Author Adite Banerjie joins us today to share her process on writing a character driven story.
Welcome back, Adite!
I have often been accused of writing stories that are plot-driven. And I plead guilty as charged!
Blame it on my training in screenwriting, a medium where action is more important than words. As a screenwriter you learn to steer clear of emotions that are not “actionable” or do not push the story forward. So much so that writing introspective points-of-view that require digging deep into character motivations makes me break in a cold sweat.
When I started writing my second book, Trouble has a New Name for Harlequin’s Indian Author Collection Series, I decided to face-off with my fear of developing character-driven stories.
Here’s a quick and easy roundup of my journey and the lessons I learned along the way.
Going for the K.I.S.S.
As far as plot was concerned, I would go with the KISS. And I don’t mean the hot, bone-melting, tongue-tango kind. Rather, the Keep It Simple Strategy. My strategy would be to create a logline (or premise) that was not too complicated and didn’t involve too many twists and turns in the plot.
Easier said than done—because I’m obsessive when it comes to outlining. Every beat, scene, turning point in the plot needs to be laid out in vivid detail.
After struggling with the KISS for weeks, I still couldn’t work out a single premise that was free of plot complications.
Lesson Learned #1: Start with the character and not the premise.
Taking inspiration from Chick-lit
Now that I knew I was going about KISS the wrong way, I decided on a new tack. Since my focus was on writing a character-driven story, I would begin with my Heroine. I turned to the chick-lit genre for inspiration. Heck, that wasn’t going to be any easier! Though I love the frothiness of a chick-lit, I’m not terribly fond of first person narratives. Sure, it makes you get deeper under the skin of the character, but the obsession with skin-deep stuff—brands, makeover and make-outs—wasn’t really my kind of writing. Call me old-fashioned but I love those sweeping romantic sagas that make you sigh and swoon. Yet, I so admire the frothy, light-hearted, fresh appeal of the chick-lit. Well, that’s me…mixed up!
Lesson Learned #2: Focus on characterizations rather than the writing style.
Mixing and Matching
I struggled to keep the confusion at bay that was turning my brain into mush. What use was a strategy without characters or plot? And since Sophie Kinsella’s quirky heroines were still doing their merry little dance in my head, I decided to create my own goofy heroine.
Here’s what I came up with: Rayna Dutt, an up-and-coming model is a firm believer of Murphy’s laws which she calls Rayna’s Book of Immutable Laws (RBIL). More often than not these laws come back to bite her in the butt.
As Rayna’s character began to take shape, I discovered something totally fascinating…Rayna’s ‘impulsive’ character trait was beginning to drive some of the situations that would land her in trouble. And her ‘immutable laws’ were providing the plot points. Here’s a little illustration:
RBIL #3 Turbulence, emotional turmoil and tequila make for a lethal combination.
She leaped out of her seat, hand clamped hard against her mouth and dashed for the washroom. But one of her flip-flops caught the back of the seat and she flailed her arms to grab something—anything. Just then the stewardess emerged, balancing a tray containing a pitcher of orange juice and savoury snacks. Rayna clutched at the hostess’s arm as she desperately tried to save herself from hitting the floor of the plane face first and throwing up at the same time. But the pitcher had no such luck. It headed southwards and Rayna cringed as its contents splashed all over Mr. Deductive Logic. She heard him mutter a savage curse and then felt his strong arm steady her. Breaking free, she made it to her destination and threw up into the toilet bowl in the nick of time. Hey Bhagwan! (Oh God!) She was living her worst nightmare ever!
Lesson Learned #3: Use character traits to develop situations that would move the story forward.
Doing it Upside Down
Once I had the character traits down for Rayna – feisty, independent, impulsive with a penchant for getting into trouble – coming up with her motivation was a breeze. She is motivated by pride and when in trouble seeks out face saving solutions.
Next stop: Premise. Before I knew it, I had a logline that went something like this….
Flying to the Andaman Islands for her best friend’s big fat wedding couldn’t happen at a worse time for recently-dumped Rayna Dutt. Perhaps the handsome hotelier Neel Arora can come to her rescue?
Lesson Learned #4: Upside down (premise after character) works!
Best of Both Worlds
Once the characters had been sketched out, I went back to devising a beat sheet. Yeah, old habits die hard. The only difference was this time, it was not a detailed beat sheet but a few essential plot points that would help me keep track as I wrote my first draft.
As I started writing, it all began to come together. The novel was turning out to be a frothy, fun novel with the humor-tinged voice of a chick-lit but the luscious body of a romance! 😉
Life had been amazingly spectacular ever since Neel had stormed back into it. Rayna had taken permanent residence on cloud nine. And she had a new and vastly improved Book of Immutable Laws that she’d renamed the Love Nirvana Book.
Rule #1: When you’re with your Mr. Right nothing can go wrong!
Lesson Learned #5: Follow your character to create your story. Thanks, Rayna Dutt, for showing your author the way!
What challenges you in your writing and how you deal with it?
Amy Alessio returns tomorrow with more reading recommendations and author Marilyn Brant joins us on Monday, August 11th.
Trouble Has A New Name (Mills & Boon Indian Author Collection)
Will you pretend to be my fiancé for the next few days?
Recently single model Rayna Dutt does not feel like flying to her friend’s big fat Indian wedding. But she does—and when a mix-up with room allocation forces her to share a luxury villa on Emerald Isle with the gorgeous owner of the hotel Neel Arora, best man at the wedding, things begin to look up.
Until Rayna’s ex turns up with a new girl on his arm!
Hitting the panic button, Rayna searches for a solution. Surely Neel wouldn’t mind being her fake fiancé…? In an instant the attraction they share is at fever-pitch, but when scandal comes calling Rayna soon finds herself in more trouble than she can handle!
Bio: Adite Banerjie is a screenwriter and published author. Growing up in a home with a filmmaker dad who worked in the world’s largest film industry (yes, Bollywood!) and a voracious reader for a mom, it was inevitable she would fall in love with both films and books.
She turned to fiction writing after a fulfilling and exciting career as a business journalist. When she penned her first romantic short story, she won the Harlequin India Passions Aspiring Authors Contest (2012). Her debut title, The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal, based on the winning short story, came out in September 2013. Her second title (Trouble Has a New Name) is now available as an e-book internationally and in paperback and e-book formats in India.
Adite lives in New Delhi, India, with her writer husband, mother and their adorable Irish Setter. She would be delighted to hear from her readers at http://www.aditebanerjie.com. Amazon Profile Pinterest Facebook Twitter
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – August 4 – August 9th
- The Making of an Accidental Author with Adite Banerjie
- An Educational 12 Months with Escape Publishing Managing Editor Kate Cuthbert
- How to Save Your Story from Slumping in the Middle by the Writer’s Relief Staff
- M is for – Motivation with Laurie Schnebly