I have recently completed the first draft of a new WIP, and my fab crit partners (*waves* to The 22s) pointed out that my heroine’s character arc was off. This immediately got me racing to the cyber bookshelves in search of both information and inspiration.
Back to basics – a character arc is the journey the protagonist takes over the course of the story when he/she is forced to confront his/her emotional baggage to become a more rounded individual. As I’m writing romance, my characters have to overcome their fears in order to love. Continue reading →
I know, I know, this is a concept that is discussed time and time again! But the more I learn about writing, the more I understand what this simple plan can bring to a novel.
Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) by Debra Dixon was the first writing craft book I bought, and now having read several other excellent books, this is still the one I repeatedly come back to. Why? Because for my easily confused, pantser brain, the message is simple.
The premise of the book is that a plot can be broken down into three parts:
A character wants a goal, because he/she is motivated but conflict stands in his/her way.
Typically, a character will have both an external and internal GMC, with the internal outlining a characters emotional arc. “If you can see it, touch it, taste it, hear it, or smell it . . . that’s external,” the book explains and uses movies, such as The Wizard of Oz, to demonstrate the idea:
External: Dorothy wants to go home, because Aunt Em is sick, but the wicked witch stands in her way.
Internal: She wants to find a place where she’s happy (think Somewhere Over The Rainbow), because she’s miserable and always in trouble, but she doesn’t know what she really wants.
As a pantser with aspirations of becoming a plotter, I’ve tried The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson, The Six Stage Story Structure by Michael Hague, but my disorganised, right-brained mind, always rebels. These two GMC sentences, however, I can manage and never start a story without having them in place. It provides the essential who, what, why and why not.
“If you can trace every action in your book to a unique character’s goal and motivation, then the character will create the plot right before your eyes.”
I have found this to be true. Not only for the story as a whole, but also at scene level. When I get stuck, it’s almost always because I’ve lost sight of what one or more characters want, and why.
“Every scene should illustrate a character’s progress toward the goal, or bring the character into conflict with opposing forces, or provide the character with an experience that strengthens or changes his motivation.”
But, although at the most basic level those sentences may appear easy, they are not. It’s easy to confuse internal with external, or to discover your character goal is actually her motivation. Or the GMC may be beautifully laid out in the first chapter, but then there is no follow-through, especially if you’re writing romance like me. It’s very tempting to get distracted by the developing relationship between your characters. The romance maybe the heart of the story, but it’s not, the book stipulates, a character goal:
“The heroine’s goal in a romance novel is not to fall in love and get married. Ditto for the hero. The last thing on their minds is meeting a soul mate. In fact, it’s darned inconvenient. Romance will be a conflict for your characters.”
The book additionally covers black moments, scene development, query letters, turning points plus a breakdown of the movies Casablanca, The Client and Ladyhawke. Also included is an example of Miss Dixon’s own query letter for her book Mountain Mystic.
Every writer has to find their own way, and different things click with different people, but this is the book that works for me. Debra Dixon is known in her own writing for pushing the boundaries of category romance, in particular with her book about a hit woman, Bad to the Bone (1996), which I recommend it to anyone wanting to write in this field.
For help outlining GMC and additional character development, the Mid-Michigan chapter of the RWA has a great chart here:
Lizzie Hermanson is a wife, mother and talented procrastinator. She writes contemporary romance when her cat isn’t hogging the keyboard and loves Happy Ever Afters. Find her @lizziehermanson
I had the most amazing time. I got a room at the hotel at the last minute and a wonderful roommate to share the cost. I paid $10 in parking for the whole weekend. I saw amazing people and listened to amazing workshops and I am itching to get to work on my new business plan. Continue reading →
Words! How glorious they fall on the page. Fast or slow, deep or shallow, they drip from my fingers like misty drizzle or hammer from my heart in torrents. However they choose to come, I do my best to accept and relate them without prejudice.
And therein, Dear Reader, lies the rub. How I wish it were one of those warm, tingly, exciting rubs on delicate parts that leave us breathless and singing inside—but it’s not.
I have never met a trope I couldn’t twist. There’s something so satisfying about playing with the expectations of readers. Tropes, like clichés, are both useful and hazardous. They are short cuts to meaning, but come with baggage. A well placed cliché paints a colorful image in just a few words. A poorly placed one elicits groans. Continue reading →
I’m so not the right blogger to write the festive season post.
I’m traumatized by childhood memories of polishing silver, cleaning the porcelain and hurting my back from pulling out the couch to remove the colony of dust balls that had sought shelter there since last Christmas. They knew it was the only place in the whole house where they’d be safe from the vacuum cleaner until next year’s Christmas clean. These were just a few of the points on Mom’s endlessly long list of Things to Do and we worked our asses off up to the afternoon on Christmas Eve.
When dusk finally settled and Mom could do nothing more than fret over her mother-in-law (also called The Dragon) and stare through the foggy glass front of the stove, as if she could will the pork rib to roast to perfection, the rest of the family (except The Dragon, I suspect) would sigh in relief and silently vow to eat whatever came out of that stove, regardless how burnt or raw it was. (It took me a while, but as an adult I’ve realized the pressure of catering for a mother-in-law who’s keen to grade everybody’s effort, and why my dad would insist he’d have to make certain the aquavit (Norwegian schnapps) was still drinkable, long before the dinner guests arrived.) Continue reading →
So you’re curled up with a box of chocolates, enjoying your latest romance novel. You’re right there with the character, immersed in the action. Then a lone tear rolls down her cheek, and suddenly, you’re not feeling it anymore; for a micro second, you’re taken out of the story and something jars.
Don’t imagine that I lump all writers together as one type. I have met too many to think that way. But I do know there are common traits among us. Most importantly, we have to be crazy to come up with the things we write about.
But you might be a writer if you have more story ideas in your head or even on little bits of sticky paper than you will ever have time to write. Continue reading →