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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don't Eat Cardboard

In this post NaNo world & with my lessons firmly in mind, I came across David Corbett's article in the January issue of Writer's Digest. Rather than create 2D, cardboard, paper doll characters, writers need to develop fully formed individuals that live, breathe, eat, go to the bathroom people. One way to get from pale to compel is to employ the Emotion-Driven Method. Here's the shopping list....

I Vant Somezing - Characters need a need. The primary goal is the driving force for the individual. Take Ebeneezer Scrooge. In the opening scene, he wants to be left alone with his misery. He desires the status quo & is not a friend of change. As he moves through his ghostly encounters, change becomes his goal. He changes because his ambitions change. The transformation story.

I'm not telling - Secrets. We all have secrets & so too our characters. This secret can be a character flaw or a past event whose revelation brings about change or not. Ebeneezer brings us both. His flaw - greed. His secret - lost love. The 1st is revealed through action & dialogue. The 2nd is demonstrated by the Ghost of Christmas Past. However, the two are connected; his lost love transforms into greed due to his fear of loss.

Flip-flops - The human condition is fraught with contradiction. The single mother who gives her last dollar to a homeless person on the street. The sports star with the nasty habit. When the stress is spinning the roulette wheel to a high crescendo, then these contradictions come to light. When Bob Marley first appears, Scrooge cowers & whimpers. For all the tough exterior, he is a man afraid - deep inside. As he trips through the night, he overcomes his fear. By the 3rd ghost, he's all, "Fine, bring it on. What ya got?" Of course, Dickens said it better.

I don't need your help - A wounded bird, a trapped deer, a lost puppy. The vulnerability of these creatures draws on our emotional strings. And, wounded characters make for intense connection. When Scrooge first hits the page, we don't feel for him. We feel for Bob Cratchit; poor guy working for that jerk! As the story unfolds, Dickens shows us the vulnerability at the heart of Scrooge. By the time he hits the Cratchit's, we take a measure of pride in seeing him through.

I loved paper dolls as a kid, but really I loved Barbie better. Aside from her unrealistic nature, she had all the cool stuff. The penthouse, the convertible, the hot tub. And of course, that hanger-on, Ken. Then came sister Skipper - jeez, she needed more furniture for these couch surfers! When it seemed like it couldn't get any worse, she got a host of kids. Personally, I always thought her affair with GI Joe was the reason, but hey, Ken stuck it out. Besides, Joe had his missions, wink-wink. And there you have it - a need, a secret, some flip-flops & a sugar daddy.

Happy Writing,



  1. Interesting thoughts about characters! They do play a part in making a good character.

  2. What a great post. It's so true, writers need to make each character have 3D emotions and traits. You have such a wonderful way of describing stuff.

  3. Eagle,
    Thanks!! It's one of my areas for improvement, so I had to do it.

    Thank you so much. Working on my 3d models.


  4. *hee* barbie rocked! Even if she was totally wrong proportion wise

    BirthRight The Arrival, on Amazon 1.1.2011

  5. Nicole,
    I agree. She definitely had some of the best toys of my childhood.

  6. I miss Writer's Digest! Thanks for the summary and these excellent tips.

  7. These are such great tips, complete with accents. Nice!

  8. Karen,
    I look forward to gettin my copy. It's my little writing primer!! Glad I could share.

    Thanks. The accents don't even cost extra!! LOL