Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Tidbits

Facts or Fiction?
I had an interesting conversation with an aspiring writer last night. This gentleman is frustrated because, while he has a host of interesting  characters in his head, he cannot seem to find a story for any of them.

I would argue: If you cannot find a story, then you don't really have a character.

To prove this theory, I asked the gentleman one simple question. "What does your character want more than anything in the world?"

He looked at me for a long, blank moment. Then he said, "I don't know. I suppose I just have facts about the character in mind. No desires."

Here's the thing, dear writers: Facts do not equal a character. This gentleman could tell me what kind of job his character had. He could tell me what his character looked like. He could tell me where his character had grown up, where his character was now living, what this character liked to eat on his pizza. The list of facts went on.

But there was no real character. Because the character did not have a key desire.

Ultimately, desires are what make people interesting. They are what drive and define us. What we want most of out of life affects our personality, our decisions, or actions . . . all choices, both good and bad.

If you want to create a character, don't waste any time deciding what he or she looks like. Don't waste time on superfluous details like job descriptions, background information, anything like that. All of that is secondary . . . those are nothing but details to be filled in later as you flesh out the story.

Ask yourself one simple question: "What does this character want most?"

If you have that answer, you will also have a story. Because, you see, your story will simply be made up of throwing one obstacle after another in the path of your hero, preventing him from achieving what he wants. The plot becomes your hero's struggle to beat the odds, to achieve the dream. Your climax becomes the final confrontation, the final moment when your hero faces the dream itself . . . and either wins it at last or gives it up.

You find the answer to that question, and you will have a story.

By the way, this same question is true when it comes to creating every other character peopling your story. From the villain to all the secondary characters, you must ask, "What does this person want most?" These goals and desires become these characters' motivations. These goals will affect how they interact with your hero and dramatically alter the course of the story, either for good or ill (most often for ill, because that's more interesting reading!)


Meredith said...

What a wonderful post! I love the helpful advice. I've noticed that I care very little about a character's physical appearance, but I love learning about their motivations and actions. Take care, and I hope that you have a wonderful weekend. God bless.

Kay J. Fields said...

The best characters of any story, made and unmade, are those whose heart we see the most. A character without heart is not a character, it's a portrait.

In favorite tales as well as in my own writing, my favorite characters are not often the view point characters-something I am working on in my own stories, to make the MC more loveable.

But when I do find out the desires and the emotions which drive that character, they become fascinating and the story builds around them. Whether these emtions and desires are things like love and family, or greed and malice, or guilt and fear, they are what drives the character to do what they do, and gives us a plot we can work with. You can bounce these two things around: the goals (or desires) of the character, and the emotions of the character, to build up the other. These things should be paired, and from them can branch all the creative twists in plot and the history of the character.

As a help to someone who doesn't know how to give their character goals or go deeper on an emotional level, but knows many facts about that character, I would say: start building backstory. A character with a history is a character who has their own set of dreams and desires.

The more conflict you can place in the backstory, the better a 'springboard' you create from which to bounce off the emotional values of that character and the things they want most. (Sorry. Long comment there...)

Victoria said...

Thanks so much for yet another wonderful Friday Tidbit! :) I do have a question, though. Sometimes my characters' desires end up lining up with mine somewhat, which seems only natural. But how do I know if I'm simply relating to my heroine or if she's becoming a Mary Sue?

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

That is such a good question, Victoria, I'm going to make it the topic of next week's Friday Tidbit! Stay tuned . . . ;)

Joyanna said...

Thanks so much Anne Elisabeth for another Friday Tidbit! It's really great being able to glean information from someone who has been writing for so long. Each Friday Tidbit helps encourage and grow my own writing abilities and provides me with thought provoking information I can apply to my own novel. God Bless, Joyanna

Molly said...

I'm glad you'll be doing Victoria's question because I've been wondering about something like that recently...

Unknown said...

This was incredibly helpful...I have several such characters or ideas that need a direction and now I think I can give them one!

Hannah said...

WooHoo! I'm so happy to see you in Goldstone Wood, Hannah Halsey!

Unknown said...

Wonderful advice, Anne Elisabeth! I always find characters with interesting goals a lot more fun to learn about. :)


Unknown said...

Me too Hannah! =)

Rachel6 said...

Janice Hardy posted something similar last week. She listed three questions designed to get to the heart of a story: what does this character want? why does it matter? how will his life change forever?

QueryShark lists another trifecta: what does he want? what prevents him from achieving his goal? what does he do to overcome the obstacles?

I'm deeply curious about your next tidbit, Anne!