Thursday, September 26, 2013

♪♫ Let's Get Together, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah ♫♪

Yes, I'm old enough to remember the original Parent Trap movie.  I loved anything with Hayley Mills in it.  But this blog post isn't about Hayley or her movies or the cute song, Let's Get Together, that Hayley and, uh, Hayley sang in the movie, although it keeps running through my brain.  I decided to share about this past Saturday, when my writers group got together for our Fall Mini-Retreat.

Nothing can be beat a group of females talking about writing and stories and characters and cake--  Oops!  We ate the cake, baked and decorated by one of our members.  (Thanks T!)

Ten of us gathered in the large, comfy and peaceful clubhouse of a large apartment complex at ten in the morning, ready to kick back, relax, and talk writing.  And, boy, did we talk!  We shared information about our current WIPs (Works In Progress), then really got down to the best part:  Brainstorming.

I. Love. Brainstorming.  When I'm stuck or not sure of something in my WIP, I have a couple of friends who I can turn to, and they put me on the right track.  But I love brainstorming other writers "stuff" just as much.  Maybe even more!  It gets the brain working and puts it in creative mode.  After a brainstorming session, I often have lightbulb moments about my own story and characters.

If you've never had the chance to brainstorm with other writers, you've missed one of the best things about writing.  Each of us at the retreat took a turn presenting what our story is about, while everyone else asked questions and gave suggestions, especially if the author had hit a bump in the road of her story.  When that bump happens, there are ways to smooth out the road.  It takes asking questions, whether asked by you or by a fellow writer.  What kind of questions? Why questions.


One of the biggest things that writers need to learn along the way is understanding and using character motivation.  If a character isn't motivated by something or someone, that character will fall flat, leading readers to close the book and toss it aside.  Motivation is what drives a character to think what he thinks and do what she does.  When first deciding on a character, ask yourself a few questions.  What does your character fear and why?  What happened in the character's past made him/her way?  What kind of family did your character come from?  What was the character's childhood like?  Without knowing these things, it's difficult to motivate a character's reason for doing whatever it is she or he is doing throughout the story.  Without motivation, there's no strong goal, and the stronger, the better.  Why does the hero want to be a police officer?  Why is the heroine so negative about marriage and relationships?  Why can't these two people, who are obviously made for each other, get together for a happily-ever-after?  (Aha!  Conflict!)

If you can't answer the why questions, dig a little deeper. Motivation is in the character's backstory.  It's the character's life history.  What would make someone do or not do something?  Want or not want something?  Was the hero's father a police officer?  Had the hero, as a child, run away, faced danger, and was rescued by a police officer?  Did the heroine grow up in a broken home, never getting the chance to get to know her father?  What about her mother?  What kind of person raised this girl?  Or maybe it's something more recent.  Was the heroine dumped at the altar at her wedding?  What was it that makes your character who he or she is at the beginning of the book?

Creating a character that will tug at the hearts of readers or make them laugh, isn't easy.  Knowing your characters is the key to writing a great book.  Do whatever it takes to make your characters come alive.  Getting to know them is the first step.

People don't suddenly appear at the age of twenty-four or thirty-two or whatever age in real life.  Neither should your character, even in the beginning of a book.  A character, just like each of us, is the sum of his life.  You need to know that character and what's happened to him, up to the point of where you begin to tell the story.  That motivation or backstory will help drive your character and your plot.

There are as many ways to "flesh out" a character--get to know them--as there are writers.  Some writers choose to create a character profile of each of the main characters, right down to what books they read and the color of their socks.  Some writers start by writing some dialogue between characters.  Or they might let the characters, one at a time, tell the writer about themselves.  (Yes, we're a crazy bunch, who hear voices in our heads.)  Some writers do a character interview, asking the character simple questions that can become more complex as the interview goes on.  This can often lead to surprises for the writer!  He had a sister who disappeared?!

I've used each of those methods at one time or another, but usually by the time I'm ready to start plotting or writing, those characters have spent enough time in my head that I know them pretty well.  There are lots of times when I wish they'd be quiet!  Practicing some of the techniques above will eventually lead you to what works best for you...and your characters.  But whatever method you use, it never hurts to try something new, when your usual way doesn't work.

That's where brainstorming with a group or even one writer friend can help.  Be sure to keep an open mind, while brainstorm.  Others don't see your characters as you do.  They haven't experienced the same things that you have--or your characters have.  Sometimes we might think the ideas of others don't "fit" our idea of our character, but if we listen, something suggested might turn us down another road in the life of a character and lead to the perfect answer to why.  And that's what makes brainstorming so great.

GMC.  Goal.  Motivation.  Conflict.  (Thanks, Deb Dixon!)  There's no required order to think of it at the beginning of an idea.  Maybe you know your character's conflict first.  Maybe it will be the character's goal.  And maybe you'll have an idea of the character's motivation.  Just keep in mind that it takes all three to make well-rounded, interesting, and believable character that readers will love.  Or hate, because, yes, even the villain should have all three.

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. ~ Mark Twain

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