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Yinolu Olowofoyeku

Literature Month: Characters (The Real Heart of the Story)

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There are many components that come together to make a story. And in the diverse forms of media we have, different kinds of stories have various strengths and pulls; crime novels thrive on their suspense and mystery; action movies are defined by their set-pieces. However, in all this, there is one thing that I think you will find in most, if not all good stories: good characters.

So, you want to write a story. Not just that but you’re ready to wow the world with your mind-blowing plot, tear-jerking scenes or jaw-dropping panels as the case may be.

Well good on you! But before you start putting it all down, I just want to ask you something. Do you have your characters all planned out? I know you know their names. And that Jack falls in love with Lisa. But let’s delve deeper. What are their fears? Aspirations? Favorite colour? Favorite childhood memory? You don’t have to go down to the minutest detail with each character but I suggest you go quite deep with the main ones. Why? Because characters go beyond being the audience’s emotional connection to your story. Well-written characters are more central to a good story than you may think. Here’s how:

Plot: Characters are defined by the choices they make. The choices they make are defined by the people you make them. Robert McKee says that the more pressure there is on your character, the truer that decision is to their true nature.

A plot is the sequence of events or situations that your characters encounter. There is a marked difference between a plot that happens TO your characters and one that happens BECAUSE of them. Having a greater percentage of the latter usually leads to more compelling stories. You want the plot to happen because of in-character decisions they make.

Theme: Here’s one that many people don’t consider. Most stories are peppered with themes related to the moral or point the writer is trying to get across. While those themes will usually be explored in various plot moments, we learned earlier that good plot moments should be character driven. Meaning, the characteristics you imbibe your characters with should (where possible) tie into the themes being addressed. It would be really difficult to write a story that touches on the issues of sexism without characters that display sexist traits (that kinda goes without saying). However, this also means that you can have characters with values on differing sides of the same theme/philosophy and put them against each other. This creates memorable character relationships and encounters. That properly highlight the theme. Take for example,

Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2. Both characters stand on opposite sides of a spectrum. Batman and the Joker in their order-versus-chaos game of chess, Captain America and Tony stark with their different understandings of how to best do their job. In many cases, the character becomes a vessel for conveying the thematic messages hidden in your text. Use that power wisely.

As I hope you can now see, your characters go beyond just the names on the page. If Jack is gonna fall for Lisa, we’re going to want to know why. If he gets fired from work, let it be because he skipped a meeting to buy her flowers. If your story deals with heartbreak and trust, maybe Lisa is the kind of person that doesn’t trust Jack or the nature of his advances.

Besides, I’ve noticed from experience that sometimes with the right characters, their actions play out organically and the story writes itself.

Now I think you’re ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard as is more the case nowadays). Your characters are ready to influence the plot and wet the eyes of audiences.

I suggest you do some research too. Check out your favourite stories and see if you can figure out:

-Seemingly minute character traits that somehow come into play
-The elements of the theme present in the characters
-The things that strike you as out of place for a character and why.

Happy writing!

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Last Night In Lagos; What A Project.

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With the rate at which I amass music, I’ve gotten to a stage where I’ve developed a sort of process for listening to it all. I listen to albums, rate the songs, copy some over to my various relevant playlists and move on. Usually, I do this while working on one of many things I have going on. Yesterday happened to be one of the days where I sat down to work, and as such, lined up a few albums I’d gotten that hadn’t yet been listened to. And that’s when I re-stumbled upon “Last Night In Lagos”, the most recent project by Ozone.

This 5-track EP was released in March of this year. I got it very soon after it came out as I had been following Ozone’s music from his early Aristokrat days. As this project played on, I realised I had stopped doing my work and was fully engrossed in listening. Something about the project had commandeered my full attention. And while all the beats are interesting in their own respect (Night & Day) being my favourite in that respect), I quickly understood that it wasn’t just the musicality of the work that had captivated me. No, “Last Night in Lagos” spoke to something deeper.

But that’s one of the most powerful things about music, it’s ability to resonate with the listener; intermingle with our own thoughts and experiences, appeal to our individual situations and realities. The hardest part about this was taking the intangible connection I felt with the music and qualifying it with words in a way that other people would understand why I appreciate it so much. I fully understand that this project may not resonate with others the way it did with me.

For me, there are two layers of appeal to this project. Layer 1: On the surface, Ozone brings it with his flow and wordplay. Anyone who has listened to him knows that this is par for the course. He sounds at home on the beats, weaving similes and puns together like he was born doing it.

But the hook for me was the second layer. The deeper mood, tone and themes. There is something so honest about the project. I felt like a personal friend who was sat down with him as he spoke about all the things that had been going on in his mind. He mentions his upbringing, words of advice from family members, etc. Not only does he speak about general life/love problems that you find on most projects, he also delves into his personal concerns as an artiste. And I think this is the aspect that resonated so deeply with me. It almost felt like he was speaking for me and to me at the same time. Lines like ‘You’re nothing or you’re legendary’, ‘You could do the most and it won’t be enough’ touch on feelings going through the minds of many young creatives, I assume. He talks about how he used to dumb down his music to feel among and as someone whose creative inclinations sometimes stray far from the mainstream or popular, I totally understand the sentiment.

At the end of the day, this project serves to remind me of just how powerful music can be. How powerful art is, in general. I connect with and relate to Ozone, as he presents himself on this project; a man who knows that he isn’t where he could be… given that the big city is too small for his dreams. And we all know, birds can’t fly in a cage.

***

But this is all in relation to me lol. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and what not. Give the project a listen and see whether it speaks to you the same way.

 

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