Monday, August 27, 2012

Character Growth

We all know characters need to grow in novels. The Susan Meier definition of plot even says...Plot is all the steps it takes a character to get from who he or she is at the beginning of the book (the terrible trouble, inciting incident, day/moment everything changed) to who he or she is at the satisfying conclusion.

Nothing wrong with that. It also doesn't seem too complicated. We all know characters must grow.

But do you really understand what character growth is and how some of the craziest things can mess up your character?

A character ISN'T growing if, every time he steps away from the heroine rather than kiss her, he uses the same excuse in his head.


"But he wouldn't kiss her because his divorce had soured him on love." Next near miss, "He stepped away, tempted, but so soured on love he knew he'd never have another serious relationship." Next near miss, "Thoughts of his crappy divorce simmered in his gut. Much as he'd love to kiss her, his divorce still rankled."

They all work. They all make sense. They all provide motivation for the character's behavior. But we don't see any character growth.

So...If his divorce really is the genesis of his internal conflict...and he really shouldn't be kissing do we handle it?  Can we change these three lines which will pop up in three different places in such a way that they show growth?


I'm not going to show you how, but I'll give you some clues.

First, character growth isn't an increase in height (or weight). Second, people (themselves) really don't change. Their beliefs do.

So as you are writing about a hero who is having trouble getting involved with the heroine, HE isn't changing. His beliefs about his divorce, himself, what he wants out of life...and maybe even the heroine herself ... are evolving.

So he might not kiss her in the first encounter by simply reminding himself that since his divorce he's decided not to get involved ever again.

In almost kiss two, he'd be more tempted..maybe because she's changing his opinion of women. But the very fact that his opinion is changing would scare him...cause him to step back to examine that opinion before he did something he might regret. Hence, no kiss. But lots of demonstration that his beliefs are changing and he is evolving.

In almost kiss three, he'd have examined the fact that his opinion of women is changing so he wouldn't think of that...BUT...he might think about HER, the heroine, how a kiss might affect her. Which would demonstrate real growth for him. Because now he's not just selfishly thinking of his own broken heart, or how HE feels about women, he's considering the impact of a kiss on her.

So even though we start off with a guy who won't kiss the heroine because he's bitter about his divorce, he evolves into a guy whose feelings are changing, as his beliefs are changing. He's growing. We aren't rehashing the same stuff and readers won't feel they're back on page one!

Happy Monday

susan meier

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm back

Anybody who follows me on twitter or facebook knows I've had a bit of a bad couple of weeks. Some things were my son being hospitalized and my main computer dying (still haven't replaced that so I'm on a laptop that hates me). Other things were fun like my niece's wedding. Other things we just won't mention. :)

But I'm back. And my head is full of great ideas for blogs about writing...Like this one:

Don't shy away from your scene.

I read a lot of stuff: friends' manuscripts, published books, contest entries, books for quotes...and the one thing that always amazes me is the shied-away-from scene. It's the saddest thing I see when I critique or read for contests because the author doesn't realize she's missed a chance to wow us.

I read a book about a decade ago wherein this group of paranormal creatures was preparing for battle. Tough guys were bragging. More sensitive types were praying or saying goodbyes to loved ones. They were fighting for a cause and they had to go -- but it was difficult. The build up was fantastic.

Chapter ends. I turn the page. And this is a paraphrase of what I get...

After the battle, the survivors got back on their horses and surveyed the scene...

What? No battle? But, all those wonderful characters has scores to settle and enemies to face...what happened?

We don't know. The dead were named. The author told us they had fought valiantly, but we never saw the battle.

Now, I'm not a ghoul, but when something is led up to the way this battle was, I want to see the battle.

Similarly, right after I began writing, I read a book where chapter two started off with the heroine punching out of her car, scrambling up the walk, saying, "Don't you walk away from me after what you did to me in town!"

And I'm thinking, "Oh, what did he do to her in town?"

He spins around..."You deserved what I did!"

Really? What'd he do?

"I've never been so embarrassed."

I've never been so curious.

"I should slap you..."

Slap him? Really? What the heck did he do?

I went back to chapter 1 to see if I'd missed something. I hadn't. It took four pages of banter (which was not good btw if only because it was so vague) before one of the characters actually told us what had happened in town and it was cool. I thought...Gee, why didn't you show us that scene?

I had a guess. I guessed the author was a pantser who had started that second chapter with the punched-open door and could only follow up such a dramatic character movement with some dramatic dialogue.  "Don't walk away from me after what you did to me in town." Then, after writing that, she needed to think of something the hero had done in town, and she did. She came up with something great -- without realizing that what she'd done was made the "reason" more interesting than the argument itself.

I've done that. Actually, it's very much a part of the creative process. We can't know everything about our books before we start. We also don't "get" our stories in chronological order. Sometimes we get the  "sequel" argument before the scene. If that's the case, don't panic...just write the scene! Don't try to explain it in weird dialogue that will leave the readers feel she's missing something.

But the battle? Why wouldn't an author show us a battle? Especially, a battle she'd built to? Frankly, I think the author believed her aftermath scene more important than the actual battle.

Or maybe she didn't know how to write a fight scene?

Or maybe there were so many characters involved that the scene itself would have been huge or overwhelming?

Or maybe she was squeamish about writing about blood and gore?

No matter what the reason that's not my problem as a reader.

However, when I, as a reader, get annoyed because I feel like I was left out, it IS the author's problem.

You can't be afraid of scenes. You can't be afraid of the emotions that need to be on the page, or the details needed to create a scene that's true to life.

If you're writing erotica you need to know how to write fantastic, detailed sex. If you're writing a paranormal about battling tribes of unicorns you need to know how to write about battles (and unicorns). If you're writing a romance you need to show us the steps of the characters falling in love, not skip one because you're not sure how to write it.

If I told you what I was working on right now, you would laugh yourself silly, but it's a project that interests me ... Actually, it intrigues me. Because it's suspense, not romance, I am back to the books, learning how to craft certain types of scenes. I'm researching, getting my facts straight...not figuring out how to work 'around' things that make me uncomfortable...but studying. So that when I actually write this book, I can go where the story leads me...not fake it. Not dance around the blood and guts and gore. Not use transitions that give facts but shortchange readers of the adventure.

Because in the final analysis, all books are an adventure. Falling in love is as much of an adventure for romance readers as saving the world is for thriller readers or investigating for mystery readers.

If you fake, pretend, work around, transition your way through the book, you cheat your readers but you also cheat yourself out of some of the most fun parts of writing a book.

So do the background work, albeit research or craft study, and both you and your reader will love your book. :)

Happy Monday...

And glad to be back, by the way! LOL

susan meier