How To Develop the Right Character? Shop ’till you drop.

October 18, 2018 by in category On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen with 2 and 0
Home > Columns > On writing . . . by Jenny Jensen > How To Develop the Right Character? Shop ’till you drop.

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.

Jenny

Author Bio
Author Bio
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new. I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching. Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
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With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new. I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching. Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
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  • jenny jensen says:

    Thanks Rebecca. I remember discussions about your MCs! You made them all stellar characters and they’re still growing. The Conspicuous Consumption Challenge requires a $100,000 limit in California. Be prepared…

  • I adore this column – mainly because you have helped me overcome my cardboard MC many a time and I love you for it. But what I really like is the $50,000 contest. What a great way to look at a solution for character development. Great blog.

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