Last month, I read Flirting With Fire by Kyra Jacobs. What I particularly liked about it was that the heroine didn’t start off as the resolute woman that she ended as. She grew and changed as a person as the story progressed. This is a very hard thing to write as you want characters to be appealing, but they may well start off as flawed, so I asked Kyra to share her insights on character development:
Thank you, Kathy, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog this month. Today I’d like to share some of my insights on character development. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m no expert on the subject—far from it! But with each book I write, the concept of character development gets a bit easier. Hopefully today, this post will help make it easier for you, too.
Goal. Motivation. Conflict.
If you’re a writer, you’ve likely heard how critical solid GMC’s are for your novel. As a new writer, I often found myself going back and trying to strengthen each. Were the goals believable? Did my character(s) have sufficient motivation to walk into the face of his/her conflict and decide to act the way they did?
The whole process after a while was, in a word, exhausting.
Worse yet, at the end of the day I still didn’t know if readers would even LIKE my characters. Solid GMC’s do not on their own equal warm fuzzy feelings towards your heroes and heroines. And if our readers don’t like our characters, what’s to say they’re going to spend their precious little free time enduring a story they aren’t connecting with?
Thankfully, somewhere in the midst of my edits, I stumbled across a terrific blog run by Janice Hardy. And on that particular day, she had posted an article entitled “The Inner Struggle: Guides for Using Inner Conflict That Make Sense.” The concept, she wrote, was based on Michael Hague’s Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories. Hague espouses using a story arc to guide “the growth of the protagonist over the course of the story” (though, truthfully, I think his story arc design could easily be used for just about any genre’s storyline). The arc serves as a tool for helping writers move their protagonists from living in fear, to living courageously.
Fear? I wondered. Fear of what? My heroines tend to be spunky, determined, and independent. What exactly did they have to fear besides maybe falling in love with the wrong guy?
According to Hague and Hardy, probably far more than I realized. The inner conflict story arc helped me see that. Now, I’m not going to go into too much detail on the formula (you can read Hardy’s wonderful overview yourself) but she said, “Major plot turning points are great moments to layer in the conflict by having the plot decisions conflict/hinge on something that also forces the character to grow.”
…the character to grow…
Our characters were supposed to grow, with everything else they had going on? Who knew?
Well, in about ten minutes my entire view on character development underwent a major transformation. No longer was I looking at a fictional, 2-D character with some vague past that was now faced with a major problem I had thrown their way. No, now I was digging deeper into who they really were. And to do that, I had to ask myself some tough questions:
- What did my characters really long for in the story?
- What past wound or hurt was an unhealed source of pain?
- How had that pain shaped their view of the world?
- What terrified them emotionally—was it that they might experience a similar pain again?
- In their attempt to avoid future pain, what false identify did they present to the world? And who was their true self, buried deep beneath all that emotional armor?
Once I better understood who my characters were and the fears that held them back from finding their happy place, I used Hague’s story arc template to design a plot that moved my characters from a life lived in fear to a life lived in full.
Did the template keep me from hem hawing about plot twists, or how exactly to shape each and every scene? No. But it did give me a much better view of where I planned to take the overall story from beginning to end.
Now before I type a word of a new novel, I sit down with a homegrown diagram I created for my own use based on Hague and Hardy’s advice. By the time it’s filled out, I know exactly who my characters are (and who they’re pretending to be), what they want, and what’s standing in the way of them getting it. All of that is plotted along the story arc, giving me a visual representation of what will become my characters’ development throughout the story. The diagram serves as a roadmap, and helps keep both me and the plot on track as I knock out my first draft.
It helps me allow my characters to grow.
This may look like a lot of work, but I’m telling you—it’s a whole lot easier to think through these concepts before you start writing a new storyline, than when you’re halfway through your first draft and hitting brick wall after brick wall with your plotline. If you can get to know your characters, to truly know them, then it’s easy to give them difficult goals, believable motivations, and difficult conflicts.
It’s like taking GMC and adding to them a whole lot of heart and soul. And isn’t that what our readers truly want to experience? Happy writing, everyone, and best of luck with your own character development.
About Flirting With Fire
Look, touch, but don’t fall in love.
Massage therapist Liz Williams lives by one rule: never date a client. A rule she’s never had trouble following until she lays hands on fireman playboy Torrunn MacKay. Trouble is, Liz’s sexy new client is dating her arch-rival at work…and has a strange habit of appearing just before the fire alarm sounds.
Firefighter Torrunn MacKay has got it made: killer job, downtown condo with a view, and hot blonde girlfriend with no more desire to tie the knot than he has. But the surprise attraction he feels toward his new masseuse is threatening to change all that. And what’s with the string of fires that seem to follow her everywhere?
Can Liz mind her table manners and keep Torrunn at arms’ length? Will Torrunn put his commitment fears aside to keep Liz safe? More than hearts will be in jeopardy when the two start Flirting with Fire.
CONTENT WARNING: Beware of darkened rooms, delicious firefighters, and desperate pyromaniacs.
Kyra Jacobs is an extroverted introvert who writes of love and mystery in the Midwest. When this Hoosier native is not pounding out scenes for her next book, she’s likely outside, elbow-deep in snapdragons or spending quality time with her sports-loving family. Kyra also loves golf, Guitar Hero, and thinking through plot twists while out on a good run. Be sure to stop by her website www.KyraJacobs.wordpress.com for links to connect with her on social media. Kyra lives in northern Indiana with her husband and two children.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KyraJacobsBooks
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/KyraJacobsBooks
- Website: http://www.KyraJacobs.wordpress.com
- Blog: http://www.IndianaWonderer.wordpress.com
- Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/Kyra_Jacobs