Posted On April 19, 2017 by Print This Post

3 Character Tips from a Writing Craft Geek by Melinda Curtis

Help me welcome Melinda Curtis and how to create unforgettable characters. Welcome Melinda!

I’m a writer, an admitted writing craft geek and something of a psychology geek (1 course short of being a psych minor). In my continuing quest to hone my craft, I stumbled on a paper about emotional wounds and how to help a patient heal. This paper categorized emotional wounds into 18 different types – things like abandonment, approval-seeking, failure, etc. The more I researched the psychology behind wounds, the more I found them to be incredibly helpful in laying the foundation of great backstory, believable emotional conflict, and satisfying character growth. A writer’s job is never easy, but this made it easier for me.

My writing friends wanted to understand my newly found speed for building characters, so I began distilling the information into spreadsheets, but they wanted examples. I began applying what I knew about wounds to characters in movies, TV and books. Suddenly, I had pages and pages of usable stuff that didn’t make my writing friends’ heads explode. Why? Because it was easily digestible. Frankly, my dear…Creating Unforgettable Characters was born! My geek was unleashed!

Frankly, my dear…Creating Unforgettable Characters contains a brief overview of conflict and belief construction that leads to 18 chapters – one for each wound. Each wound can manifest itself in 3 different ways, which means there are 54 different ideas for characters – all of which have examples from books, TV and movies. In fact, there are over 100 examples in the book spanning Disney princesses to Star Wars icons.

Here’s one example of a character wound – Abandonment – and how it might be brought to life.

Imagine being abandoned abruptly or let down repeatedly by someone close to you, someone you’re supposed to be able to rely on. This painful, unexpected loss and/or repeated instability creates an expectation that relationships will be unreliable or end badly.

Characters with the Abandonment wound may look through a mental viewfinder tinged with the belief that they can’t rely on others for emotional support, a close connection, or protection. They may watch for signs that someone they have a relationship with is about to leave–a partner/friend/family member could become sick and die, unpredictably disappear, or leave them for someone else. They may believe they’re safe with friends or significant others if they keep their guard up and their feelings locked away. They may not even realize they’re protecting themselves this way.

Characters wounded by Abandonment may feel anxiety or sadness about the possibility of losing people, depression when there is a loss (real or perceived), and/or anger at the people who left them. Abandonment is outer directed–Nothing is wrong with me, but people will let me down.

Abandonment can manifest itself in one of three ways. Consider these examples:

  • Think of Marlin (Albert Brooks) in Finding Nemo. He survived an attack on the edge of the reef and smothered Nemo, his only child, to keep him close. At the beginning of the movie, Marlin is fighting the fear of abandonment.
  • Think of Becca (Anna Kendrick) in Pitch Perfect and how she keeps everyone at arm’s length after her parents’ divorce. At the beginning of the movie, Becca avoids relationships to avoid being abandoned again.
  • Think of Loretta (Cher) in Moonstruck, the young widow who wanted to get married again, but didn’t want to love again for fear of being hurt. At the beginning of the movie, Loretta is convinced she’ll be left one way or another. She’s surrendered to the inevitability of abandonment.

Do you see how the wound creates a belief or rule to live by? If you’re writing a character hung-up by Abandonment, you can use this information to make them behave consistently and with motivation. Along the way, characters with Abandonment need to believe in the stability of relationships if you plan on having them grow and change.

The word “wound” can be intimidating. But applying wounds to characters doesn’t mean you have to write a tear-jerker, just look at the examples above. Adding wounds to your writer toolbox increases your odds of creating a character with an opportunity to grow and change throughout the course of the story.

I love collecting examples. Can you think of a character from a book, TV show or movie that has Abandonment as part of their backstory?

Abandonment is just one wound brought to life in three different ways. If you want to learn more about wounds and characters, get a copy of my book Frankly, my dear…Creating Unforgettable Characters.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2lj6RYb
BN: http://bit.ly/2mpTFxQ
iTunes: http://apple.co/2mXzQ4f
Kobo: http://bit.ly/2nlb3b5

Sign up for my Creating Unforgettable Characters email list here and receive a free digital download of the worksheets and reference guides.

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Bio: Melinda Curtis is an award-winning USA Today bestseller and author of over 35 romance novels and novellas. She writes sweet romance for Harlequin Heartwarming, sweet romantic comedy novellas and sexy contemporary romances. Before a career in writing, she worked with psychologists and cultural anthropologists to develop product labeling consumers couldn’t resist at the shelf. Her latest fiction releases are Love, Special Delivery, a sweet romance in her Harlequin Heartwarming Harmony Valley series, and A Kiss is Just a Kiss, a sweet romantic comedy novella in her Bridesmaids series (part of the RT Magnolias and Moonshine promotion).

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7 Responses to “3 Character Tips from a Writing Craft Geek by Melinda Curtis”

  1. I love this post. Great info, great examples.

    For me, I think a classic example of abandonment is Hester Prynne in the Scarlett Letter. Her husband abandons her by sending her to the New World without him and then not following (I know that’s not exactly accurate, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers for the three people who haven’t read the book). Then the town abandons her when they find evidence of her sin. It’s a double whammy.

    A modern example is Dean and Sam in Supernatural. Their father leaves them to go “hunting” but then doesn’t return and barely communicates. This sets up years of them trying to keep people at a distance. And when they do let people in, they inevitably lose them anyway (because of the nature of their jobs).

    Posted by Staci Troilo | April 19, 2017, 9:33 am
  2. Staci, that is spot on!

    Posted by Melinda Curtis | April 19, 2017, 12:27 pm
  3. I had a fiction professor at the University of Oklahoma (in the time of Foster-Harris, Jack Bickham (author of the Apple Dumpling Gang series), and Dwight Swain.

    The professor proposed a theory that writing is a highly-stylized form of drawing, and that the principles of drawing including light, movement, shading, and so forth, applied. He also proposed that the purpose of fiction was to turn the drawing over to solve the problems, answer the questions.

    I’ve said all of this to note that I, too, had–HAD–an interest in psychology. I have a minor in it. The way that psychology applies to my professor’s theory is that my psychology studies were take in the late 60s to 1970. Here’s the point: my abnormal psych described the dark side of the human psyche. (I propose that the psyche is the human soul.) But in 2017 America, my abnormal psych studies are virtually obsolete. Today, the abnormal psychology of 1970 is pretty normal today. Pain in sex is seen as desirable for some–perhaps many. Cold blooded murder may have mitigating circumstances that make it okay. Suicidal thoughts are okay. Suicide is okay. You, as a health professional, can assist in suicide. It’s okay to kill babies–that matter is described in political, not moral, terms.

    So there you have it: my professor’s theory about turning over the narrative to solve the problems has been pretty well proven. Unfortunately.

    Posted by Jim Porter | April 19, 2017, 1:54 pm
  4. Afternoon Melinda!

    Great post! I do struggle with giving my character wounds….I want them all to be okay and be happy..lol…but that doesn’t make for a good story.

    I think Tyrion from Game of Thrones probably has abandonment issues…his sister and father blamed him for his mother’s death, and basically tortured the little thing. His lover became his father’s lover in the end, and he could never quite believe someone so beautiful would love him for himself.

    And she didn’t. =(

    Thanks for a great post!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Peters | April 19, 2017, 2:33 pm
  5. Really enjoyed the post. Love it when you can take ideas away.

    Posted by Barbara | April 20, 2017, 6:56 am

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