Freelance editor and RU contributor Heather Webb tackles part one of a series on Character Motivation. Mark your calendars – she’ll be back with part two on January 3, 2014.
I wrote a post at The Debutante Ball last week about wrestling with our inner critics and it got me to thinking. Those inner critics help shape our goals and motivations. And wouldn’t they, in turn, shape the goals and motivations of our characters? HELL YES!
Let’s look at those types of inner critics and use them to our advantage.
The Ruler-Wielding Schoolmarm:
She believes you can be perfect. She has no qualms about making you redo that shizzle ONE MORE FREAKIN’ TIME. And if you don’t? There will be hell to pay in the form of bloody knuckles. Her standards are so high that only once in a school year can you reach her pinnacle of greatness—a smile and a nod and then BACK ON THE HORSE. Her favorite form of criticism: delivering a long list of “what if” situations as consequences that make you sweat, i.e. what if this book sucks, what if I never get an agent, what if it never sells, what if I don’t have a career in publishing because I’m a big fat poser.
The Ball-Busting Bully:
She thinks you suck at everything. She doesn’t care if you’ve reworked your novel to seeming perfection—you still have fat thighs, I mean fatty prose, in need of trimming. She will suck your positive energy dry until one day, your writing machine grinds to a halt. That’s her ultimate goal. To make sure you know that you aren’t good enough and never will be. Standards don’t matter. There are none. Her favorite form of criticism: to prey upon any weakness, no matter how small, like the flesh-eating undead.
The Ego-Stroking Princess:
She canoodles you. Is that a word? Who cares! You must be on to some amazing break through because she knows deep down you are better than everyone else. So she pushes you to send that manuscript out with the 1812 Overture smashing in your head. Before it’s ready (you find out later). Standards? She sets them for you AND EVERYONE ELSE, because her bar is just…well, hers and it’s the best. Her favorite form of criticism: blaming everyone else when your manuscript doesn’t sell. Your crit partner should have caught that, those eds/agents just don’t get your work, they don’t have good taste. You’ll show them!
The Yogi Zen-Meister:
She makes you take a deep breath. Then relax into a sun salutation and channel that karmic flow into your fingers. She believes you can write whatever you like, as long as you find your center. She is at peace because she knows you can’t control much and her standards are all about trusting yourself. Her favorite form of criticism: you’re too stressed/anxious/self-indulged to find your rhythm.
Each critic arises from different motives for different types of people. Now, think about your protagonist and answer these questions:
• Which of these critics does his/her inner demon resemble?
• How is your protagonist like you? Different from you? Highlight those differences and similarities in gesture, thoughts, the way your protag dresses.
• How does this voice make your character feel about themselves? How can you portray these feelings in the context of the narrative through metaphors, your character’s emotional view of their environment, and directly through dialogue?
• How does this voice shape their actions? Does your protag lash out? Do they hunker down in fear? Do they dash heedlessly into traffic?
I suppose that inner critic isn’t all bad after all, eh? Examining ourselves teaches us how to examine our characters and from there, it’s “only” just writing.
Stay tuned for part two in the Character Motivation series scheduled for January 3rd in which we’ll look at character action and how it reflects motivation.
Do these inner critics ring a bell with you? Which one gives you the most trouble?
On Friday, author ALLY BROADFIELD discusses “That Throwaway First Book.”
Bio:As a freelance editor, Heather spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found twittering helpful links, sharing writing advice and author interviews on her blog Between the Sheets, or teaching novel writing in her community. Her favorite haunts are right here at the fabulous Romance University.org and the award-winning WriterUnboxed.com where she poses as Twitter mistress. She may also be found at The Debutante Ball, a site about the journey to publication for debut novelists.
Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE: A NOVEL, has already been featured in The Wall Street Journal and releases as a lead title from Plume/Penguin December 31, 2013.
- Character Motivation Part Two—Discerning Motivation, Actions, Goals with Heather Webb
- Manuscript Readiness with Heather Webb
- Weekly Lecture Schedule Dec 30-Jan 3
- It’s All in the Voice (Part 2) by Heather Webb
- Editor Heather Webb – Making Characters Unforgettable a.k.a. Character Arc