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Why stakes work

Sure, the view is great, but why would anybody go to all the bother of building a castle up there? Can you imagine how long it must have taken to haul all those stone blocks up the mountain on donkey carts or whatever? I mean, seriously—put an observation deck up there and build a staircase if you want the view, but why build a whole castle up there? Must have cost a fortune!

No doubt it did. So why do it? Why build a mountaintop castle there in picturesque San Marino, and why do it on hundreds of other peaks scattered across Europe? Why not build your castle somewhere more convenient?

Because what’s mine is mine

There’s one simple reason. Defense. Mountaintop fortresses are much harder to conquer than fortresses down on the flats, which if you’re considering where to build your castle during medieval Europe, when the wars never ceased and national borders shifted faster than mapmakers could keep up, is a major selling point.

Trust me, we’ll see what this has to do with the stakes in our novels in a minute. The point is, build your stronghold on a mountaintop, collect all your wealth (what’s left after building the castle, anyway) and power there, and you’re much more likely to keep somebody from taking it away from you.

Gain versus loss

What’s mine is mine, so the saying goes, and what’s true for kings is true for commoners: people will generally put a lot more effort into keeping what they have than in obtaining something they don’t have. Behavioral economists call this “divestiture aversion” or alternately “the endowment effect,” although I quite prefer the latter for its obvious double-entendre possibilities. I swear. Only a bunch of behavioral economists could suggest a name like that with a straight face.

Anyway.

The endowment effect can play out in grandiose castles or in more subtle ways. British traffic enforcement assigns you “penalty points” when you get caught speeding and so forth. But the Italians do it the other way around: they start you out with 12 points and take them away for traffic infractions, because subconsciously the urge to preserve your points is a stronger motivator to follow the rules.

Why does it work?

I can’t say for sure why people act this way, but intuitively, we understand that they do. Our language even reflects it through phrases such as “what’s mine is mine,” and its implied counterpart “don’t you dare try to take it.”

Personally, I think it has to do with emotional attachment. We become attached to the things we have. Material things—stuff we have earned by the sweat of our brow, things we have been given by loved ones, or simply things we’ve had for so long they become part of the fabric of our lives. Abstract things—our sense of identity, legal and political freedoms, our physical abilities. And of course, other people through their relationships to us.

Put in slightly different terms, if you break the “World’s Greatest Dad” coffee mug my kids gave me, it isn’t sufficient recompense to buy me an identical mug. You can’t replace the emotional attachment I had to the original mug. Although the two mugs may be identical, the one my kids gave me has a higher value to me, because of the emotional attachment, than a new one fresh from the store.

If someone cares to do some MRI scans or something, I’d almost bet money that this effect stems from the more ancient parts of our brains, the ones that are also responsible for parenting instincts. The instinct to value our children more highly than anything else and protect them even up to our own deaths is deeply rooted in biology and survival of the species. To me, it’s not a great stretch to imagine our shiny new neo-cortexes generalizing this parenting instinct towards everything we consider to be ours.

That’s my theory, anyway.

Using the endowment effect in your novels

Ok, here we go, and you’ll be glad you stuck with this article because there’s plenty you can do with it.

Create a strong emotional motivation for action. You ever get stuck in your novel, knowing that a character needs to do something—say, stand up to her heartless and insensitive boss—but you can’t figure out a plausible reason why she’d do it? Use the endowment effect. Link the action you want her to take to the defense of something she owns or hold dear, and you’ve got it. The thing she holds dear becomes additional stakes pushing her towards doing what you need her to do.

For example, maybe your heroine works at an ad agency that’s doing a pro-bono work for a women’s shelter fundraiser. Her boss doesn’t care, since it’s not for a big account client, and wants to simply recycle a similar ad campaign from ten years ago. You need your character to say “No! That’s not good enough. That ad won’t play today and you know it!” But why would she do it?

Let’s go big-stakes: What if her sister’s staying at that shelter, having only narrowly escaped from drug addiction and a violent husband? And what if the shelter is running on a shoestring, and needs a big take from the fundraiser in order to pay off their creditors and stay in operation? If the fundraising campaign fails, your protagonist might lose her sister: the sister would be turned out on the street, and might well slip back into her old life, complete with drugs and abusive husband. Only this time, she might not survive.

Under those circumstances, wouldn’t she fight hard to do whatever she could to keep her sister off the streets? You bet she would. And if that means standing up to her boss and demanding that they put as much effort into the fundraiser promotions as they would for a national brand ad campaign, then by god that’s what she’ll do!

That’s perhaps a melodramatic example, but you get the picture: if inaction threatens to cause the loss of something a character values, the character will be motivated to act. But remember: keep it proportional; in most cases, the lengths someone is willing to go to in order to avoid a loss should be commensurate with the degree of that loss. Readers will believe a parent throwing themselves in front of a train in order to push their child out of the way, but they’ll have much more trouble believing the same action if, say, it were a stray kitten on the tracks. No matter how cute the kitten.

Create a dramatic bluff. If someone is explicitly threatening to visit a loss upon your character, you can ratchet the tension and drama in a scene right up to the roof by having the character proclaim that he doesn’t, in fact, care about whatever’s being threatened. Viewers of Lost will remember the scene where Benjamin Linus claims not to care about the girl some amoral commandos are holding at gunpoint. They make the standard offer: do what we want, or we’ll shoot her. He bluffs: “Go ahead. She means nothing to me.” The girl, of course, is his daughter and in fact means a great deal to him. Instant drama.

Convey the importance of something else. That same scene from Lost achieves another storytelling goal as well: it quite effectively conveys the degree to which Ben values the secrets he is trying to protect. He values them so much he’s willing to put his daughter up as the ante in a very high-stakes bluff. This can work whether the character wins or loses the bluff, but in my opinion it’s more effective if the character loses. Actually suffering the loss of something the character values—being forced to follow through on the sacrifice—will convey the importance of the other thing much more clearly. After all, the deadliest urge a writer can fall prey to is letting your characters off the hook.

Create a believable victory over a stronger opponent. The flip side of the endowment effect is that, all else being equal, if one person is trying to take something belonging to someone else, the attacker’s motivation to follow through will be inherently less than the defender’s motivation to hold onto what they have. That scene from the end of Stand By Me where young Gordie Lachance stands up to the much stronger town bully Ace Merrill is just such a scene. On the surface, the two are vying for the glory of reporting the location of the missing boy’s body to the authorities. That’s all Ace is fighting for. But Gordie is not only fighting for that glory, but also for his own self esteem and the memory of his brother. For Gordie, the emotional attachments pulling on him in that moment are so much stronger than those pulling on Ace, that not only is it totally believable to see Gordie pull a gun on Ace, but also that Ace backs down.

The basis of stakes

Whatever the reason, whether it’s emotion or biology or both, people will fight hard to hold on to what they have and what they value. It’s such a powerful lever controlling the actions our characters that I would argue the endowment effect is in fact the basis underlying the whole concept of stakes in our novels. More writing books than I care to name (E.g. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!) talk about the importance of having compelling stakes in your novel. And well they should. But not a one of them I’ve ever read has stopped to talk about why it is we care about stakes at all.

It’s because of the endowment effect. A novel’s stakes, whatever they are, represent something that is had by the characters, by society, or whoever. The central conflict puts this thing at risk. Thus, characters are motivated to defend it, sometimes even at the cost of their lives.

June 19, 2010 04:21 UTC

Tags: character, endowment effect, stakes, bluff, motivation

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Character Corner: Annabel Scheme by Robin Sloan


Annabel Scheme

This is a book with a history that deserves some brief explanation, as it’s a great example of an author using social media technologies in an innovative way to both write and publish a book. You can read more on his website, but the short version is that Robin Sloan used the website Kickstarter both to raise money to support the writing of the book as well as to develop a pre-book-launch fan base and community around the book. This is brilliant, and at least in Sloan’s case, wildly successful.

It helps that Sloan is also a talented writer. Alas, no social media technology is going to help you with that. The book itself isn’t available at Barnes & Noble, but I don’t feel bad about reviewing it here because you can download it for yourself from Sloan’s website under a Creative Commons license.

The story itself is a funny, inventive adventure, a heady admixture of occult and cyberpunk themes. A strange combination, but Sloan makes it work. The result is what you might get if Neal Stephenson and Christopher Moore teamed up on a book. Sort of ”Snow Crash meets Practical Demonkeeping.” I give it two and a half stars; I’d give it more, but it has some weaknesses that drag it down.

The book includes a number of glosses over existing technology and brand names, with Sloan giving roman a clefs to icons such as Google and World of Warcraft. And I have to say, he uses those very smoothly. I recently read Libba Bray’s new book Going Bovine which does the same thing. In Bray’s case they felt forced, almost as though her publisher was afraid of actually mentioning Star Wars and other pop-culture trademarks by name. They were awkward enough to impact the story, and they made me wonder if her publisher made her do that. In Sloan’s case he obviously re-branded those icons on his own initiative, and he makes them work very well. They felt integral to Annabel Scheme in a way that the renamings in Going Bovine didn’t.

The book does have some shortcomings. One, it’s short. It’s properly a novella, not a full novel, which kind of sucked because it was enough fun that I wanted it to be longer. Two, the writing is quite rough around the edges. So rough in a couple of places that it pulled me out of the story. This is a book that needed an editor, but didn’t get one. [Full disclosure: I know this because I thought the project was so cool I offered to edit this book in exchange for a credit. But c’est la vie, that never happened.] However, despite the book’s shortcomings, the story and Sloan’s fast-paced style combine to overcome them and create a wildly entertaining result.

Still, this is Character Corner, so what about the book’s central actors?

Annabel Scheme

The book’s eponymous main character, Annabel Scheme, is a private investigator specializing in “digital and occult” investigations. Sloan uses the device of a secondary narrator character (see below) to keep the reader out of the main character’s head. This was a great choice because it helped build a deeper sense of mystery around the main character herself. We could be credibly surprised by her actions, because the narrator was also surprised by them.

Annabel Scheme definitely fits the Sherlock Holmes-ian model of an investigator as person with almost encyclopedic knowledge of all manner of things, with lots of skills and tricks of the trade that aren’t themselves magical but take on that aura to someone who has never been exposed to them before. Oh, and gadgets. She has a lot of very clever gadgets. It is a somewhat stereotyped concept for a private eye, but again, Sloan does a great job with it.

I have only two significant complaints about Scheme herself. First, she is perhaps too well connected. That is, she always knows who to go to for information, and they’re always happy to see her. She has extensive and very convenient history with some of the plot’s central figures. It’s fine to do that sort of thing here and there, but in this case it felt like too much to me. I felt like Sloan’s default choice when facing his protagonist with an obstacle or challenge was to reach into the grab-bag of “well, who can I have her be connected with that can tell her what she needs.”

It undermines her as a character because she isn’t so much overcoming obstacles herself as asking other people here and there to do it for her. There’s nothing wrong with bringing in other characters to help with things, but there’s a balance to it that I feel is missing here. It would have been nice, now and then, for one of her sources to stonewall her or something. Make her work harder for her victories.

My second complaint has to do with plausible motivation. There’s a point fairly early on in the book where one mystery is resolved, her client’s question has been answered, and the book by all rights and norms in the detective story game, ought to end. But, Scheme has this notion that something else is going on too, so she keeps investigating. Yes, that’s necessary for the plot to continue, but it had me scratching my head. Why is she doing this? At this point, nobody’s paying her. She’s diving headlong into various dangers, embroiling herself in some deep mire, for what reason?

You can’t read this book without concluding that Robin Sloan is a clever and very inventive guy. I know he could have come up with a genuine motivation for her to continue, or re-worked the original mystery to encompass the whole plot, but he didn’t, and it undermines both the character and the book.

Hugin-19

Hugin-19, or simply Hu, is the book’s narrator. I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by saying this, but Hu is a computer. You learn this in chapter 2. The picture Sloan paints, and that the reader works with, is very much like Hiro Protagonist’s AI sidekick from Snow Crash.

In that context, at many points Hu’s thoughts and attitudes felt overly human to me. His grasp of human emotion, intuitive leaps, and a variety of other things struck me as out of character.

However, there’s a twist in store about Hu, one I won’t reveal because that WOULD be a spoiler. The thing about this twist is that in many ways it retroactively justifies Hu’s overly-human thoughts and attitudes. It doesn’t leave the reader with the greatest feeling; it’s like I’ve gone through this whole book with this gripe about a central character, and then at the end I get this “oh, NOW you tell me?” moment.

I was immediately reminded of Justine Larbalestier’s book Liar, which includes a similar twist about the underlying nature of the narrator. However, in Liar’s case I didn’t wish I’d known the twist sooner.

They say you learn something from every book you read, and what I learned from the portrayal of Hu in Annabel Scheme is this: if you’re going to have some type of identity-based twist about a character, you need to construct that character’s thoughts, speech, attitudes, and actions in the pages before the twist is revealed very carefully. They must fit both with what the reader initially thinks about the character and with what the character actually turns out to be.

In Liar and Annabel Scheme alike, after the twist is revealed you can look back and say to yourself “oh, now I understand about why the character does such-and-such.” The difference is that in Liar, I wasn’t left feeling that those actions were out of character at the time they happened.

To Sum Up

Robin Sloan is a wickedly smart, inventive writer who will be great someday. He’s rough around the edges now (and I’m happy to make him that same offer on his next book), but he’ll get over that. He has a wonderful flair for inventive leaps that feel perfectly natural. I hope he continues writing in a similar cyber-punkish vein, because he has a great grasp on technology and what I feel are very incisive views on future-tech.

At the risk of dating myself, I am reminded of Max Headroom’s “20 minutes into the future” tagline, a feeling Sloan captures marvelously in this novella. And I cannot help but be amused to note that one of Max Headroom’s creator’s was also named Annabel.

All in all, despite its flaws I enjoyed Annabel Scheme immensely. Download it today and give it a read.

December 22, 2009 19:08 UTC

Tags: character corner, book review, Robin Sloan, Annabel Scheme, motivation, identity, twist

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NaNoWriMo diary part 4: trust the process

So the usual thing has happened to me in NaNoWriMo. I made it to 50,000 words—which is always a great feeling—but I didn’t make it to the end of the story. My first couple of years, it took me six extra days to reach “The End.” After that, I don’t really remember but I know I’ve never finished a novel by November 30th. But that’s ok. Every year I have a great time doing it and I learn a lot about novel-craft.

Nothing teaches you how to do something better than actually doing it.

This year, I’ve learned enough to figure that I probably have another 20 to 25 thousand words left before reaching the end. Part of what the past five NaNoWriMos have taught me is a sense for that sort of thing. My first year, I had absolutely no clue how much story I could fit into 50,000 words. That was quite an eye opener. This year, I’m about two-thirds done, and I know it. That’s progress.

So what did I learn in the last week of speed novelling?

Trust the process

Ok, so if that isn’t the most hackneyed cliche in all of the arts, I don’t know what is. But it wouldn’t be a cliche if it weren’t true. For example, this past week my story moved on to a new part of the plot where I got to start writing for a new minor character. In my notes, I’d never picked a name for him, only referring to him as “Sidekick.” Yeah, yeah, I know. But hey, if Neal Stephenson can get away with naming a character Hiro Protagonist in his actual novel, I should be able to call a guy “sidekick” in my notes, right?

Anyway, the point here is that while I had some sketchy notes about Sidekick ahead of time, I didn’t really know who he was. As I’ve confessed in prior diary entries, I didn’t put as much work into planning this novel as I’d have liked. But I’ve been thinking about him all month, so when he showed up he was at least vaguely familiar to me. His voice was there.

The other thing about Sidekick is that later (I’ll probably get to this part today), he has to do a Bad Thing to Anna. It’s necessary for the plot, but I hadn’t ever put much thought into why he did it. But in listening to his dialogue, he has revealed to me his own goals and ambitions. Those, then, made it obvious not only why he would do this Bad Thing, but further, why he had even volunteered for Sidekick duty in the first place. The two dovetail together. When he discovers that sidekicking isn’t in fact going to advance his ultimate goals, he turns from ally to enemy.

Sidekick’s voice, his goals, his motivations, it’s all hanging together nicely now. I could have fussed and fretted over it while planning the novel, and come up with something that works. No doubt. But this works too, I didn’t have to stress over it, and best of all it has an organic feel to it. It just feels right.

That’s the process. That’s what it means to discover your story as you write it. The part of the process you have to trust in is your own storytelling instincts. Follow them where they lead, especially when you’re not sure where the story is going to go, because usually it’s someplace pretty good.

Anna

My main character continues to reveal herself, page by page. Earlier on, I said I wasn’t sure if her tough exterior reflects a similarly tough interior, or whether it’s mostly a facade. This new part of the plot I’m in involves her traveling from the United States—from her home town—to Moscow, Russia. It’s very fish-out-of-water. And it turns out that she’s much nicer, much more deferential and careful about how she approaches people and conversation than she was back home.

On one level, it’s nice simply to resolve that question about her tough exterior. I’m glad to know that. But more importantly, that knowledge becomes another tool I can use. As she finishes out the Russia segment of the plot, I can show her gaining confidence and growing comfortable with being in a foreign land by letting elements of her exterior toughness creep back in.

Of course, that means she’s going to have to learn to swear in Russian. But that’ll be fun, too.

Motivation

The last thing I want to talk about is the psychological part of novel writing for the novelist. It’s all about motivation. Writing a novel is hard work. To keep yourself going, I highly encourage you to grab hold of every possible source of motivation you can find.

Almost nothing beats having a specific, measurable goal to work towards. In NaNoWriMo’s case, it’s word count, and the reward is Winner status and the attendant bragging rights that come with it. The lucky writers among us get to work towards real deadlines, with money—and bragging rights—attached. Those objectively-measurable goals are great, because every day you see the tangible results of your efforts. If you stay on pace with NaNoWriMo’s stated goals, every day equals 3.33% of a novel. That ain’t bad. The lucky writers can cross off days on a calendar to mark their progress.

Numeric goals can be tough in the beginning, because three percent isn’t much different than zero, but after a week when you see that you’re 20% of the way there, you perk up. As those milestones pass, your motivation level rises because you can see the end in sight. You can feel it coming, and you want the reward that waits for you at the end. This year, getting to 40,000 words felt unusually hard. But once I hit that milestone, the last 10,000 just flew right by. It was great.

If numeric goals aren’t available, or aren’t enough, reach out for additional sources of motivation. For example, I used to post my daily writing during NaNoWriMo to my LiveJournal page. That first year, I had one friend who was avidly reading each day’s installment, and knowing that she’ d e-mail me with “Where’s today’s installment! I want to know what happens next!” if I didn’t have it posted for her was hugely motivational. Just knowing that somebody besides me cared what happened made an enormous difference.

Wherever you are in your life or in your writing career, I guarantee you can find something to motivate you to keep cranking out those pages. Whatever it is, whatever it takes, find it and grab hold.

November 30, 2009 19:36 UTC

Tags: NaNoWriMo, character, motivation, process

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Six tips for using backstory to create compelling characters

One of my followers on Twitter, @kateblogs asked me for some tips on backstory. I’m not surprised. At writers’ conferences and anywhere published authors and book agents take questions from the audience, there are always questions about backstory: how much to create and how much of it to include in the book.

Unfortunately, those are the wrong questions. Effective use of backstory isn’t a matter of finding the ideal amount. The right question about backstory, is “How do I use backstory to create compelling characters?” So that’s what I’m going to answer.

I have six main suggestions. The first three are strategies you can use for painting a character’s broad strokes in a way that is effective for the story, compelling, and also something you’re going to enjoy writing. The last three are more detail-oriented techniques you can use to flesh out those broad strokes.

  1. Create what the story demands. You’re probably not starting from a totally blank slate. You probably have a premise in mind for your story. Is it a young-adult adventure? A heist caper? A murder mystery? That’s good, because your premise can guide you in constructing your backstory. For example: In 2007, I wrote a young adult adventure set on the Pony Express Trail. It’s a western. My YA audience suggests that the protagonist should be about 16 years old. Naturally, such a story has to take place in the American West. All together, this pointed very clearly towards a backstory about a boy whose parents were homesteaders. He was born back east, but moved west at a young age with his parents, and then grew up as a farm boy. It’s not an amazing stroke of creative genius, but it is what the story demands.

  2. What is the character’s wound? Elizabeth Lyon, in her book Manuscript Makeover, has the great advice that memorable, realistic, vivid characters always have some sort of emotional issue they’re dealing with. She calls it their underlying “wound.” Whatever it is, it’s the thing that drives the character arc that runs in parallel with your overall story arc. For my Pony Express novel, I needed a wound that would serve to create conflict and problems for the main character to overcome. Ideally, it would be one that also relates well to the underlying premise. The Pony Express famously employed a lot of orphans, so I made my main character an orphan. I killed his parents off in a fire when he was 12 years old. His wound is that he’s angry: angry at the world, at fate, at God for taking his parents away and destroying his life. He has quite a temper, which gets him in trouble frequently. Learning to rein in his temper over the course of the book’s adventure is his character arc.

  3. What do you love (or hate) in a character? I firmly believe that nobody can write a good novel if they don’t themselves like the story and the characters they’re working with. And why would you even want to? So while you’re thinking about backstory, think about the kinds of characters you love to read about in the genre you’re writing. For example, I’m sick to death of fantasy novels where the main character is a king or prince, or when they start out as a nobody but turn out to be the long-lost heir to the throne. It’s been done to death. So for one fantasy novel, I gave my main character a backstory that was as completely run-of-the-mill ordinary as I could. I made him an ordinary kid, apprentice to the village blacksmith, in a piddly little town out in the sticks. Lost kings and princes may be dramatic, but they’re a lot harder for readers to relate to, and I’ll take empathy over cliche drama any day. So ask yourself, in your genre, what kinds of characters do you love? What kinds do you hate? What kinds have been done to death? Let that guide you in creating your characters’ backstories.

  4. Conduct an interview. The first three questions gave you the broad outlines of your character. Now start to flesh her out with an interview. Write up a list of questions. Longer is probably better. The trick is to start with easy stuff, like “where were you born,” “how old are you.” Work up to more personal questions like “tell me about your first boy/girlfriend,” but keep the questions focused on things that aren’t likely to have any real bearing on your plot. Finally, start asking harder questions, the kind you’d find in a serious job interview: “How do you motivate yourself to do things you need to do, but don’t really want to?” “Tell me about a time when you really failed at something and what you learned from the experience?” “Tell me about a serious disagreement you’ve had with someone, at work or in your personal life, and how you handled it.” After you’ve written the questions, answer them in the order you wrote them. What you’re doing is mentally sneaking up on the character. Answering the easy questions gives you time to train yourself to think like her and imagine what it’s like to be her. By the time you get to the serious questions, you should have a pretty good handle on who she is. Their answers serve you two-fold: on one level, the answer to “tell me about a time when you really failed at something and what you learned from the experience” gives you some interesting backstory. But on another level, it gives you insight into the character’s deeper motivations and emotional issues that are critical in portraying a realistic, distinctive person on the page.

  5. Write her eulogy or curriculum vitae Imagine the future, after your heroine has died. What would loving friends and family say at her funeral? How would they sum up her life, her accomplishments, and the essential elements of her personality? What funny little stories would they tell? Thinking backwards from a future perspective can be an effective way to generate backstory. If you want a less maudlin take on the technique, write their C.V. entry instead. Imagine that your heroine has been selected to be featured in the next edition of Who’s Who, and you’ve been tapped to write her entry. Imagine she has already succeeded or failed at whatever your premise suggests she’s going to try, and look back from that perspective.

  6. Get quirky This is the fun part. Brainstorm a bunch of random, weird stuff. Quirky hobbies, skills, or experiences your character might have. Maybe she used to be a skydiving instructor. Maybe she collects underground comic books from Soviet Russia. Maybe as a hobby she makes paper and binds it into handmade journals with beautiful deckled edges and dyed endpapers, which she sells at local street fairs. Maybe she makes her own cheese at home, and has built a special aging room in her garage. Think up a dozen or so downright oddball details. Then pick one or two to actually include for real in the character’s background. Now answer the question “how did she come to have those skills?” Write a little story or vignette explaining how she got hooked on Soviet-era comic books or whatever you end up choosing. The reason for doing this is because real people aren’t all-business. Yet too often, writers reveal nothing about their main characters that isn’t directly related to the plot. They miss out entirely on the character’s personal life. Everybody has a personal life, so spend some time figuring out what your character does with hers.

To sum up: Use whichever of these strategies and tips appeals to you. Don’t imagine that you have to do them in order, or even that you have to do them all. If anything, do the very opposite. Pick one, do it for a while, then switch to another. Skip around, jumping from one strategy or technique to the next as the material you discover about your character leads you. For instance, in stumbling upon a great quirk to include, you might realize that the quirk can be related to the character’s emotional wound. So spend some time interviewing or eulogizing until you discover a solid connection between the two. For example, maybe the character’s mother was from France and constantly bemoaned the lack of good cheese in America, so she took up the craft of cheese making in order to satisfy her mother’s yearning for a really good Roquefort; now that her mother has passed away, the cheese making remains as a way for her to hold on to that relationship.

You may or may not ever actually use any of this backstory in the book. But if my experience is any indicator, you will. In my next post, I’ll tackle in greater detail some techniques for using backstory material effectively in the actual implementation of your plot.

September 22, 2009 17:28 UTC

Tags: character, backstory, premise, emotional wound, empathy, motivation, emotion

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