06 January 2010

And It Takes a Team...

Hey, Friends!

This week we're talking about relationships--of all kinds--and how they influence us. Hopefully the literary theory on Monday didn't leave you cross-eyed. That class was the hardest one I ever took, but was definitely the most beneficial. Literary Theory fascinated me in college and I got to use a lot of it in papers and stuff.

Anywho... so today we're going to look at another relationship we know very well in our culture: teams. And our picture is going to be the greatest sports movie ever made: Remember the Titans.

One of the primary characters in this movie, Julius, understands the meaning of teamwork. Throughout the movie, he urges his teammates on by his words and example. His conflict at the beginning of the movie with Gerry only demostrates his handle on both of these dynamics. As the movie progresses and the team comes together under his and Gerry's leadership, they begin to win games. Why? Because they work together.

But there's one person on the team who refuses to completely join in until the final game--Coach Yoast. He worked all his life for the state Hall of Fame only to be sidelined for a new coach. There's a lot of disagreements as the two men butt heads. They have different coaching styles, different pressures on them, but they have two things in common: they love football and they have precious little girls. The two coaches have an agreement. Coach Boone is the Head Coach, but Coach Yoast's area is Defense. Yoast has something to prove. After all, he is supposed to be in the Hall of Fame. But during half time of the State Championship, he realizes that his pride could make the difference between the Title and second place. So he asks for help.

The result is a fluid, beautiful example of a team working together. Suddenly, all the boundaries are gone. There isn't Offense and Defense, just the Titans. They move as one; they celebrate and groan together. It's the coolest thing to see.

Our stories and their casts of characters are kind of like a team. Maybe there are a few key people in the forefront, but we need them all to make the story work. A story with one character is flat and boring. A story with secondary characters who vie for the limelight is disconnected. It doesn't flow. But when we're able to wrestle the characters into obedience and they do their jobs, something cool happens. They support each other--even the antagonists. Even though a story might be about one particular person, they need everyone else to tell the story in a complete, authentic, and compelling way. Our novels need that same fluid give-and-take as the Titans needed to compete for the State Title. Our characters need to be a team, not just a cast given certain actions and speaking lines.

Sometimes that's easier said than done. I feel like I'm learning more and more about this everyday. The best thing I've found is taking a step back from the story and evaluating its composition instead of individual pieces--like a mosaic. It's easy to get caught in the individual tiles and miss the continuity of the work as a whole. We need both viewpoints to make it work. It's hard to make everyone memorable without taking the focus from the protagonist, isn't it? But if we're able to get them to work together, the result will be a story that lives instead of falling flat.

What are some of your tricks to coaxing exact and appropriate activity from your characters?

See y'all Friday!


  1. You are such a godsend; again I would like to thank you for your constant support and sweet words, I feel so guilty as I haven't time to reply to all of them, but they do not go unnoticed. Your words have been the reason for many stolen smiles and the prevention of many tears, words really do have the power to move mountains. :) Thank you so much; and your blog is such an inspiration for writers, it has made me tingle with anticipation to write something myself.

    Thank you and God bless,

  2. This is such a great post. Yes, we DO need to look at the overall composition, not the individual tiles. I just did that and realized my characters are a far cry from Remember the Titans. I decided to combine two secondary charaters who play very different roles, but both were just so flat and boring. It's tough, slooooow work, but it's bringing my story up a couple notches!

  3. I love that movie. It is one of my favorites, along with Rudy and Invincible. Yes, all football movies, which I don't watch. But I love the working hard and surviving stories. Kind of like the road to getting published, right? As for my characters, I give them something, a different voice, a different way of being. But you've really made me want to take another look at them.

  4. Interesting post! I hadn't thought of it like this before.
    I don't know what my gameplan is for my characters. Maybe I need to think about it more!

  5. I just read in The Art of War for Writers how James Scott Bell quoted Madeline L'Engle when she wrote about listening to her books like she listened as she prayed.

    I listen.
    ~ Wendy

  6. Loved that movie! When I write I'm very character focused intially, it's later in editing that I look at the BIG picture. I constantly have a short notes on my character as I'm writing a chapter. That helps, too.

  7. Sarah, your lovely words encourage and inspire me! Thank you!

    Thanks, Katie! That's great to hear! Character work is really difficult for me. I'm cheering you on!

    I agree, Jd! Happy revisiting!

    Thanks, Jessica!

    I cannot wait to read that book, Wendy! I have it; just haven't started it yet. But WOW! Thank you for sharing that quote!

    That's a great idea, Jennifer! I might try that next time! Thanks!

  8. Ok, I needed to hear this as I venture off into my new WIP. I'm plotting it out now and I'm trying to see where everyone fits in this mosaic. I love your post. Thank you for putting it so well!

  9. It's great to have our characters work as a team, but like with the movie, we also need to pay attention to the nuances a character can create when he or she isn't part of the team. When we finally bring the characters together, it creates an A-ha moment, one readers get and relate to. Imagine how different the movie would be without the tension between the coaches.

  10. That was one of my all-time favorite movies. What a great story. Anyway, I agree with you about looking at the overall composition. I think I'll take a fresh look at this with my manuscript during my next read through.

  11. There's a definite connection between this post and the last one. The need to step back and look at the bigger picture with our writing. It's so hard to do sometimes (well maybe always). Thank you for the thought-provoking ideas.

    I loved the pictures in your last post. Wow!

  12. Thanks, T.Anne! I'm glad it helped you out!

    That's a great point, Tara. I don't mean that the conflict shouldn't be there, but that the characters need to be connected instead of all "soloists".

    I need to do that too, Susan!

    Thank you, Deb! By the way, I'd love to check out your blog. How can I get to it? I've tried to find yours and comment and couldn't.

  13. Hi Kristen -

    You did a great job on this post. I like how you take a step back and look at the overall picture.

    I'm doing this right now with my books. I decided to write book 3 and then edit. I'll be able to take an overview of the entire series and make the necessary changes.

    Susan :)

  14. whoa! you make me really think about my writing. I just started to write from a 2nd character's point of view. It's added a new dimension to the story and has showed the main character in a new light...different then I could have had I just stayed in her pov. I can now show the relationship between the main character to the others in a much more concise way. Total fun. Thanks Kristen. I looove these posts. I feel like it's a mini writing class. Have a great week and you are the absolute best. Sarah

  15. Another way to look at your manuscript. I learn so much from everyone.

  16. I have not seen that movie yet but it sounds great! Thanks for the great perspective. :O)

  17. Thank you, Susan! That's a great idea!

    That's awesome, Sarah! I'm so glad! Thank you so much for your encouragement!

    You're welceom, Patti and Diane!

  18. I start with my big picture outline (fluid, but a definite outline), and I make smaller plans for my short term goals (chapters or groups of chapters) as I go. I keep the big picture in mind as I work--otherwise it's too easy to get caught up in bunny trails.

    I enjoy reading other writers' approaches, strategies, and philosophies. Thanks for sharing.

  19. "Will you ever quit?!"
    "No- I want to mo, I want some mo!"

    I love this movie, what a great analogy Kristen. Every character deserves to be properly developed. I needed that!

  20. I feel that this is a super important component to a good story. Good post, way to go.

  21. Oh I like this! I have tried with this particular WIP to stand back and get that bigger picture like a mosasic as you said. I know relationships interact and change lives and our directions every day and should so with our characters. That's the fun part!
    And you better get to writing!!lol

  22. Remember the Titans is my husband's all-time favorite movie. He pulled it out again to watch over the holidays with the brother-in-laws. I think I know that movie scene-by-scene now. Always laugh when I realize coach lied at the pivotal point of the movie to get the result he so desperately wanted. Know know if that's a spin on white lies, or what? LOL

    I'll have to think some on how I incorporate team work in my novels. I certainly don't do it intentionally yet.

  23. Great example (I love that movie)! It's so true that our characters need to work together to paint the whole picture. I recently removed a character from my novel, and at first I was resistant. He was needed!

    As I did it, I realized just how little he did. How unimportant he was. How he shirked his role in the novel. And now he's gone and I don't even miss him.

  24. This is THE GREATEST POST! Wish I would'a done more of this eval. in my first two novels!!!

    Determining the Moral Premise and its eight step process is a great way (using, of course, the moral premise book) to check for incorporation issues. So often I edit and edit and get the writing killer sharp when the principles are hazy and reader-frustrating.

    Love being bloggites!!!


  25. You bring up so many good points. We are in the beginning stages of editing our novel and are thinking about each of our characters and whether or not all of them are essential to big picture. I have the feeling we will need to trim some of the fat and I know once we do, it will feel so liberating! I don't want to confuse readers with characters who don't contribute enough to be memorable.

  26. That's a great idea, Dawn!

    Haha, Tamika! You're welcome!

    Thanks, Elizabeth!

    Ha, yeah, Eileen! That movie was on Christmas night and I watched it. Love it!

    Ha! I know, Terri Tiffany! I need to! I'm praying for a time I can block out as soon as I move.

    Wow, ElanaJ, I've never removed a character before. I'd be scared to do that too... isn't it funny how we have to write it out and realize it was better the second time? Makes Rewriting a lot of fun!

    Thanks, Patti! It's hard to focus on all of it, isn't it? Sometimes I approach my novel looking at grammar and others at characterization... so many ways to view it. No wonder it's so time consuming! Me too, Friend!

  27. That's hard but it's good, Lisa and Laura. It'll make your work stronger, definitely. Good luck!

  28. Although I didn't understand this, I will try to answer your question:

    Snappy, candid dialogue. More sensory ivolvement.

    Did I even come close? Since I write non-fiction, my husband and I are my main characters.

    Thanks for making me think!

  29. Even secondary characters benefit by interaction and I've found that making some of them interdependent can round them out and also add complexity to the story.

  30. That's right--you write nonfiction! That definitely works, Jeannette!

    Great point, Carol!

  31. FINALLY I'm able to read your blog. I'm so sorry it's taken me this long! I've been swamped!!!

    I love the mental image of our characters as a team. Very interesting. Especially considering in the book I'm editing now, eveyrone is arguing! Wonderful things, characters :)