February 2, 2015

Falling in Love with Fiction

I'm always amazed at the kind of emotions a book can jerk from me - like Francine River's "Redeeming Love." I cry every time I read the ending to that book. And Gail Carson Levine's "Ella Enchanted." My heart breaks when Ella dances with Char and he doesn't recognize her (not a spoiler, I promise!). But anyways, books have the power to do that to us. Why?

Let's explore that idea just a little bit. What makes us fall in love with a book?

I think it's the characters.

The trick to having an amazing book, in my opinion, is creating characters that seem real. Who have real problems and real lives. Not to suggest we should all start writing non-fiction, but when you tell a story, you want the reader to believe that what is happening in the book, for at least a few hours, is real.

Let's all agree that if Lucy didn't get picked on by her brother Edmund, we wouldn't root for her in quite the same way in C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." She is every bit the baby of the family and the four Pevensie children seem like a real family with a real family dynamic.

So what does this say about our own stories?

As storytellers, we want our readers to love our characters every bit as much as we do. In our minds, they are vivid people who interact with us, express opinions and make choices (and I know it sounds schizophrenic, and we just might be). And who wouldn't sympathize with that type of character?

Writing a book is the art of expressing what is already in the mind on paper. Somehow, we have to translate those people in our heads onto paper so the rest of the world can get to know them. This means giving them a real world to live in. One where they have childhood memories, favorite foods, allergies, mistakes, scars, and friends.

So think about your MC for a moment and ask yourself, what do they want in life? Then ask, why do they want it so badly? This could be tied to something they didn't receive as a child. Or maybe, they were recently robbed of something and they want it back - does that thing have sentimental value or monetary value? Is someone in danger? If so, why do they want to rescue them?

Now think about the scenes your character partakes in. Who do they meet? How to they get along with other characters? Are they stubborn and opinionated? Or meek and passive? Maybe your character is loud and boisterous. If so, how to others respond to them? Is their laughter contagious, or is everyone annoyed?

This is real life we're talking about here. Of course we, as humans, don't get along with everyone we meet. We have a favorite jacket that only gets washed once a month because it's worn daily. We want things: family, friends, a dream house... If that's normal to human life, then your character should share those qualities. If you can't answer these type of questions, they likely, no one will be able to find common ground with your character, and your story will wash out with no impact.

Let me finish my saying I wish you all the very best in your character development.

Comment with any questions you have.



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