Thursday, May 09, 2013

Write Away with Jeannie Watt


Over the next several Write Away posts, Pink Heart Society Editor Jeannie Watt will talk about the do's and don’ts of creating believable characters.

This week I started writing the last book of my Montana Way Superromance series, the heroine of which happens to be the Bridezilla stepsister from Once a Champion.  I have some redemption ahead of me.

When I first started writing I tended to write heroines who didn’t have a lot of character flaws.  They were quirky and upbeat  and their flaws were more anti-flaws. They tended to be a too nice, too brave, too, well, Mary Sue.  Often the biggest problem they had was lack of confidence. Hmmm—could that have anything to do with my own struggles with lack of confidence? It was a character flaw I was familiar with and forgiving of.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with writing about nice people, but they need to face an issue that causes them inner conflict. And if they’re pretty perfect to begin with, where’s the conflict?

It was after I got a rejection saying that the hero was well developed, but the heroine was very cardboard that I realized that I was skirting my heroine issues, perhaps because I’d have to face them in myself.  After that rejection, I pulled out the stops and wrote a cranky, defensive heroine (very much like myself on a bad day) who was trying to save her bed and breakfast. And I gave her a reason for her defensive crankiness. That reason allowed me to change her through the course of the story as she confronted her issues and grew.  The manuscript sold. (Yay!)

The following Do  is what I learned from that experience--which involved three requested rewrites and  lot of aha moments along the way:

DO Know Your Character’s Back Story

My Bridezilla's character flaw is that she’s self-centered, so the big question is why is she self-centered? What caused her to develop this trait? Once I know that, I can work on change.  So what's her back story?

1)Her mother died when she was five and her father indulged her to compensate. He married a woman who also indulged her.

2)Heroine was intimidated by stepmother’s brainy daughter and her response was to be better than her stepsister in every way except academics.

The conclusion I’ve come to regarding her motivation:

1) Bridezilla is actually battling a deep-seated fear of loss and insecurity stemming from the loss of her mother and her defense is to control everything. If she’s in control, she won’t lose what is important to her. So her self-centeredness is actually more of a control issue.
2) The issue with the stepsister is that she was afraid of losing her father's affection because her father always praised her stepsister's academic abilities. He's trying to bond with his new wife's daughter, but my young heroine didn't understand his motivation, so she was threatened. 

I f you know the back story and the resulting mindset and motivation, you can make a believable character arc. Even if the character starts off less than likeable, things can change and the reader can come to root for them.  In a later post I’ll talk about helping the reader connect with a flawed character.

And now on to the Don't:

DON’T Forget to develop the back story to make the character’s initial mindset realistic.

Not Developed:  Heroine’s parents divorced, therefore she will never become involved in a relationship. They’re all doomed anyway, why bother?

Developed: Heroine’s parent’s divorced, she never learned by example how to maintain a healthy relationship, so her early relations failed. Heroine is leery of relationships because she fails at them.

Next month I'll give some do's and don'ts regarding the creation of characters readers can identify with.

Harlequin Superromance author Jeannie Watt lives in rural Nevada and writes fast-paced, character driven stories set in the western United States.   To find out more about Jeannie and her books, please visit her website or her retro sewing writing blog.

1 comment:

  1. From MarcieR

    I like the tips Jeannie!