Sunday, November 25, 2007

Analysing My Characters

I spent some time on the phone with DL King today to discuss my latest novel. This is one of the things I love about having writer friends. (Especially the ones who are so generous with their time). It's hard to talk to a non-writer about the construction and purpose of scenes. Readers tend to accept what's there as just the way it is. Other writers, however, know that scenes don't simply exist. They always serve a purpose (or they should be edited out) Either the scene moves the plot along, or it reveals something about the character(s). Ideally, it does both.

One of the hardest things to know is if I've gone far enough with a scene or if it's okay where it stops. I have a character who never apologizes for what he's done, but he will try to set things right. The discussion I had with DL was - should I have him apologize? That led to a long discussion about where the character was mentally. It's so fun to pick apart a character and analyze their motivations and actions. I want so much for him to apologize, because deep down I know he's a good guy. (I wrote him that way, after all) DL feels that he's not to that point of self-realization yet. She's right, of course. In the third book, I'll not-so-gently push him in that direction, and finally get him there, but as usual, it's going to take a lot of angst.

Once upon a time, in a management class, I saw a series that explained where your employees and customers were in terms of needs and wants, and how those motivations had a lot to do with when they grew up. Some of that is common sense, and some of it is buzzword bingo, but it's an idea that I return to when creating characters. People can change, but it takes a lot to overcome that inertia. The emotional levers have to be strong. People have to want to change. And they almost always have to face a major life event that makes change possible. What this means for characters is, of course, duh-rah-ma. It has to be powerful enough to shake them to their core and make them question what were givens in their life, and it has to give them a reason to want to change, which brings me back to my character. Poor guy. The next novel is going to be rough on him. But it's for his own good. Really. I'm not poking him with the calamity stick just for the hell of it.

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