Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ask O: How Do I Navigate My Character's Deep Emotions?

Happy Wednesday! Ocieanna here. I’m so glad you could join me on this fine fall day. Today we’re going to look at a question about characters. I’m working on developing some of my own, so this should be a help to me as well. The question of the day is:

How do I navigate my character’s deep emotions?

This will be a three-part series—gotta keep you in suspense somehow, right? Enjoy!


Years ago I attended a fiction workshop at a writers conference. As the setting inspired my desire to excel in writing, the fiction instructor bestowed the tools I’d need to set that desire in motion. I furiously scribbled his best suggestions, and one note of advice rang above the rest …

“What does my hero want?”

I’d never thought of that before. Simple. So profound. Well, since then, I’ve received similar advice from other writing authorities. “What does your protagonist crave more than anything else?” It’s a great point, isn’t it? After all, just as my desire to excel in writing drives many of my choices, schedules, and goals, the protagonist’s desire propels the plot. I’ve kept that little truth in my pocket.

But a single note isn’t enough to create the multi-layered symphony of a character’s emotions. A heroine’s greatest desire is a starting place, but our characters must possess more than the one simple longing.

The Git-Go
One of my works in progress is about Misty, a frazzled mom of preschoolers (don’t know where I got that idea). Day one, I asked myself what Misty wants. She longs for what any mother needs. A peaceful day. Bingo! I found my plot. (Knowing your character’s desire really does help with every aspect of the process.) So I had my basic one note. Important, but not enough.

Scene Planning
Next as I telescoped in on particular scenes, I asked the question again. What does poor frazzled Misty want now? In an early chapter, she simply craves to eat a bowl of cereal before it gets soggy. Tough for a mom of preschoolers. Lots of obstacles prevent her from that--spilled milk, diaper changes, phone calls, etc. By the time she comes back to her ladybug bowl (borrowed from the littlest princess), the corn flakes have morphed into mush. She failed to reach her goal. The point is, before I wrote the cereal scene, I knew Misty’s basic desire.

Figuring out what she wants—the basic desire—is my first step for every scene.

Want to know the next step? Tune in to Ask O next Wednesday for part two, “Further In and Deeper Down.”

Happy writing! Ocieanna

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