Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Construction Zone 2. Know Your Characters!

First of all, there's a new review up for Almost a Family at RRT today.

Secondly, Janet asked a question in my comments section on yesterday's post, and because I want to answer, I'm going to talk about it today and save research for another day.

She asked, Donna, do you do all that goal motivation and conflict thing (outer and inner charts as advised by Deb Dixon) or do you just start exploring your characters' situation and see where that takes you?

That's a really good question because Goal, Motivation and Conflict are what keeps your story going. You can have two characters but not care a jot about the story if there's no conflict. I don't do charts, in fact I don't even really sit down and say, "OK, what's the GMC for my hero/heroine?" I'm more a "explore the character's situation and see where that takes me."

But it's not that simple, not at all. It's more than a situation. And that's where I have the most fun. Characters need to be full people to me, with a past, a present, and a future. If you do the legwork, the GMC will smack you in the face! Or it should. If you know your characters inside and out, what makes them tick...then you're going to know what they want. (Goal) You're going to know WHY they want it (motivation) and you're going to know exactly what the opposite character is going to do to get in the way of that (conflict). Delving deeper into conflict, you might know reasons why what the character wants is in conflict with their greatest fears (internal conflict). And when you look at your basic plot, you're going to have other elements that will serve to keep them apart (external conflict).

So it all comes down, for me anyway, to knowing your characters.

Now, this might not work if you're writing something longer than series contemporary. Or what if you're writing romantic suspense? Let's face it. Romance as a line is a character based line. There's not a lot of room for external plot, and I'll tackle plot on another day. We'll just leave it now with the recognition that some genres/subgenres are more reliant on external plot than others. But even so, you STILL need to know your characters. I recently read The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. I enjoyed both, and probably should have read Angels and Demons first because I learned a lot more about Robert Langdon in that book. Still...I felt both books were short on character development.

When you know your characters, you not only know what they want, why, and what's going to stand in their way, but you know little things. Perhaps things that they've said, or how they'll react to a certain situation. Tiny details like their favourite colour or food that aren't necessarily important but can add that little extra bit of SOMETHING to your story. Helping it move from ordinary to vivid, rich and personal. It helps make your characters memorable. And it's important to remember that even after doing all that work, sometimes your characters will show you things about themselves that you didn't even know. For example, in writing the last few chapters of Marriage at Circle M, my hero, Mike, realized something about the heroine that totally threw me for a loop - but made perfect sense and added another layer of conflict that brought SO much together.

So how do I go about meeting my characters? Some people do interviews, but that's not really worked for me. I start with an image - hence the casting yesterday - and then I use a worksheet straight from Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. Questions like What do they have that they value most in the world? What trait do they most want to keep hidden from the world can be really illuminating. And many of your answers may never see the light of day in your manuscript. But YOU know, and if YOU know, it'll come across in your story. Then as I go along, my critique partner will ask questions. Tough ones. Each one I think about makes my character more rounded.

Your characters won't just be on the page, but they'll LIVE. And for me, that's the whole point.

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