The Secret of Character-driven Drama

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This morning while I was reading “Map of Heaven” I was struck by the author’s discussion of the invisible world versus the visible world, the real world versus the shadow world. One example you’re probably familiar with is Plato’s metaphor of prisoners in a cave, chained to a wall, with flickering light coming from behind: the prisoners think that the dancing shadows on the wall before them is the real world. And when one of them escapes and actually sees what the reality looks like, the poor prisoners won’t believe him.

As I read “Map of Heaven” I was struck by the similarity of that discussion with the technique of the character-driven story. Because I’m trying my hand at fiction, I’m reading a lot about what makes good story-telling. What does fiction writing have to do with the argument of which world is real? Well, Plato and others propose that the real world is our spiritual home, and this physical world is where we act out the drama of the lessons we wish to learn — like one of those movies where the lead actor is also the writer and director. In weak writing, the author tells us that John Smith is a noble man. In strong writing, the author shows John Smith doing noble acts. In great writing, we are so absorbed in the intricacies of plot and the beauty of language, that the physical world disappears and the story world is all that exists.

12 Replies to “The Secret of Character-driven Drama”

  1. The thing I like about 1st-person writing is that it ties my hands in describing my main character. He won’t go, “I’m a noble sort of chap,” so I’m forced to show who he is. Often, I’m surprised that he’s not who I thought he was.

    Very nice post.


    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with first-person point of view, Bill. It’s good advice. I keep hearing from experienced writers that their characters surprise them.


  2. Timely post, MK for I too have started this very weekend with a fictional tale of my own devising. Somewhat like Plato’s metaphor of prisoners in a cave as you’ve outlined above mine too will be of two worlds, simultaneously existing. Though one imaginary which is this reality we find ourselves, and one real, that we only imagine.


  3. I have read some interesting debates on Eben Alexander and how he tries to explain what cannot be explained scientifically. I think you will be a great writer MK, you have depth, conscious understanding and a willingness to learn and be present.


    1. I’m not familiar with those debates, Karen. Thanks for the heads up. Way back in college I read Fritjof Capra’s book called “The Tao of Physics”, so I think it’s part of my own path to be reading Eben Alexander’s book now. I think scientists who’ve had spiritual experiences may have insights allowing them to draw parallels with both world views .

      In my post I was noticing the parallel between two other books I’m reading — about storytelling and our own life lessons. That is, about the common thread of how response to our challenges show us who we are. I think I didn’t do a very good job drawing that analogy.

      I’ve been exploring photography and fiction writing as an “antidote” to the left-brain kind of work I used to do. Thanks so much for your encouragement!


      1. No no quite the contrary, you did a great job explaining that, sorry, I just went out in a tangent about some reading I did about his work. He did have an amazing experience to share.


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