Finding the Truth of Your Character

Watching an interview with Brad Pitt on Inside The Actor’s Studio, an acting student asked, “What are your processes and how have they changed?”

Pitt wisely answered, “My processes is always changing.” He talked about the journey of discovery, of finding truth.

As an actor, or in our case, writer, grows and changes, they should be able to hone the process of finding a the heart of a character, of discovering the truth.

Pitt went on to say, “Find a moment of truth and the character will come.”

This is a profound truth for all of us who deal in character. Find the truth of your character and let it breathe, let it come.

Let it shine on the page.

We talk a lot about processes and tools here at My Book Therapy, but we also talk about what I call, “the ping.”

That’s the emotional or even spiritual sense you get when you’ve hit upon the truth of the story. Of the character’s journey.

When I write, I put all the building blocks in place the best I can. Character wound, lie and fear, contrasted with the secret desire/true identity.

I figure out the black moment, the epiphany, and what the character can do in the end she can’t do in the beginning.

But it’s in the writing, in the quiet of my mind and the push-pull of the character developing on the page when the truth of the story is birthed.

Sometimes I sit with my eyes closed and just type. I see the character, I see the scene and I recored what I see.

I let the planning and processing fall away. Pitt speaks to that during the interview, too. “If you plan the scene, you’ll miss it.” My translation of what he said. But you get what I mean. Over planning can ruin the core heart of a scene or story.

In my book coming out in May 2013, the heroine Susanna was a planner. As I read through the story before submitting it to my editor, I was bombarded by scenes and dialog centered on “Susanna The Planner.”

There was no subtlety to it. Just blah, spit out on the page.

I had to back up and let the “planner” in Susanna come out in other way. In her inability to change, in her rootedness in her home town, in her hesitation about life.

Even after the clean up, my editor wrote in her substantive letter to me, “we get that Susanna is a planner.” Ha!

I over thought it. I didn’t let the truth come out.

It’s been my experience after 17 novels, that my processing will some how collide with my pinging if I just relax and let it come. Let truth arise.

Research, plan, process, dream, write an outline, do a character study, go through whatever process works for you.

But at the end, all those processes must reduce all the information down into a truth that is displayed and evident in your character and story.

If you’re stuck, take time to just write. Let the words flow regardless of where you are in the story process.

Call someone and brainstorm. Or just talk out your story with anyone willing to listen. Sometimes they will respond with a small tidbit that unlocks truth to you.

Pray. Ask the Lord for His heart about your characters.

Play music or if you play an instrument, do that. Sometimes I sit down at the piano and sing about my characters.

Go to the gym. If I’m really struggling, the process of working my body instead of my brain causes clear ideas to surface. In my book Love Starts with Elle there’s a really romantic scene with Elle and Heath dancing on the back porch to a Gladys Knight and the Pips song. And I got the idea in spin class.

Read. Diving into other’s story often unlocks your own creativity and underlying truths.

Above all, work it. While finding truth can’t be over processed, it still must be mined. Like fine gold. Like rare gems.

Happy Writing.

 

Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She excels in seeing the deeper layers of a story. With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novel. A worship leader, board member of ACFW and popular writing teacher, Rachel is the author of over 15 novels. She lives in Florida with her husband and her dog, Lola. Contact her at: Rachel@mybooktherapy.com.

Go forth and write!

 

 

A Writer’s Christmas Wish List

‘Tis the season when the blog-o-sphere is cluttered with writers’ wish lists. Google “gifts for writers” and you’ll discover things like:

It’s all well and good to drop “all I want for Christmas” hints during this time of the year. How else will people know that you long for a ceramic tray that looks like a notepad? And I have a few hints about gifts to give yourself this season that will help you be a better writer in 2013.

  1. Give yourself the gift of less. December is one of the busiest months of the year. We try to keep up with our regular schedule—and a whole lot more. Don’t. Do. It. All. Be a wise woman or a wise man and stop doing everything. I’m not blogging during the month of December. I’m giving myself permission to stop – to rest. Consider this: How can you give yourself the gift of doing less?
  2. Give yourself the gift of more. There are only 24 hours in my day – and I know there are only 24 hours in your day too. The only way I can give myself more time is to say no to something – to step away from something I’m already doing. It boils down to the question of good versus best. Earlier this year I had to say no to a local critique group because while it was good, it was not the best use of my time.  Consider this: Is there one thing you could step away from that would give you more time in 2013?
  3. Give yourself the gift of solitude. For all the talk of writing being a solitary pursuit, writers are an awfully connected group. Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and personal blogs and online communities … and we have to do this stuff, right? Where’s the solitude? Where’s the time to pause, to pray, to listen for God’s voice in all this? Consider this: When can you give yourself the gift of solitude – the time to come away and be still and know that God is … and that his ears are open to your prayers?

***

MBT’s Skills Coach, Beth K. Vogt provides her readers with a happily ever after woven through with humor, reality, and God’s lavish grace. Her inspirational contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted May 2012 (Howard Books.) Her second novel, Catch a Falling Star, releases May 2013. Beth is an established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International. Visit with Beth at her website bethvogt.com.

Conversations: What to do with your WriMo Chapters/How to edit a scene

I found Sally in line for coffee as I entered the coffee shop. She had already dumped her bag onto a chair, had already tugged off her gloves, her wool jacket, and wore her game face.

“What’s up? Did you not have a great thanksgiving?”

“It was fine. But, I’m 3000 words away from finishing my novel.”

“That’s great.”  I shed my jacket and motioned to Kathy. She gave me a smile, already on my order.

“No so much.”  She retrieved her coffee and handed me mine.  I nodded my appreciation.

“Why?”

“Because I only have 46000 words and I’m near the end of my novel.”

“And?”

“It’ supposed to be an 80,000 word novel! How am I going to come up with 30,000 more words?”

“Oh, I see.  You think just because you finished NaNoWriMo with a 50,000 word manuscript that you’re done. Mmmhmm.”

“Well, I know it needs editing….”

“Sally.  What you have created is the shell of your novel. You’ve put down every great scene you can think of, and because you are racing through the novel to write it – because that is the point of NaNoWriMo – you are hitting all the big events.  I bet you have sentences like, “She argued with him until she got her way,” and “The clock read 7am as she got into her car for work, angry at…whoever.”

“So?  What’s your point?”

“Take a breath. This is normal.  You’ve rushed into your story and through your scene so you can quickly download the story from your head to the page without losing it.  That’s excellent. Now that you have the framework of your story, you have to go back and add the furniture, the decorative touches. Storyworld and description and emotional layering.

Let’s return to those simple sentences.  Instead of telling us that the argument happened, how about letting us hear that argument.  We want to be a part of it.

Instead of telling us what time the clock read, how about really putting us in the scene?

            The sunrise simmered over the far horizon, hot lava spilling over the tops of the birch and pine trees, splashing down upon the frost that covered her windshield.  She opened the car door with a creak and fished around for the scraper.  Shoot, she’d left it in the other car.  Digging through her purse, she found her old fitness club card. Well, it wasn’t like she’d use that anytime soon.  She attacked the front windshield, drawing thick lines through the frost, the ice curling up over her bare fingers, turning them numb.

Maybe the rest of her could turn numb, too – anything to stop the roaring heat inside that was sure to spill over onto Malcolm the minute she walked into the office.

            How could he steal her presentation?

 

“Okay, I made up Malcolm – “

“I already hate him.”

“But see, instead of telling us how she felt, I drew you into the scene slowly, letting the reader really see it. Your WriMo scenes are essential because they’ve provided the framework of your story.  You now need to go back and flesh out each scene, adding in all the beautiful details, the storyworld, the characterization, the dialogue, the emotional and the metaphors. You’ve only just begun.”  (You can sing along if you’d like).

She laughed.  “So give me a game plan.”

“Okay.  When you’re finished with the fast draft, go back to the beginning and analyze every scene.  First ask:

  • Have I created the right kind of Scene? Is it an Action or ReAction scene?  Define your goals, conflict, disaster, or your response, dilemma, decision.
  • Have I build in Tension? Remember your equation! Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacle + Fear of Failure  (for premium members, check out these past articles on creating tension in your scenes:

http://www.mybooktherapy.com/what-is-scene-tension/

http://www.mybooktherapy.com/creating-scene-tension/

  •  Have I built in enough Storyworld?          

            Do I have the NEWS of the scene – Who, What, When, Where and Why?

            Do I have the 5 senses?

            Have I created a mood with the use of my 5 senses, the verbs and nouns I use?

  •  Have I used the right POV? (Point of View). Would the scene have more impact if it was in a different POV?  (remember, write it in the POV of the person who had the most to lose).
  •  Do I have enough Dialogue in the scene?  Dialogue moves a story and creates tension. If you have even one page without Dialogue, insert something – a remembered conversation, a phone conversation, even a letter or journal entry to create another voice.

Have you created sparks with your dialogue?  If it feels tired and expected, have your character say something they shouldn’t – that should cause some tension!

  • Have I created Emotion through Action?  Give your character something to do, and have it convey his emotions. What does the character do because of the way he/she feels? 

“And here’s the biggest question:  Have I glossed over moments in my rush to get to the end of the scene?  Have I allowed my reader to experience every important nuance of the scene?  Slow it down.  Describe the scene.  Take your time.  Your character will still go off the cliff – you are just helping the reader understand how dangerous it is and how hard he tries to stop it.

“And, speaking of cliffs – DON’T FORGET TO END YOUR SCENE WITH A NEW PROBLEM!!  (premium members check out:  http://www.mybooktherapy.com/conversations-keeping-your-reader-hooked-through-every-chapter/)

“The mark of a great novelist is their ability to draw you into the world they see and allow you to feel it with the character.”

Sally was smiling now.

“Feel better?”

“Yes.  It’s like I finally get to read the story I’ve written.”

“Exactly. You’ve done the hard work of building the house.  Now this is the fun part –  decorating.”

“Just in time for Christmas.”

Truth:  Your first draft of your story just builds the story foundation.  Even if you are a “punster” you’ll need to go back and add in the rich details and layers to make your story satisfying.

Dare:  Finish your fast-draft, then go back and allow yourself time to rebuild, decorate and savor the story you’ve written.

Happy Writing!

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling
Novel. A quick class on those foundational elements every editor is looking for! Sign up at: http://forms.aweber.com/form/35/866611135.htm

P.P.S. As you might already know, MBT is now offering a PREMIUM membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced class. For more info, check out: www.mybooktherapy.com/join-the-team/.

Happy Thanksgiving

From all of us at My Book Therapy

to all of you, our writing family

Have a Very Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

We are honored to have you as a part of the MBT team

whether a casual visitor or an MBT member…

We appreciate you!

With Love,

Susie May

Rachel Hauck

Lisa Jordan

Reba Hoffman

Beth Vogt

Melissa Tagg

Michelle Lim

Alena Taurainen

Edie Melson