It is my absolute pleasure to introduce your Weekend Workout guest Jack Remick, author and writing mentor / teacher extraordinaire. He was a great influence and inspiration when I took a dramatic writing class from him and co-teacher Robert Ray many years ago. His exercises have stuck with me to this day. If you’re in the Vancouver area, he often teaches at the Surrey Writer’s Festival.
If you enjoy this post, check out Jack and Bob’s Writing Blog for more valuable writing advice and guidance.
~ ~ ~
Character and Action—The Deep Relationship
Vulnerability is the key to the sympathetic character. The wound, coupled with a secret coupled with character flaw, gives you a human character. The more obvious the wound, the more deeply buried the secret the more likely the reader is to identify with the character.
Your characters also have a history of pain, shame, guilt, betrayal, and doubt. Getting to know the character’s shame and guilt leads you to the essential element of dramatic conflict that all novels must have in order to engage the reader in the story.
If you write about your character in the past and then in the present and then the future, you deepen character as well as introduce aspects of plotting. What will become of her? Will she find happiness? Defeat? Plotting a future for your character gives you a handle on the narrative present.
Here are some hints for creating strong characters:
Action comes from character needs.
Make every character strong enough to be the protagonist of your next novel–
Betrayal: How many times has your character been betrayed?
Shame: What is she ashamed of?
Guilt: What is she guilty of?
Doubt: Why does she doubt herself?
Three words for strong characters that get you to action:
Want. What does your character want?
Need. What does she need?
Can’t. What can’t she have.
Thwarting Desire and Plot:
Human beings react to being thwarted. Desire always leads to action. In fiction, action is what characters do to achieve their wants, to satisfy their needs.
Plot can be defined as the chain of events your characters undertake to get what they want. How does your character react when she finds out she can’t have what she wants?
When the character is denied what she wants, what action does she take to over come that denial? Denial leads to action. Action leads to pain. Who gets hurt?
Need merging into Obsession.
What does your character need? A hundred thousand bucks a year?
New wardrobe every six months? A new house? How strong is that need? Is it strong enough to become an obsession? When need becomes an obsession, needs meld into drive. Need is the deep, inner aspect of character that cannot be ignored. Don’t ignore it.
The Driven Character:
How driven is your character? What will she do to get what she wants? Murder? Steal? Cheat? Betray her husband? lover? children? mother? What will she do when her drive is deflected or even betrayed?
Joining Need to Want and Can’t
When your characters have needs and wants but can’t gratify or satisfy them, you have an equation that spits out Action. Action is what your character does to meet her needs, to get what she wants.
Does your character want to be wanted? Are there layers of want? Why does your character need to be wanted? Deepen need and want and can’t with shame, guilt and betrayal and you have character traits that will engage your reader?
Doubt, the Forgotten Element.
What does your character doubt? Her abilities? Her sexuality? Her intelligence? Doubt always leads to hesitation—that moment before she pulls the trigger, slashes off her hair, slices her wrist. Doubt is the powerful inhibitor of action. Because the character doubts her physical prowess, she fails to engage the villain in combat. Failing combat, she loses the battle. Losing the battle leads her to the brink of death. Doubt is serious business in fiction.
Childhood and Buried Need:
How deeply buried in the character’s childhood is your character’s need? Can we see the buried need erupting in her present life? What caused that need? Who buried it? Why was it buried?
The coupling of want, need, can’t, guilt, shame, betrayal, and doubt leads you to action, psychology, and plot. How does plot hook to need and want and can’t? When want and need become obsessions, you create the driven character. Character drive is what moves story.
Timed Writing—write for five minutes on each of these start lines:
The protagonist in my story WANTS
The protagonist in my story NEEDS
The protagonist in my story CAN’T have ___________because…
Danika adds: remember to just write, no editing or crossing out.
Have a great weekend!