take a situation from “working well” to “not working at all”.
As writers we’re constantly trying to find ways to make our stories better. Whether we’re rewriting passages in an attempt to improve them or adding new scenes and chapters in order to enhance the story we’re telling, we always seem to be on a quest for perfection. We want our characters to be stronger and our dialogue tighter. There is always room for improvement.
But what about when things are working well? Is there ever a time when leaving something as is would actually be considered best practice? Let’s look at how this applies from both a practical and theoretical standpoint.
A few years ago I was asked to teach a guitar master class. The venue was a great guitar shop in Ventura, California. The students were an eclectic mix of young people and old people, beginners and advanced players.
I started the class with a question: “What do you think is the most important thing to focus on when learning to play guitar?”
One of the younger guys answered first. He said, “Getting good at alternate picking is really important.”
I agreed and said, “Yeah, alternate picking will get you far.”
A woman in her late fifties raised her hand. She said, “Learning how to play by ear is most important.”
I agreed again and said, “Yeah that’s super-important.”
The next guy to raise his hand was in his early twenties. He said, “Learning how to improvise is most important.” I agreed again and said, “Yeah that’s also very important.”
At this point the older woman spoke up once again. She said, “You know what I think is the most important thing?”
I nodded my head as if I had no idea what she was about to say but all the time knowing exactly what she was going to say because she had probably been coming up
I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. I started out just like most others, by learning a bunch of songs and trying to figure out how they were played. A big part of that process was listening and trying to hear what the lead guitar was doing over the chords and melody, or trying to hear all of the parts that made up the song. The cool thing about this is that you can learn a lot by really listening to what’s happening in the music. You can pick up on phrasing, style, and technique. And if you have it in you, you’ll start to emulate your heroes by using those same techniques in your own playing.
The problem with this approach is that if you’re not careful, you can get stuck imitating your heroes without ever developing your own style. That’s because certain things will begin to define not just their sound but also their “voice”. For example, some players are known for certain kinds of phrasing or bending styles or picking techniques. If you don’t consciously work on developing your own voice, then there’s a good chance it will sound like an amalgam of all of the players that have influenced your playing over the years.
Another way this can happen is with the use of scales and modes in your
Guthrie Govan is a guitarist based in Brighton, England. He was voted the world’s third-best guitarist by the readers of Guitar World magazine in a 2007 poll. He is known for his work with the bands The Aristocrats, Asia, GPS, The Young Punx and The Fellowship as well as Erotic Cakes, a band formed with fellow Sussex musicians. In 2012 he became a full-time member of the British progressive rock band Asia. In 1992 he won Guitarist magazine’s “Guitarist of the Year” competition at age 19.
In February 2008 Govan released his debut solo album Erotic Cakes. It was named after one of Govan’s own compositions that first appeared on a sampler CD accompanying issue 216 (May 2004) of Guitar Techniques magazine. The track was later included on the compilation album Jackpot! – The Best Bet From Guitarist Magazine. The song has also been included in the music games Rocksmith 2014 and Rocksmith Remastered.
Govan was born December 27, 1971 in Chelmsford, Essex to an English mother and a Sri Lankan father who plays guitar and violin. At age four he started learning violin but switched to guitar at nine because he preferred playing along to pop songs on the
Guthrie Govan wrote a song called “Sevens” as part of his 2012 album “Erotic Cakes”. It was inspired by the opening riff from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which already has a strong melody that sounds great on guitar.
The resulting composition is amazing, with an incredibly catchy and memorable main melody and counter-melody that make it sound more like a pop song than prog metal.
I’ve transcribed the first 10 bars of the melody below. At first glance, it seems quite simple: it’s just a descending line that repeats several times. But there are lots of interesting details here, and in this post I’m going to talk about how the harmony works in this section, and why I think it’s so effective.