Thursday, February 14, 2013

Building the Story: Characters

As I work on making changes on a proposal, I'm given pause to think about how important characters are to the plot of a book.  It's characters and our love of them that make a great story.  And, yes, even a mountain or a whale can become characters that change another character.

In romance, our characters are sometimes both two protagonists, while also being the antagonists.  If the two solve their differences--of which there should be one tough one and other smaller ones--and the conflict is resolved too early, the story dies.  While it's nice to see two people get together, it's even better when there are problems to deal with and eventually solve to get to that happily ever after.

I'll freely admit that I'm constantly learning, and I appreciate that I have an editor who is willing to teach me, in a asking-the-right-questions way.  I truly appreciate that she makes me dig deeper to build better characters, GMC and, in the end, stories.  If that means reworking a project, so be it.  One more lesson learned by redoing.

Making mistakes (by not fleshing out the character and their emotional conflict, as was my recent case) does teach us, if we let them.  Throwing up our hands and giving up is the stuff of people who refuse to try, to learn, and to redo, if necessary.  And we all make mistakes, whether in our writing or our lives.  It's making the most of them--learning from them--that makes us better writers and people.

So how do characters help build our story?  Much of it comes back to good, ol' GMC, but if the Conflict isn't strong enough, the story is weakened.  That's what I was facing last week.  Yes, there was conflict between my H/H, but as my editor pointed out, it wasn't strong enough.  It needed to be something other than their conflict in the past.  It could stem from the past, but it had to be an emotional NOW not THEN.

Once I gave some thought to what she said--and added the brainstorming genius of a writer friend (Thanks, Kristi! And Kathie for the ranching info!)--I was on the road to a better, more emotional story.  The basis was there, but the push-pull of the romance and the conflict needed to be pumped up.

The characters themselves was the answer, and it had been there from the beginning.  I just hadn't dug deep enough to reach it.  Once it was pointed out to me that the two characters were a lot alike, that their biggest strength was also their greatest weakness, that push-pull emerged.  Two people, who had always insisted on having complete control of their lives and everything involved, would always be at odds, often about nearly everything.  Add in the past they shared that had often found them not only at loggerheads, but as adversaries, in spite of their secret attraction to each other, and that conflict is going to grow larger when they meet again.  Not to mention that night, fifteen years ago...

Just what is push-pull and how does a writer use it?  Take two people who might not normally be even friends, much less lovers, throw them into something that will push them together and make them grow.  But don't forget to throw in something that will pull them apart, not once, but several times.  Think turning points.  Yes, those things that change the course of the characters and/or their journey to their goal, and sometimes even their goal.  Keep their motivation in mind, too, since it's the reason for those goals.

Turning points can be both negative and positive.  Growing closer is a positive (push), whether it's a first kiss or a realization or acknowledgement of love that brings them emotionally closer.  But it's those negative ones (pull)--the overheard conversation, the words or actions of one, the knowledge of something previously unknown and not particularly welcome--that keep the story rolling and the reader reading.  When it comes to characters, bring them up, then smack them down.  Torture them, but don't forget to reward them.

Digging deeper isn't always easy, but it's well worth the time and effort.  In the end, it will make for a better, emotional book.

Shameless Promotion
The story that spawned this blog post is still in the submission stage, but it's the story of the sister of two brothers who are the heroes in two books coming out this year.  This new sister/heroine does make an appearance in both, so it's become close to my heart.  Only time will tell if Erin's story will hit the stands. Until then, I hope you'll give her brothers' books a read.

Especially for fans of cowboy heroes...singing ones...
Don't miss Kristi Gold's THE CLOSER YOU GET, available NOW!

A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success. ~ Elbert Hubbard 

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