Please welcome author Marie Dry as she talks about Character Development!
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Over to Marie now...
I was invited here to talk about any two craft subjects and I did one on editing already. I love every aspect of writing, even stressing about editors accepting my manuscript and ratings and reviews but editing is really close to my heart. I had to think long and hard about what the second subject will be. Because every story revolves around the characters, I decided to write about how I develop them. I would love to give you the correct failsafe way to go about it but the truth is I developed a system that works for me and maybe some of it may work for you as well. Keep in mind that editors normally say they can fix plot holes and problems with the story but if the characters are two dimensional and not believable they can’t do anything. If you are not sure your characters are believable keep asking why. Why do they do this and that? If they have strong motivations you can convince that editor of almost anything.
As I mentioned in the talk on editing I am a pantser and sometimes I wonder if it is another word for plodding if I look at the speed with which some of my fellow writers produce books. I’ve come to accept that the truth is that is my system and nothing will change that. Before I sit down and pants out a story I need characters that have their own voices. So although I do the minimum of story plotting I have to spend some time with character development. In my case I’ve found it hurts my story if I try to pants my way through character development. At first I believed I had the characters in my head and thought they were fully formed and I merrily wrote whatever came to me. Needless to say I had a lot of author intrusion in my first stories. If I was too tired after work to do the laundry, guess what happened to my heroine? And we all know how anxious readers are to read about a heroine too tired to do laundry. I know writers who can sit down and write without doing any character development beforehand and their characters come to them fully formed. I am not one of those.
The first aha moment for me was when I did a course with savvy authors – if you don’t know them check them out at www.savvyauthors.com – and the instructor mentioned the inciting incident. That was the first time I went back and looked closely at my heroine’s childhood. Suddenly I knew her experience in school as the child of survivalists and being taller than the boys and very thin to boot pushed her toward being a reserved person living alone on a mountain. This time when I read through my manuscript I could fix some dialogue and my heroine suddenly had a consistent voice. I looked at what happened to her as a young adult and realized she became engaged to a nasty piece of work which left her unsure about herself as a woman. This colored many of her interactions with Zacar. If you know at least three inciting incidents from childhood to young adult you are more likely to know how they will react in stressful situations with these incidents coloring their outlook on life. If you do nothing else find your characters inciting incidents.
I was now a pantser with tools that worked! Man I couldn’t believe my luck. EL James move over here I come. Except I still got rejections which I diligently filed in my folder I marked acceptance file to cheer me up. I refuse to have anything negative touch my writing and calling that depressing rejection file my acceptance file helped a surprising lot. The rejections now came with comments attached which indicated I was getting closer. But it was still rejection.
My CP recommended a class by Mary Buckham and that literally changed the tide for me. Mary is writing full time now and does not present many classes but if she ever do I would urge you to enrol and pay whatever she charges. It would be a bargain at any price. The first one I attended online with her was a course on the twelve steps to intimacy and suddenly I understood why people kissed, held hands and went through the whole courtship. Knowing the motivations of the hero when he touched the heroine and her reasons for either allowing it or pulling back made a huge difference to the depth of my characters. It also helped me create believable sexual tension and to avoid the standard damp panties and peaking nipples. I also did a course on active settings with her and that helped with my characters as well. How they react to their environment says a lot about them and their emotions. She published her notes on active settings and I can really recommend that as well. Mary also has a book out on conflict, if you have the dollars buy that one for your collection of craft books. I had her notes on the twelve steps to intimacy bound into a book and its one of my most precious go to manuals. I am bugging her every now and then to publish that as well and she promised the book on the twelve steps to intimacy is on its way. A must for all romance writers.
Now I could see the difference in my manuscripts. Better descriptions, livelier dialogue and once again rejections. With all these improvements I still wasn’t quite there yet. And the feedback told me that I needed to plot more. Except I’m a pantser but I was starting to see the light. Plot the characters and good things happened!
Once again my excellent Critique Partner Cassandra L Shaw found a course at Savvy Authors presented by Lori Wilde and I jumped at the chance to enrol for the nine month course on plotting, rough drafting and editing. Lori is a plotter and exactly the influence I needed at that stage. Can I just say that the sheer professionalism and her ability for hard work blew me away. From Lori I learned how to develop characters. Practical easy to understand steps that I could follow and end up with a fully rounded character that came alive on the page and which didn’t sound like me. I hoped. My personal opinion is that you need to develop your characters and spend time on them before you jump in and write. I will always be a plotter but I now spend time developing my characters and when I start writing the rough draft the voices in my head belong to the characters. No more boring laundry scenes!
Lori has an excellent booklet which should still be available on amazon. It is called High Concept and I use that and answer all the questions posed there and while I get to know my characters at the same time it assists me with developing the logline and blurb of the book. Normally the characters walk into my head and I see one scene and from there I learn their story. But sometimes a character comes to you and then stubbornly won’t show you anything. So what do you do when you need to write the second book in a series and you are desperate to hand it in on time but your mind is a blank.
This is what I did:
Find the inciting incidents.
Work through Lori’s book on High Concepts.
I chose the character types of my characters using the Enneagram. Since my characters were being stubborn I could use the little I know and choose a character type from the Enneagram. For those of you who don’t know about Enneagrams this is what you will find if you look it up online. This is just a fraction of what you will find on a type one personality but it will give you an idea of what it allows you to play with.
Type One in Brief
Ones are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic.
- Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
- Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced
- Enneagram One with a Nine-Wing: "The Idealist"
- Enneagram One with a Two-Wing: "The Advocate"
Key Motivations: Want to be right, to strive higher and improve everything, to be consistent with their ideals, to justify themselves, to be beyond criticism so as not to be condemned by anyone.
So now I have a skeleton with their basic beliefs and wants and dislikes. If I went to the characters inciting incident I can figure out how that would have influence the characters wants and needs and fears.
Next I color in her background and immediate surroundings. When she speaks that will influence her sayings and accent and the type of language she uses. Is she educated, well-spoken or coarse and unrefined. Few characters are that two dimensional but it’s a starting point. In the case of the hero’s I always read up on how men differ from women because I always fear having men who sound like women. Its important to know how a man would react in certain situations versus women. They use shorter sentences and are less likely to have long emotional discussions.
I make sure what physical characteristics my characters have. Are they tall short, thin or round and how does their appearance influence their behaviour. Remember if you are tall you look down at people when you speak to them. You see the top of their heads. Would a tall person walk straight because her mother said she should or does she slouch because all the boys in class were shorter than her? Again this will help you to add subtle believable reactions for your character in certain situations. Next I think about the age of the character. Teenagers with perfect skin and a thin body spend the time hiding it and being self-conscious about everything that makes them beautiful. They obsess over things that when you think back on your own teenage self-make you cringe. So think about the age, the influences your character had that might make them act different from their peers. Or exactly the same.
Lastly I try and add any subtle details that will make my character interesting. Books and articles on body language, craft books on dialogue, any interesting news articles. Once I start writing I find out more about them and sometimes I go back to the drawing board and make some changes. Lauri’s booklet has questions on the career of the characters and their special skills and I make sure their jobs and skills will serve to add depth to the story or to drive it forward.
Remember you character can do anything as long as you can convince your reader that it might be possible. You do that by giving them strong motivations for each and every action they perform.
This is a very large topic to condense into one discussion and I hope I made at least enough sense so that it helps someone somewhere have an aha moment. I would be glad to answer any questions here and on my Facebook author page.
Alien Mine by Marie Dry
In a bleak future where government systems are breaking down and lawless bands of men terrorize the country, botanist Natalie Hanson fears for her life and hides in a cave in the Rocky Mountains. When she is captured by human raiders, a fierce alien appears and slays her attackers. Natalie is now held captive in her own cave by the sexy and striking alien commander, Zacar, who informs her that she will be his breeder. Natalie soon realizes that these aliens worship strength. So what will happen when Zacar finds out she has severe asthma?