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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Letting Our Characters “Get Tired of It”

Last weekend was one of those longtime-coming-but-so-worth-the-wait kind of events. After 18 months of planning, best-selling author Rachel Hauck spoke at Write in the Springs, the annual conference for the Colorado Springs ACFW group.

One of the first things I did when I became president of ACFWCS was to ask Rachel to be our 2015 speaker. Her yes was immediate and enthusiastic. The result? Two days of writers being taught – equipped and encouraged – by a woman who knows story and who wants other writers to succeed.

In between taking photos and checking on things in the background, I typed a few notes of my own. These two lines about developing characters stand out:

  • I am tired of being behind this Fear.
  • I am tired of this Wound.

Here at My Book Therapy, we’re all about creating compelling characters. And we start with the Dark Moment, which leads to a Wound, a Lie, and a Fear. The Dark Moment, Wound, Lie, and Fear affects our characters’ relationships with God and with others. As we write our stories, our characters fight against the pain of the Wound, the trap of the Lie, and the Fear that holds them back from being their true selves.

But there comes a time in our characters’ lives when they have to say:

  • I am tired of being behind this Fear.
  • I am tired of this Wound.

And this is when we, as the author, allow our characters to change. They have to change. Who wants to read a book where the characters remain the same from beginning to end?

Dark Moments, Wounds, Lies, Fears – they are not just craft elements created to help us write better stories. Each one of us has our own Dark Moment that resulted in a heart wound. We believe lies about ourselves and about God. Each of us is afraid. Of someone. Of something.

We have to grow up, embrace faith and the strength of God to say, “I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of letting this wound of my past control today and strangle my future.”

And as authors, we build those life-changing moments into our stories too. Allow our characters to move from fear to courage. Bring imaginary people into their fictional lives who help heal their wounds – who teach them to trust God again, or maybe trust Him for the first time.

Consider the story you are writing. When do your main characters get to say, “I am tired of being behind this fear” and “I am tired of this wound”?

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