Thursday, 29 January 2015

What does my character want?

Every so often, I share a little bit of the madness behind my writing method. I've talked about outlining and the downfalls of being either a plotter or a pantster. Truth is, when it comes to my own writing, I tend to employ a bit of each method. I've never been hugely successful at outlining down to the minute detail, and honestly, I don't enjoy it. I've always liked having some wiggle room.

Besides, a bit of wiggle in your romance is nice, non?

Unfortunately, too much wiggle room can leave a writer floundering at times. Without clear cut goals and a plot to help you achieve them, a story will meander. This can lead to writer's block, frustration, and the desire to feed one's manuscript through the shredder.

The trick that always puts me back on track is reminding myself of the following question: what does my character want?

It is crucial to establish your hero/heroine's needs and wants before you start writing. For that matter, a writer needs to understand what all her characters want, whether it's the good guys or the bad guys. What drives the character? What leads him to open that door? What possesses her to make small talk with the hunk who fixes her computer? A person's needs and wants, combined with his history and beliefs, will always influence how he reacts in a certain scene. It's not enough we show the hero walking to the store to buy milk. Why is having milk so important in that moment? And why is he headed to the corner store instead of the huge grocery chain? What does he hope to accomplish?

Once we know what a character wants, we can start to mess with his head. A good writer will throw up obstacles and introduce characters who cause tension. I always try to set my romances around a hero and heroine who have differing wants, perhaps even differing values. That's when the sparks fly.

Needs can change throughout the course of a book. Our hero may start his day knowing he wants to buy that carton of milk but he can end up running from a villain who has just held up the corner store. Plots evolve, but if readers don't understand what drives the hero, they won't give a toss about whether or not he succeeds in his goals.

It's not enough for the writer to want. The character must want something, too. And then it's the writer's job not to give it to him, at least not too quickly.