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Posts tagged with: GMC

It’s All In The Past

I love a good action movie where it’s all about the ticking bomb, once in a while. However if the screen writer adds a character that touches my heart, the movie goes from good to great! When that happens, I can’t stop talking about it. I tell my family and friends. I chat about it at work and on social media. And I easily lay down my hard-earned cash for the next movie. Readers have the same reaction after finishing a book that left them feeling something for someone, the character.  And word of mouth is still the best advertisement. It will get you more returns than a pricey Bookbub ad and cost you nothing but the sweat and blood and tears you poured into your story. So how do we create characters that are memorable?

Most new writers think of physical traits when we speak of creating a character, but art is so much more. Certainly, features, abilities, or disabilities can shape a character’s perception of themselves or how the world sees them, so yes, picture them but go beyond the physical. Use the physical to create flaws for your character and thus emotional ties with your reader.  Just a few film examples that you might be familiar with which use physical attributes to create memorable characters are Princess Fiona (Shrek), Erin Brockowich, Raymond Babbitt {Rain Man} or Sherlock Holmes.

The basic tool we use to dig deep into our characters psyche is GMC. We’re all familiar with the acronym, right? Goals, motivation and conflict. Every character, including secondary characters, need to have goals. Behind the answer of what they’re goals are comes the question why is that their goal? What impels them to get up every morning and work toward that objective? Then why has that particular incident in their life affected them so deeply that years later they’re not going to let anyone stop them from reaching their objective? What is the emotional seed?

There is that word again. EMOTION.

Then comes conflict. Think of your own conflicts. Unless you live in a solitary world you have them. We have issues with the world events.  We have conflicts with others; Husband, wife, children, mother, father, the cousin who lives a state away and still seems to meddle in your life, a co-worker who rubs you the wrong way and pets. Don’t forget our furry or feathered friends. At times we have conflict with ourselves. Time can add conflict. Conflict comes in all sizes and most days from every direction. Do you recall days like that? Remember the raw emotion that coursed through you because of conflict. Hit your character with a ton of conflict.

The way your character reacts to conflict is part of their temperament. You can show their reaction to tough situations as a strength or a flaw. Characters need both. We all have both. Readers identify with characters through them and the emotional baggage that comes with them. Make a list of your character’s flaws and strengths. How did they come about? How can you show them? How can they show growth?

When I start a new story, I usually have glimpse of the opening scene in my mind. I have no clue where the story line is going to take me. The first thing I do is search for pictures of my characters. I know them as soon as I see them. (CRAZY RIGHT?) Then I start asking them questions about themselves. Out those answers, story ideas will begin to take shape.

My advice: Dig deep into your characters’ pasts even though not a word of it might make it on to the page. You need to know them.

How do you develop your characters? Please share your process.

 

 

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Using Archetypes To Find Your Story

I write romance, and that means my stories are, by necessity, character driven.  That doesn’t mean I ignore plot or story — my books have plenty of plot, and storytelling is my favorite thing about writing.  But in a romance the story should grow out of the struggles of the characters.  More important, the love story in every romance requires the characters to grow.  The hero and heroine need to learn something by the end of the book that allows them to have their happy ending.  The bigger the transformation the more satisfying the ending.

Coming up with ideas for that inner character arc is not easy for me.  I can come up with ideas for situations and story lines and conflict, but figuring out what a character has to learn before he or she gets to the end of the story is really hard.  I need all the help I can get. 

Otherwise I’m liable to find myself in the middle of a story and suddenly realize that the characters are two-dimensional and don’t really have any significant barrier to their love story.  When that happens, major revisions are usually required. 

I hate major revisions.  Like the plague.  Unfortunately, when I was first learning how to tell a story, this happened all. The. Time. 

MyssCardsAnd then, one day about ten years ago, I went to a plotting workshop put on by my local RWA chapter.  And, of course, the instructor started out by telling us that we needed to know our characters in order to tell a good story.  I knew this, but I was clueless as to how to actually accomplish that. 

And then the instructor did a remarkable thing — she brought a bright red box out of her bag that looked like a box of tarot cards. “These might help,” she said.

They weren’t tarot cards.  They were “archetype” cards developed by the self-help guru, Caroline Myss. 

I don’t know a whole lot about new-age self-awareness, but I recognized a good thing when I saw it.  Right after the workshop I rushed right out to my local bookstore and found a deck of these cards for myself.  I’ve been using them ever since.  (Follow this link to a full listing of all of the Caroline Myss archetypes, along with detailed explanations of each of them.)

There are many archetype systems that authors can use, but I love playing with my cards.  They make it fun.  But they are also so useful because each of of these archetypes comes with a list of positive and negative attributes.  The negative attributes are particularly helpful when it comes to figuring out what lessons a character needs to learn before he or she can find love.

Let me give you an example of how I used these archetypes in the novel I started writing yesterday. 

MyssBeggarMy heroine is a “beggar.” The card gives me a few clues to this archetype, but a further exploration on the Caroline Myss webpage leads to the understanding that: 1) a beggar is starving for love and attention, and 2) a beggar doesn’t feel self-empowered.  She has to rely on others for sustenance for her self-esteem.

Okay, that immediately gets my brain working.  What kind of character would match that archetype?  I came up with a woman who set off to change the world only to have the world throw her back.  She’s lost her job, her home, her life savings.  She’s come back to town to live with the mother who never really gave her the attention she craved.  And she has to face a community who expected great things from her and who now sees her as a failure.  There is a job opportunity in town, but she’s going to have to beg someone for it.  She desperately craves validation from the people around her, but of course they are not going to give her what she craves.  (But they might just give her what she needs.)

Okay, so far so good.  Now comes the fun part.  What does this archetype need to learn in order to have a happy ending?  The answers come pretty quickly:  1) confront and/or reconcile with the mother who neglected her in some way, 2) take control of her life in some way by finding a job that no one expects her to succeed at, and 3) develop a relationship with a hero who refuses to do the one thing she thinks she needs — validate her existence.  (To be a fully realized person, she’s going to have to validate herself.)

See what just happened?  Not only did the card help me find a character, but it gave me the beginning of a story line, complete with built in conflicts.  Of course I’m not done yet.  I need a hero for my beggar.

MyssHermitOff I go to the cards again, and I find the one for “hermit,” an archetype that has withdrawn from the world because of his own fears.  A hermit also refuses to help those in need.

Wow, that immediately generates a ton of ideas.  I used this archetype to come up with a hero who has withdrawn from society because his wife has died.  Now he is intently focused on trying to keep his dead wife’s memory alive at the expense of everything else in his life, including his daughter.  (Who is starving for attention, which harkens back to the heroine’s own backstory.) In withdrawing from the world, the hero has turned a blind eye to the people around him who are in need, especially his young daughter, but also other members of his family.  There is a business that requires his attention, or it’s going to fail.  His friend is in the middle of a legal battle, and the hero is a lawyer.  And since he doesn’t give a darn about anything but his own sorrow, he’s not terribly interested in helping any beggars who ,might show up, especially if the beggar in question is his wife’s best friend from high school.

Obviously my hermit needs to have something my beggar desperately needs (a job perhaps, or money to accomplish some end, or legal advice).  They are going to fight about this for the first third of the book.  (I’d tell you what it is but that might spoil the read.) The bottom line a beggar heroine a hermit hero immediately generate conflict, which is always good for storytelling.  Equally important, I can now brainstorm a list of things that could happen that would either 1) force the hermit to deal with the people around him, or 2) force the beggar to fend for herself and improve her self-esteem, or deal with her residual issues with her mother.  Believe me I have a long, long list of what ifs now — many more than I need to tell a good story.

So, how do you come up with characters who drive your stories?  Since we’re all feverishly writing as part of the Winter Writing Festival, I’m sure that brainstorming ideas would be welcome by all.

Rip and Rebuild: Revisions Part 1

Revisions.

Does the thought give you nightmares, make you break out in a sweat, make your head pound like when you’re in a room full of screaming kids? (Sorry, I’m a mom of six, I’ve dealt with a lot of screaming kids.)

If you haven’t been through a revision and you bravely, even defiantly state, “I’m not afraid,” I offer you a quote from my favorite two-foot high, green Jedi dude, “You will be. Oh. You will be.”

Writer, GMC Thyself

I took a self-help class a few years ago that changed my life. Taught by a bearded, silver-haired yoga master, “What on earth are you doing with your life?” came with a grand promise. Take the class, and you’ll uncover the meaning of your life.

The meaning of my life in a six-week class? I would have laughed out loud if I hadn’t so desperately wanted it to be true.

Spreadsheets – Characters in a Nutshell (Part 2)

Yep, it’s that time again….Spreadsheets!!!!!

Everybody excited yet?  I hope so.  This is one of my favorite subjects, so I can’t help but want everyone to love spreadsheets as much as me.  🙂  Seriously, though.  Even if you’re not a spreadsheet lover, I hope you find something here you can use in your own character development even if it never makes it inside the cells of a spreadsheet!

Spreadsheets – Characters in a Nutshell (Part 1)

Last month I mentioned that I go a bit insane with spreadsheets.  Truth be told, my close friends probably think I should be locked away and not allowed to touch another spreadsheet program in my life.  So yes, I’ll admit it, I have a problem.

My name is Kim, and I’m a spreadsheet addict. 🙂

The Latest Comments

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