Reminder: Join us for our November meeting, tonight at 6:00 p.m. (social hour with brown bag dinner) with the meeting starting at 7:00 p.m. Our speaker is our very own Jim who will be speaking about swords and sword fighting. No stranger to swashbuckling romance, Jim writes with his wife Barbara Ray. Please join us!
I promise to return to reviewing RWA news soon, but today I actually had fodder for a blog-like post, so I decided to go with that.
I was thinking the other day about all the decisions that have gotten me to this point in my life--some big (which college, which boy, which job ), others small (which club, which book, which dinner). They all add up to the person I am now. I tend to revisit certain decisions in my head and wonder what would be different if I had chosen Y instead of X. It's not that I'm unhappy with my life (far from it). I'm just really curious about who I'd be if I'd chosen the other path. More importantly, who would I have needed to be to choose that path? I often wish for a time machine or a movie that would show me the other path but still let me return to my current life.
Then, last night I slapped myself upside the head! Duh! I'm a WRITER. The other path is ALWAYS open to me in my fiction, and I have a front row seat to the movies in my head. Realizing this gave me new insight on character development. A character is the sum of his/her choices. Each choice both reflects and reveals character.
Why did your character order eggs and pancakes instead of oatmeal?
Why did your character drive from Chicago to St. Louis instead of taking the train or flying?
Would your character really show up at that party?
Who would your character be if they worked at a different job, had said yes to that boy in college, went to graduate school?
What type of person would your character have to be to have met her best friend in kindergarten versus last year at a playgroup or five years ago in college?
Let's say you think it would be interesting if your heroine was a chef. You research cooking techinques, maybe interview a chef, and watch several hours of Food Network to ensure that she comes across authentic. This is all good, but if you really want to get inside her head consider her choices:
Who was she before she was a chef? What choices did she make along the way?
What sort of person chooses to go to culinary school versus college?
Why did she choose (or not) to stay at a small bistro versus moving up to an exclusive eatery?
What things has she had to give up to continue being a chef: night-time socializing? holidays? weekends? dieting? friends?
Each choice reveals something about the background of your character, who she is, how she thinks, what her values are. When you get an inconsistent answer, a red flag should go up: she wouldn't choose that. Back up, and reconsider the answer. Are you inserting your own preferences? Are you being true to her previous choices? Is there a reason for her acting outside of her pattern?
Let's say you decide to give your heroine a house in the suburbs while she works at a downtown eatery. Would a chef working 80+ hours a week really choose to commute that far, plus take on the upkeep of a house? If your chef would, why? Is she happy with her choice? Who would she be if you stuck her in a downtown loft instead?
Consider the smaller choices your characters make as well. Are you in a rut? Do all your heroines crave chocolate, hate their mothers, and love Audrey Hepburn. Would this character really make those choices?
Since as writers, the path not taken is always an option, don't fence your characters (or yourself!) in with the first choice that comes to mind. Consider what might happen if your character chose a different option. What if our fictional chef chose to go to college before leaving to become a chef? Who would she be then? What if instead of getting on a plane to go to St. Louis, you stick her on a train instead?
Are you taking advantage of places to reveal character through the motivation for choices. In John Grisham's The Summons, the main character, Ray, ends up eating in a lot of diners. Instead of just having his character order the pancakes, he reflects that he'd rather order cereal and grapefruit, but doesn't feel free to do so. He also notes in conversation why his father wouldn't eat breakfast at an establishment like that. These little details about the choices of Ray and his father reveal a lot about who they are.
As you write today, I challenge you to examine all of the choices your character has to make to bring them to that place in the story. Dig deeper into your back story and learn more about each character. Look for places to reveal motivation for choices.
Any thoughts? Examples?