June 23, 2016

Plotting for difficult characters

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016. 

Check out the cute baby frog! These little guys are all over the backyard right now.
When I start a new story, I get the vaguest hints of my characters. Like the frog above, they have a lot of growing to do, tend to be well camouflaged, and I have no idea where they are headed. Critique partners reviewing early work always want to know what my characters want, and I can only answer in the vaguest of terms: Love, belonging, courage, to feel beautiful, etc. I have trouble defining a physical goal that feels organic, so the plot of my WIP often suffers. Drafting feels impossible.

To solve this, I've been reading and analyzing and noodling on an idea to help me develop unruly characters who essentially refuse to be known. My solution is to use what I know to reverse engineer a course of action for my character. I take that loosey-goosey feeling my character wants and combine it with what I know about her already. Then I write down all the plausible ways my character might try to solve her problem.

I ask open ended questions like the following:
  1. What does character feel like she wants, what does she long for, what feels missing, what is she avoiding? Answer: Character wants to be wanted
  2. What does that mean?: Character doesn't feel wanted now, or at the very least she doesn't feel worthy of being wanted.
  3. What does being wanted look like to the character?
  4. What options are available to the character to go about trying to make her vision a reality? Or sometimes, what can't she do?

The key is to ask enough open ended questions to be able to move forward, but not so many that I plot the whole manuscript (a creative mojo killer). For me, this is no more than 3 to 5 questions. It's worked for me so far. If you are stuck, maybe it will work for you.

How do you flesh out difficult characters? How much is too much?

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