August 11, 2009

Five

When I woke up today, I was craving a hamburger.

No -- not just a hamburger, a cheeseburger with so much cheese it would drip cheddar down onto the table.

Have you ever had that happen? Wake up and just be craving a certain kind of food? (And no, to squash any possible speculation. I'm not preggers.)

So I waited until lunchtime and fired up George - my electric grill, you do the math - and worked up a delicious patty of ground beef and plopped it on George for him to do the work.

While I was waiting, I did the hamburger dance and cleaned a bit. George moves fast, but sometimes I get so impatient.

When the time for the burger to be done, I lifted the lid and looked down and it just appeared to be perfect. It was juicy and had the grill marks and smelled divine. I flipped the burger off the grill, loaded it up with extra sharp cheddar and just the tiniest portion of sour cream.

I tossed a light salad to eat with it and sat down to ENJOY this burger I had been dreaming about all morning.

I took in a deep breath, picked it up, and sunk my teeth into its deliciousness.

And then promptly spit it out.

The burger was completely raw inside. Somehow, for reasons I don't even understand, George failed me.

And I've always treated him so well!

The outside looked perfect, but the inside was completely disgusting.

Then I realized it's a lot like that with characters. So often in writing we create these characters who seem like the perfect fit for what we want. They have flaws - just the right ones for the situation. They have strengths - but we're careful not to make them perfect.

We pour our hearts and souls into these characters and some of us writers use character sheets and method writing and a thousand ways to get to know each and every one of their characteristics and on paper, they appear to be just right.

But then it comes time to write them and sometimes we just struggle. We find that they're not doing what we want them to do and sometimes it feels so forced to write a scene because in your heart, you know that your character wouldn't do this.

So then you have to go to the inside of the matter and find out their motivations. You have to figure out why they do what they do and what made them have that personality.

Sure you can have a surly bad boy who loves kittens and works in a motorcycle shop, but never swears even though the only music he listens to is Metallica. And you can laugh and grin because you know that is just perfect for the story you're having.

But your readers want to know why. They want to know what made him love kittens and why he doesn't swear. What's his motivation?

So you can build the perfect character in your writing, but until you know why they do what they do? It's just raw meat.

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