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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Friday, February 08, 2008

Character Q and A Day

Ask away!

Here is your chance to ask the Wet Noodle Posse anything you desire about Character.

We'll start out with me (Diane) trying to answer doglady's (aka O Doggy One) questions from our first day:

(doggy question 1) Is it better to establish a character up front or is it better to reveal them slowly in layers?

(diane answer 1) Yes. hahahahahaha.

Seriously, it is (in my opinion) important to do both, at least for your hero and heroine. In your very first scene with the character, you want to give the reader a strong impression. You want to give enough so that the reader will know whether she is likely to enjoy these characters, whether she is going to fall in love with the hero and 'see herself' in the heroine. If you open with, say, the hero acting dark and dangerous, you have to show at least a hint of him also being heroic--or that there is more to him than this dark and dangerous moment. If you show the heroine, say, acting selfish and self-centered, you want to also show the hint that there is a reason for this.

But you don't want to dump the whole backstory on the reader in Scene One. That's what you filter in.

I think Pris's imagery of 'peeling back the outer layers to get at the juicy parts' is a good analogy here, too. You peel away a little at a time, but don't hold out too long so that the answer to why a character does what he does is only mentioned in the last chapter -- although you could build up to that final surprise....

I'm sure other Noodlers and our lovely commenters have more to say on this issue!

(doggy question 2) How do you keep the conflict between the hero and heroine going without making either of them look bad?

(diane answer 2) Sigh. Now you have hit upon my exact worry about the book I just turned in (the one I stayed up all night checking the copy edits and can no longer change)--did I make the heroine look bad?

I think the answer to your question, though, lies in Motivation. Can the reader understand why the hero and heroine are acting the way they do? Have you made something happen in the plot that they are reacting to in understandable ways, and ways that the reader now knows are characteristic of them? (Did I establish the situation between my hero and heroine well enough that the reader understands why my heroine act the way she does?)

It is hard to avoid the kind of conflict between a hero and heroine that could be resolved with an adult conversation, but that's what we must aspire to do. If heroine can't tell hero X, there has to be a reason for it. If hero does X to heroine, there has to be a reason for it.



I am sure there are other questions out there about character.

It seems to me that this week has focused on ways to make our characters seem real and to act in ways that seem real.

Any more questions about that?

Ask away!!!!

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11 Comments:

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Good morning! I'm passing out hot tea and yummy biscuits in honor of dear doglady's long day in the kitchens, and her brilliant questions!

Mine is concerning historicals. I've been told to make sure my characters have their own really distinct voices. But I find myself hearing them in "formal Regency" voice. Any tips for making sure my characters stand out as separate individuals while keeping that formal tone?

Hey, congrats on turning in the book! An extra biscuit for you! :)

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger Janet Mullany said...

How do you keep the conflict between the hero and heroine going without making either of them look bad?

I think it's a question of changing and accelerating the conflict between them. Issue #1 may get resolved but then something happens or one of them do something that raises Issue #2. And so on.

It is hard to avoid the kind of conflict between a hero and heroine that could be resolved with an adult conversation, but that's what we must aspire to do.

It's more than aspiration, it's crucial. Because you won't have a book. You have to have issues that are bone deep and reflect the very essence of the characters.

Don't you think it's interesting, tho, that in romantic movies quite often the conflict could be explained by the characters having an adult conversation because it's all a simple misunderstanding? (28 Dresses, for instance.) That's why I'm very leery of using movies as examples of storytelling because I think different parts of the brain are in play for reading.

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Yum...(picture Diane here scarfing down that biscuit!)

gillian, all I can suggest is to try to 'hear' your characters talking in your head. Try to hear the different rhythms of how they speak. Then write it down.

You could also give each character a certain expression that they use often, like 'my dear fellow' or something, or some mild Regency expletive (I'm blocking on any right now...fustian?blasted?? something)

Or maybe your hero speaks in short, direct sentences, but his friend uses long sentences...Maybe one has a cynical voice and the other a unrepressable cheerful one. Perhaps one of them often drops off the subject of a sentence...like "See you at White's, my good fellow." or "Riding in Hyde Park today."

Your heroine should speak differently than your hero. Perhaps she uses more adjectives and adverbs, and your hero is more direct. (as a general rule, I always make my male characters speak in as few words as possible, because that is how I think men speak)

To develop my Regency "voice" I listened to Chivers audiotapes of Austen, Heyer, the Sharpe series, anything of the time period read by a British reader.

I don't know exactly how (or if) my characters' voices are distinct from each other, but I just try to imagine them speaking

Hope this helps!!

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Janet Mullany said...

Mine is concerning historicals. I've been told to make sure my characters have their own really distinct voices. But I find myself hearing them in "formal Regency" voice. Any tips for making sure my characters stand out as separate individuals while keeping that formal tone?
Aha. I'm blogging about this next week. I find it helps if you can "hear" the tone of the character's voice in your head. Oh, and read Jane Austen. See what she does.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

You have to have issues that are bone deep and reflect the very essence of the characters.

Ah, that 'core' again!

Janet is right! If the issues are bone deep then the conflict is more natural.
But it is hard to get to that 'bone deep' level.

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Ah, ladies, thank you so much for the detailed advice!

Janet, I'll obviously be here for your blog next week ;)

So---if the conflict grows to be a matter of the hero and heroine trusting in or learning to recognize their own strength of character, when at the beginning they think it's only a matter of trusting each other---is this closer to "bone deep conflict"? Or have I completely missed your point?

 
At 2:28 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

So---if the conflict grows to be a matter of the hero and heroine trusting in or learning to recognize their own strength of character, when at the beginning they think it's only a matter of trusting each other---is this closer to "bone deep conflict"? Or have I completely missed your point?

I think you may have hit on something, gillian. I've never thought of it this way, but it does seem to me that our hero and heroine must learn something about themselves by the end of the book, when at the beginning they are looking outward at each other.

So that 'bone deep' part is what they learn about themselves.

In The Vanishing Viscountess, I suppose Tanner learned at the end that Marlena was more important to him than the trappings of his title. And Marlena learned that Tanner was too important to the world for her to keep him for herself.

I really am lousy at analyzing things.....

 
At 4:34 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

About the question regarding not making the character look bad...very interesting. I don't mind a character lying if he has a really good reason for doing so (which would be the motivation). In the book Hunter's Moon I believe the heroine takes a bag of money, but that gets the story moving AND she had a really good reason for taking the money, so I didn't blame her. It is all about giving them the right motivation.

Interesting, Janet, what you said about changing and accelerating the conflict...that's a good point.

And to me bone-deep conflict is the kind that means the most to the hero or heroine, the sort of conflict that is so personal, so important to them because of their life experiences that it feels like life or death to them even though it's not.

I can't wait until we talk about characters internal conflict.

 
At 9:08 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Thank you, O Divine One! Thanks everyone for some great answers and more golden pieces of information! Many thanks, Gillian! It was indeed a long day in the kitchens and an even longer one at the cake decorating table as my cake decorator did not show. We have a wedding cake tomorrow. EEEEEK!

I really needed to hear this bone deep thing. Since this week on character has started I have been spending a lot of time getting to know Marcus and Addy better and getting to the root of their insecurities and the things they do to cope - the things they do to protect themselves that get in the way of complete trust in themselves and in each other.

 
At 10:52 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I don't mind a character lying if he has a really good reason for doing so (which would be the motivation).

I agree, Theresa, but if this is happening in the first scene, then something has to clue the reader into the motivation. This can be just a hint or downright telling the stakes. Or show her being kind to children and dogs---otherwise the reader is going to be confused. They have to be given a hint of a reason to like this person. That's the point I was trying to make(g)

doglady, they do wedding cakes at Walmart? Is there anything they don't do?

 
At 10:33 AM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

First, I wanted to say how helpful your answers and these lessons are.

My question: I know GMC and all the other components involved in discovering these characteristics are supposed to help us to get to our character's core, but sometimes it feels that I'm "assigning" these when I should be uncovering them. How do you know when you've hit the authentic GMC?

After several lectures and classes, this is still a big snag for me. (My manuscript is unfinished.)

Eden

 

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