Just finished a manuscript with a grand premise, a smashing hero, the story arc of a roller coaster and a cast of fabulous secondary players. The client feels something is off, and she’s right. It’s the main character; she’s cardboard. She’s flat. She’s duller than dishwater.
We discuss the issue and agree the MC needs more love, more exploration. This character needs a spirit and the personality to flawlessly meet the needs of the plot points. The reader needs to effortlessly believe this woman, who lives free of the restraints that bind most of us, is real. She wears Louboutin, Gucci jeans, Vera Wang blouses, all bought retail. She is spa’ed and buffed to perfection. This girl power shops. She has always been stinking rich, until she’s not.
The author knows her challenge is to paint this character with colors the reader can relate to. Despite her golden life she must be so likeable we can be disappointed in her, fear and root for her and cheer her ultimate success. So it’s back to the keyboard. I know the author will nail it. She just needs time and a fresh perspective.
It leaves me thinking about the process of character development. A character can spring to life full blown, like Venus, or grow from a chance meeting with someone unique. It’s not uncommon for a writer to spend years with a hazy character floating in their mind until one day it solidifies, complete with story. Or, as in this case, you can build the character to fit the action. I know there isn’t a formula for inspiration, but I get an idea of how to help find an uber rich girl’s character.
My friend Judy and I each have $50,000 and 4 hours to spend it. The only rules are no car or real estate – too easy – and you really have to want what you purchase. It’s pretend money, of course, so we make it a competition to spice things up. First item in my column – a $2,000 Rebecca Taylor cocktail dress. I’m gonna be good at this! Next is a sleek deer cast in bronze – $5800. Ca ching. I’m hot now.
When time is up, I’ve failed. Judy wins by $1800, but that’s only because she saw the blue Luchese cowboy boots first. Neither of us could spend our entire $50,000 but I learned a lot. The experience gave me a feel for the thoughts, mannerisms and motivation of a fully funded shopaholic. More importantly, I can see how this character would change in the face of the adversity coming her way. It’s that character development that will give the story heart.
I share my day of conspicuous consumption with the author and show how it’s helped me view this problem of character. She’s jazzed to have another way of looking at it. I’m jazzed because I’ve done my job and had so much fun doing it. I’m going to stay patient – writers need the time they need – but I can hardly wait for the second draft to see how this character emerges.
This is the first (and sometimes only) chance to grab a reader and compel them to buy the book. And so, like click bait, you need to lure your reader with an honest but irresistible snap shot.
In these times of pandemic lock down we’re all searching for something that will absorb us, entertain, teach–challenge us.
Every writer is subject to the influences of their time, influences that shape their work in some way. From Stephan King’s brand of horror—which he’s said was influenced by the pervasive fears of the cold war — to the oh so mannerly and delicately choreographed plots of Regency era literature, a reader can feel the spirit of the author’s era.
“All stories are about wolves. Anything else is sentimental drivel.” Margret Atwood.
That’s a strong statement – lots of ways to interpret it. I love it because to me, it says that all stories should have a villain.
It's 1924 and Daisy Gumm bands with friends to help Lily Bannister, whose abusive husband nearly killed her.More info →
Side by side on the fateful night of the Titanic disaster . . .More info →
The captivating story of a brilliant woman's passionate affair with a time and a place . . .More info →
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