Monday, November 10, 2008

Characters Who Live

Last week, I was privileged to attend the LowCountry Romance Writer’s Master Class—and Retreat. I’ve been going to the Retreat for years, so I didn’t actually realize the retreat is more focused on inspiration rather than craft. Now that I’ve been to the Master Class, I know the difference. The Master Class lasted a week and each day had a two hour morning session, two hour-long afternoon sessions, and a night critique session.


So, I thought I’d share a little about my experience. First, did I say it was on the beach? Did I say I got my own room for the first time ever? With my own balcony? Yum.

Okay, to work. There were several sessions about making your characters real. Some people suggested giving your characters a horoscope—and sticking to the characteristics that fit within the sign’s parameters. Another gentleman spent quite some time talking about the Myers-Briggs. Now, I’m a psychologist so some one without any real professional training delving into my field bothered me so I can’t see me using this technique. Plus, I know as a psychologist real people don’t fit neatly even into a serious diagnosis, much less a personality test with questionable validity. Sorry, a bit of territorial professionalism there. I will say one of the authors there recommended using these “boxes” for secondary characters—characters you don’t have much time to develop so your readers will need a box they can easily put them into.

More useful tips came from C.J. Lyons, a previous guest blogger with us. While I’ve certainly heard and read about inner and outer conflict, she made the concepts come alive for me. Perhaps the words are too nebulous and I needed them to be made concrete. Basically, she boiled them down to the character’s default action. I translate that to mean (in psych terms), when the individual goes through some trauma, no matter how great or small, what or who do they turn to? Do they turn to family? Do they turn to what’s right in an objective way or honor? Do they turn inward and escape from the rest of the world?

Whatever that default action is, it can’t work for them anymore. And that’s the real conflict.

Another author demonstrated the age-old interview your character technique. But, she made it work. She didn’t just interview. In an interview, you can’t dig too deep because the person can shut down and walk out. In therapy, you can ask the uncomfortable questions because the person wants you to, they want to know why they do things. They themselves don’t even know until you ask.

I guess it goes back to write what you know. Long, long ago, I chose my college major—psychology, believe it or not—to become a better writer. I thought if I really knew about people, I could really get to know my characters. Maybe I knew what I was doing (other than the no time to write thing because I’m a psychologist).

Did I mention I spent a week at the beach?


Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, Lexie, you lucky woman you. The beach and the balcony, and your own private room... sigh... great pics... sigh again...

C.J. Lyons really impressed me before. Thanks for giving us an update.

I try to go from everything I've learned and experienced, lo these many years, as well as using the differnt profiles techniques you mentioned.

I have to say, though. My heroine and hero are usually so alive, or become so alive, it's as they are present and revealing their story.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Actually, I didn't want to say it at the retreat--or write it in the blog, but me, too. I see the story unfold like a movie, but I've also found my story's not as tight if I only go according to my "movie."
But the characters do just seem alive!
And the beach was wonderful.:)

Savanna Kougar said...

Lexie, that's one thing I enjoyed about your writing, what I've read, so far ~ your characters felt 'alive'. Not just real as in crafted, but real as in being alive. I think there's a difference. Some stories, the characters are crafted fantastically, and the read is enjoyable...yet, I prefer 'alive' characters, for lack of a better way of expressing it.