Who’d’ve Thought?

The other day I finally sat down with the intention of getting organized. It has been more than a month since I last worked with my novel, yet during that time I have been endlessly thinking about where I had last left off. I was in the midst of a chase scene in Chapter 3, and the protagonist had just evaded her pursuer.

When I thought about what came next, I was stumped. What would she do? Where would she go? How was this going to become what screenwriters call “the doorway,” the decision that would set the plot into motion and lead to the inevitable climax?

Characters need motivation of course, and they also need to be tested. “People change” is the fleshy heart of every story, and the degree to which this happens–the more challenging the path they take–the more satisfying the story.

It feels a little late in the game to be doing this, but I am now diligently studying every character I read or watch: Ron Woodruff, Don Draper, Dorian Gray (a part of my library resolution), Saul Goodman, Riggan Thompson, Jerry Seinfeld, Ron Swanson, Hannah Horvath–in fact, one of the more inspiring moments came as a result of watching Lena Dunham’s commentary at the end of each episode of Girls. The way she talks about the characters as if they were real people was a revelation to me, something I knew writers did but never actually believed, and it demonstrated just what I was lacking in my own relationship with China Bexlan.

I used to dismiss the idea of outlining my character as somehow inauthentic.

“She will take shape,” past me thought. “You just need to allow for it.”

What the naive writer above failed to remember was that you need to know what it is you’re allowing for. If you’re still working on your first novel, the process of carrying a character through the time and space of 80,000 words requires more than just serendipity.

Two simple questions: Who is she? How does she change?

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