Last month at the Christian Writers Renewal, I sat under the teaching of Brandilyn Collins. I promised some highlights from her class on Getting into Character.
1) The objective is an action verb. Not “I want to be rich” but “I want to raise to the top of the structure in my law firm.”
2) The objective must be very specific. “I want to build trust in my marriage by never lying again to my husband so that…” Make sure the “so that” creates conflict. It’s gotta be strong!
Answering End: What the character gets if he achieves his desire, or gets close to his desire. Sometimes it costs too much and he realizes he doesn’t want it, after all. “I want to build trust in my marriage by never lying again to my husband so that he won’t leave me for a younger woman and I’ll be all alone.”
3) The objective must be absolutely correct for the character and the story. “I wish to build trust in my marriage by never getting caught lying to my husband” says something completely different about the char than the original version. Find out characters inner values and core beliefs. Make sure they fit. Then use them to thwart the objective.
Example: Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” – father finds a magnificent pearl. His objective is to sell the pearl for it’s full value so that his son will have a better life and won’t live in poverty. If the father didn’t already live in poverty, this wouldn’t fit. If the son hadn’t been endangered by a scorpion in the first bit of the book, it wouldn’t fit. If father was willing to sell pearl for significantly less than it’s full value, then it wouldn’t fit.
4) Desire arises partly from the inciting incident and partly from the character’s personality. Put the character in a problem before the inciting incident happens. Then his desire conflicts with the previous problems. In The Pearl, the son is stung by a scorpion and almost dies. This builds in the father a fear for his son’s life. Then when he finds the pearl, he sees a way past this fear that’s built up within him.
Protagonist has conscious and unconscious desires. Throughout the story, the unconscious desires come into play and character must choose. In the moment of greatest stress, the character realizes what he REALLY wants: the unconscious desire. (Note: the conscious and unconscious desires should be diametrically opposed.) Note: Show glimpses of the unconscious desire at the beginning of the book so the reader doesn’t feel cheated.
In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett’s conscious desire is to marry Ashley. Unconsciously, she wants a manly man to tame her. That would be Rhett. When she finally gets her shot at Ashley, she realizes she doesn’t want him because he’s a wimp. She really wants Rhett – and it’s too late.
Next time I’ll highlight Brandilyn’s discussion on Character Emotions.