Dragon Slayers: Building Story and Building Character

Sometimes writers make the mistake of thinking that, to tell a story, all you have to do is answer the question, “What happens next?”

It’s not that simple.

As I see it, the question is more like, “What does the protagonist do next in order to reach her (or his) goal?”

It’s also important to remember that, as the protagonist, strives to reach her goal, she’s learning as she’s going. Her understanding of her goal is deepening.

Let’s take a look at this through the lens of the three-act structure. At the beginning of Act 2, she sets off in search of what she wants. In the Mid-Act Revelation, something happens that deepens her understanding of her goal. And, at the end of Act 2, there’s a major shift; the protagonist goes from pursuing what she wants to pursuing what she needs. Growing self-knowledge is implicit in all of this.

So, from this perspective, storytelling is about an ever-deepening revelation of character.

And in the Crisis and Climax in Act 3, the protagonist faces her greatest challenge. This challenge may well be physical, but it must also be psychological, a test of character. In other words, it’s not enough for the hero to simply slay the dragon. If your hero is capable of dragon-slaying from the beginning of your tale, your tale won’t be very exciting. But if your hero moves from being terrified of dragons to being capable of slaying the beasts—if your hero moves from timidity to courage—then you’ve got a story!

And a great time to set up your hero’s starting point is in the Refusal of the Call. If your hero refuses the call because she’s too afraid of dragons, then she’s got somewhere to go. And there will be lots of tension in your story because its outcome will always be in question.

Make sense? If not, feel free to drop me an email via the link on this website. I’m always happy to answer questions.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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