Bringing a character to life is more than back story. It’s more than their weight and height and hair color. It’s more than speech patterns and grammar. It’s more than anger and joy and confidence.
So what is it? I don’t have a clue!
Oh wait. I asked the question. Now I have to fake my way to an answer. It’s my job to convince you to come with me on a journey to discover my truth behind that premise. I have to write with confidence, write drunk and just write. All at the same time. Easy-peasy NOT!
How do I write with confidence? By knowing my characters backstory. Because this happened in your past, now you react like this.
For example: on the television show, BLUE BLOODS. Tom Sellecks’ character, Frank Regan, hates his birthday. Why? On Frank’s tenth birthday his friends had been invited to a baseball game. No one showed up. Turns out his dad gave everyone the wrong date. Ten year old Frank only knew that he had a birthday party and nobody came. Now he hates his birthday.
After Frank is reminded of this tenth birthday fiasco, he buys baseball tickets and surprises his family and friends by giving himself a ‘surprise’ birthday party.
Proper motivation allows our characters to react exactly the way we need them to react, but we must share their backstory so readers understand and empathize with their reaction. Backstory must be provided at the proper time, without an information dump, and without making readers feel manipulated by coincidence. It needs to be organic to the story and germane to the plot.
Wow, that last sentence sounds really smart, but what does it mean? Organic to the story: Don’t drop a bomb out of left field. Germane to the plot: There is a reason for everything that happens.
Now, let’s all get drunk and write! Not literally. Well, unless you want to, but remember that to write drunk, you have to write. I’ve talked about this concept before in my post How Not to Be Frozen By Knowledge or the Lack There Of. Or read Lorinda’s take on this subject at Write Drunk.
Basically, get out of your own way! Forget all the rules and write whatever comes to mind. Just write. If you don’t know what to write, write anyway. Need the ultimate motivator? Check out the most dangerous writing app (themostdangerouswritingapp.com). Set the website’s timer and write. If you stop writing before the timer goes off, you lose everything you’ve already written. So you have to keep putting words on the page, even if they don’t make sense or you forgot a comma or you don’t remember so-and-so’s name.
Need a cure for writers block? The only way to get beyond writers block is to write, and the most dangerous writing app forces you to do that. For me, it went further. When I couldn’t stop to worry or question or plan or even think, I discovered a renewed joy in writing. And I amazed myself. I set a timer for three minutes and I wrote 341 words! That’s a page and a half. In 3 minutes!
I write totally by the seat-of-my-pants, so when I don’t know what happens next, I’m at full stop. Instead of wallowing in self-pity ‘cause The Girls weren’t coming out to play and risking a ‘pie in the face’ if I didn’t have twenty pages to turn in at critique group, I set the timer and started writing. When my words started fading off the page because I had paused, motivation struck like lightening. Were they good words – hell yes they were, even if they don’t make the final cut! Because those words started a momentum that is still pushing me forward.
In the scene I was working on, my character needed to buy a car; instead of stopping to figure out what kind of car, I put a XXX in the manuscript and kept going. She needs a car. She buys a car. Must. Keep. Typing.
Later, I’ll open a bottle of wine and decide what statement I want the car to make. Will it be a practical, inexpensive, no frills Ford Ranger? Or a Lexus NX, low end luxury, but still a Lexus. Or a Lexus LX, top of the line luxury. Or, maybe it’s a Nissan because when she was sixteen years old, she broke down on the side of the road and the boy who helped her drove a Nissan. The car she drives may not have an impact on the plot, but it does make a statement about the person and their budget.
Figuring out the car she drives will help me write with confidence and will lend authenticity to the story.
Working on the most dangerous writers’ app will help me write drunk.
Now, it’s time for me to just write.
Have you written today?
Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!