The What and Why of Writing: Boy Scout Moment

Say the words “Boy Scout” and most people will think “Be prepared.” That’s the Boy Scout Motto. Or they might think of words like trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous. These are parts of the 12 Points of the Scout Law. I know all this because my husband, who is an Eagle Scout, recited all 12 Points to me in rapid-fire succession. Once a scout, always a scout.

And yes, all of this Boy Scout trivia is applicable to writing a novel.

What: Boy Scout Moment

This is a sweet moment in the beginning of the book where we glimpse the hero or heroine doing something kind: Maybe they are  kind to an animal. Maybe they help an old woman across the street (Boy Scout, remember?). In some small way, your character sacrifices what they want for someone else. The Boy Scout Moment helps your readers like your hero and/or your heroine.

Why: I already explained why you need a Boy Scout Moment early on in your novel. Look at the last line under the section labeled “What.” You want your readers to like your hero and your heroine.

As novelists, we understand the character arc in a story. Character arc is the timeline that allows our main characters to change and mature as the story progresses. This is why in Chapter One you can have a hero and heroine who loathe each other but then discover Happily Ever After together by the time you pen “The End.” Thanks to the character arc, they are not the same people they were at the beginning of the story.

But not all our characters are likeable at the beginning of the book. As a matter of fact, we’re supposed to write characters who are less-than-perfect. How do you show readers that your hero or heroine are still worth their time, despite their faults?

This is the brilliance of the Boy Scout Moment.

While your heroine may not glimpse the hero’s heart of gold until later in the book, give your readers a quick peek. Here’s where you can peruse that 12 Point Scout Law again:

  1. Trustworthy
  2. Loyal
  3. Helpful
  4. Friendly
  5. Courteous
  6. Kind
  7. Obedient
  8. Cheerful
  9. Thrifty
  10. Brave
  11. Clean
  12. Reverent

 

Example: In my novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love, my heroine Vanessa doesn’t do close relationships. She’s good at saying hello and she’s good at saying goodbye — but she doesn’t know how to do all that comes in between those two words. And yes, there are reasons for that. I knew if I wasn’t careful, Vanessa could come across as distant, yes, even unlikeable, to my readers. At the beginning of the book they wouldn’t know all the reasons why Vanessa would seem closed off toward people. That unfolded as the story progressed. So I crafted a Boy Scout Moment for Vanessa where she helped out a single mom who she’d met during one of her shifts as a paramedic.

What kind of Boy Scout Moment could you give your hero or heroine? Could he look like a jerk to the heroine but prove himself to be trustworthy to someone else? (#1) Could she be loyal to her family by helping out a sibling? (#2) Could he continue to be courteous to his boss even though he’s seething inside? (#5) Or could she clean up a mess she didn’t make?  (#11)

 

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The What and Why of Writing: Character Values

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ~Roy Disney (1930-2009), longtime senior executive for The Walt Disney Company

Every day we make decisions. And if we stopped and really thought about it, we’d realize we made those choices based on our values – the things that are important to us.  Or as Proverbs so aptly puts it: Everyone does what is right in his (or her) own eyes. (Proverbs 21:2)

Guess what? The imaginary characters in our books? They have to do the very same thing: make choices based on their values.

What: Values

Things we desire, whether we have them or not, such as forgiveness, honesty, money, compassion, power and trust

Why:

We don’t like it when we wander around aimlessly, not sure what to do. Wasted hours, wasted days. And we’re certainly not going to read (or write) a book where the hero and heroine spend pages and pages thinking, “What should I do? What should I do?”

If you know what your characters’ values are, then you can easily determine what they would do. How do you figure out a character’s values? Think about it for a minute: What formed your values? Your life experience. The same is true for your characters. This is why it’s important to know your hero’s and heroine’s Dark Moment, Wound and Lie – these experiences influence what they value.

Example: If your hero moved around a lot as a child, if he never really had a place to call home, what might he value?

Answer: You could play this several ways. (It’s your book, after all.) Maybe he grows up to value home and roots because he never had that. Or maybe he values independence and being a loner – as a defense mechanism to protect his Wound.

Example: If your heroine was told she was ugly  — and that her sister was the beautiful one — what might she value?

Answer: She might grow up to value external beauty – trying to prove everyone wrong. Or let’s flip this once again, she might value brains, a.k.a. intelligence, trying to prove her worth that way, since she isn’t beautiful, or so people say.

Once you know your characters’ values, you can plot stronger scenes. You know that the hero who values home will clash with the heroine who is career-driven – and you know why. And you know that your “brainiac” heroine is really covering up a Wound – and will reveal heartache as she interacts with the hero.

You can also create inner tension if you make your characters choose between competing values. What if your hero longs for home and he also values independence — he’s protected himself by being a loner for a lot of years. Make him choose between remaining independent or falling in love and finally finding that home and the happily ever after he’s always wanted.

Looking for some resources on values? Check out:

http://www.values.com/teaching-values

http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm

http://www.selfcounseling.com/help/personalsuccess/personalvalues.html

Give your heroine a makeover!

Day 18753 of reading the Outlander series; I am on page 567 of book #4, still 12,698 pages to go. But I’m still hooked, and not just because of the hero, but because of the storyworld, the writing, and the heroine, who continues to intrigue me as carves out a life in the past, in an untamed world, so different from the one she left.

I keep asking myself. . .would I give up modern medicine, hot water, electricity and my cell phone to follow the man I love into poverty and near-death adventures?

Okay, maybe. If he was wearing a kilt. But Claire is an intriguing heroine, one I’m still trying to unpack, four books into the series.

Truth be told, I used to hate romances. Why? Because I didn’t respect a woman who had to have a man save her. But I did respect a woman who allowed a man into her life to make her better, stronger, more noble, more complete.  This is Claire – she needs Jamie, but she saves him just as often as he saves her.

So, what makes a fantastic heroine?

Goals Give your heroine a measurable goal. Both your hero and heroine need to have a goal, but it’s essential for your heroine. She needs to be proactive, to fight for something she believes in.

Claire is a modern day woman living in an old-fashioned world, something that gets her into trouble repeatedly. Until book #4, Claire’s goals were clear – get back to Frank, then save Jamie, then stop Jamie and his kinsmen from getting killed, then get BACK to Jamie (after being separated from him).  Now, in book #4, her goal is to keep Jamie alive (because, being a time-traveler, she saw his death and hopes to change it).

These are all goals we can get on board with and fight the fight with her. Making her proactive and strong makes her noble—and someone worth spending time with.

Competence Give her a skill, something she does well (and make her confident about this skill!)  Claire is a healer, (a surgeon back in the present), and this skill is used to save herself (and jamie) even though it lands her likewise in trouble.  Use this competence/confidence as a character strength, but also a source of conflict for your heroine.

FlawYour heroine needs one realistic flaw, one that she can start to overcome because of the hero. It’s easy for a heroine to have flaws—mostly because we write about ourselves, and we all have flaws. But don’t give her too many!  Claire’s flaw is that she is headstrong (of course, because she is from our time).  The more she learns to trust Jamie, and the more she realizes this is a different world, the more she begins to soften.

Fear Give her a fear, something realistic and based on something in her past, or a realistic fear of the future. Don’t make it about “being single.” And make her fear deep, something the hero has to figure out, even pry out of her.

Claire’s realistic fear is that Jamie will die and leave her stranded, alone, in the past.  She’s seen his grave, after all, and she knows she can’t go back to the present without dying.  A great fear isn’t just conjured up – it has a strong basis for belief; strong enough that the reader relates and fears the same thing.  Every time Jamie goes out for a hunt I am desperately hoping he returns and doesn’t leave Claire and I stranded in the one-room cabin in the wilderness.

Beauty – Give her a special kind of beauty, both inner and outer, that only the hero can see/love. Something special, that’s only hers. Maybe it’s her eyes, but also the way that she can look right through him and see what he needs. Or maybe it’s her patience. Maybe it’s her strength to see the good, or believe in the good.

Jamie loves Claire not for her beauty, (but yes, there’s that), but her strength and courage.

How to give your Heroine a Makeover:

  • Goal – What does your heroine believe in? What is she fighting for?
  • Confidence – What is your heroine good at? Give us a reason to applaud your heroine. (Think life skills, career, even spiritual gifts.)
  • Fear – If you asked your heroine “What are you afraid of?” what would she say? Think about that dark moment in your heroine’s past—did that create a fear in her life that carried over to today?
  • Flaw – Your heroine is less than perfect. What’s your heroine’s flaw? Ask: What do you do when life gets tough?
  • Beauty – What unique trait makes her beautiful?

Have a great writing week.

Go! Write Something Brilliant!

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Give your Hero a makeover – Highlander Style!

I gave it my very best shot.  I’ve longed believed that a great writer also READS, so I try and read a great book every weekend.  I love Friday nights – searching through my TBR pile to find the book that speaks to me, then settling down with a great novel late Friday night, reading it after Saturday morning chores are finished, and spending Sunday afternoon on the sofa finishing the book.

Unless that book is, say, a Diana Gabaldon novel.  Yes, I did it – I jumped into the Outlander series to see what all the hubbub was about.  At 550 pages, book one is daunting. . .until you start reading. (I’m on book #3, and while I spent 12 hours reading yesterday, I only managed to get half-way through the 870 page tome. . .but I will not be denied!)  Yes, it’s long. . .and frankly, a lot grittier than books I normally read.  But . . .

The Hero.  Oh, the Hero.  Jamie Fraser.  What is it about this Scottish Highlander that is so appealing?  The kilt?  The brogue? The fact that doing battle for his woman is second nature?

Or is it simply that Jamie embodies so well the 5 traits that make a fantastic, heartthrob hero? 

Honorable – Jamie is a highlander, which means he runs with a crowd of other kilted men. But Jamie is not like the others – from the verra beginn’ he has a sense of honor, a way of protecting the heroine, from wrapping her in his plaid to keep her warm to telling her that as long as she is with him, she’ll be safe. Despite his renegade past (he is an outlaw. . . but falsely accused), he treats the heroine with chivalry.

Flawed – Jamie also has issues. . .namely, he’s prideful. Which is played out in his stubbornness. So stubborn, it nearly got him killed, led to the death of his father, and gets him into one peck of trouble after another. Why is he so stubborn? Because his pride is all he has left after the English have taken everything else from him.  I talked about FLAWS in previous blogs (find them HERE), but the great trick about a flaw is that you can use it to cause your character to make powerful plot decisions. For example, it is Jamie’s stubbornness that also allows him to rescue Claire (the heroine) over and over again (armed with nothing but his bare hands and an empty pistol, in one pivotal scene). And it is his pride that is eventually taken from him at the end of book one. (*warning, this sequence of events is particularly gritty/disturbing.)

However, it’s seeing him overcome this flaw, slowly, and finally emerging into a new person who can forgive himself and accept help is part of the heroism of the character.

Fearful – Our hero has to have a fear if he is to be real. Jamie is deeply afraid of losing the people he loves (he’s lost his father, believes he failed to save his sister’s honor, and fears, in the end losing Claire.)  For Jamie, this fear is embodied in his greatest enemy, Black Jack Randall.  This fear of losing the ones he loves is what causes him to make stupid – and heroic – decisions.  But without a fear, a character can’t be manipulated, can’t be changed. Can’t overcome.

Sometimes a novel will start out with his fear being realized, and the result is so horrible we understand why he will run from it. Or, the fear is built slowly, with revelations, to the Dark Moment story. Most of all, the fear will build until the Black Moment Event makes it real. And then, his  courage to face it will cause him to change forever.

Courageous! – I’m not talking about his ability to pick up his broadsword and fight the English. Yes, he’s very heroic as he goes to battle in his kilt, but his greatest courage is found in his willingness to change. We don’t like heroes who are stuck in their ways, that don’t see their need for change. Jamie has a powerful come-to-Jesus moment when he realizes he’s married a woman who doesn’t conform to his highlander expectations of a wife and he has to choose between tradition and finding a new pattern for marriage.

Tender – Okay, I know this is where we say – hello?  Is this hero realistic? But yes, a great hero has to have tender, heart-revealing moments. (Just keep them real!)  Jamie is a warrior – he spends a lot of time ordering Claire around, telling her how to behave, and even dragging her headlong into trouble (and her, him!)  But in between those moments, he’s not afraid to reach into his heart and pull out something swoon-worthy. One of my favorite scenes takes place after he rescues Claire from Black Jack Randall. He is furious with her because she didn’t obey him, thus getting herself captured. They get into a terrific fight until he says (my paraphrase), “You’re just trying to punish me for (essentially) not protecting you.”  He then goes on to tell her how, when she was taken, he stormed the castle armed with nothing but his bare hands and an empty gun.  And how she is “tearing his guts out.”  Not the most romantic thing to say, but somehow this revelation is overwhelmingly tender and suddenly, we forgive him for everything he’s just said to her in anger.

How to give your Hero a Makeover: (Highlander Style)

  1. Make him honorable! If he’s a rogue, give him a good reason for it.  And always treat the heroine with some measure of respect/protection.
  2. Make him flawed. . .and have him fix that flaw (mostly) by the end of the novel.
  3. Give him a real, founded fear, and have him face it (sometimes more than once).
  4. Show that he has the courage to change, by giving him small then increasingly larger changes through the story.
  5. Give him tender moments of revelation. (but make them realistic!)

 

Of course, it doesn’t hurt if your hero has russet whiskers, curly red hair, broad shoulders, blue eyes and always manages to show up just when your heroine needs him, ready to save the day.

Go! Write something brilliant!

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