We've been talking a lot lately on creating memorable characters. You can't really start a book without them. You may have a wonderful idea for a plot. For instance, a family goes on a camping trip. During a particularly strenous hike, Mother sits down on a fallen log and says, "I'll wait here." The rest of the family goes on. They hike to the end of the trail, snap a few pictures of the magnificent vista and come back. Mother isn't on the log. Nonplussed, they hike back to the campsite figuring she's there preparing a snack. She isn't. They talk to the neighboring campers and then the park authorities. Several hours have passed and everyone is starting to panic. Mother doesn't have any money with her. None of her clothes or personal belongings are missing. What could've happened to her?
Sounds good, huh? But I am a firm believer that before I pursue this storyline, I must create captivating characters for all this to happen to. Who is Mother? Is she the type of person who would wander off to sketch a landscape without thinking what her family is going through? Is she having trouble with Dad? What kind of secrets does he have? And what about the boyfriend of the angst-ridden teenage daughter who got into a huge fight with her parents because he wasn't invited along on the trip?
You will never convince me characters don't come first. Here's another trick I've used with great success for outlining characters and their motivations.
For this one you will need a handful of note cards. 12 to be exact. On the first one write your hero or heroine's name. You can start as simply as WHO IS MICHELLE? List anything and everything you can think of to describe Michelle. How would you describe her in a police profile? Tall? Thin? Square face? Brown hair with chestnut highlights? Get as descriptive as you want.
Don't forget education, where she falls in the family dynamic, quirks, fears, insecurities. The list can go on and on if you like.
Second card: WHAT DOES MICHELLE WANT? You get the idea.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR MICHELLE TO REACH HER GOALS?
ANTAGONIST? This card should have as much info or more as the one about your heroine. Descriptions and quirks.
WHAT IS CONFLICT?
WHAT DOES MICHELLE DO ABOUT CONFLICT?
WHAT DO MICHELLE'S STRUGGLES LEAD TO?
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF HER ACTIONS?
WHAT IS THE CLIMAX?
WHAT IS THE STORY'S OUTCOME?
WHAT IS THE THEME?
Fill in these cards as specifically as possible. Not only will you learn more about your heroine and her motivations than you realized, you'll have a huge outline for the storyline without even realizing you've done so much work. Keep these in mind and I'll see you next time when my friend Molly Noble Bull will be here discussing openings.