Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday Writerly Ways~ Investing Readers

First I'd like to thank Deniz Bevan over at her blog, The Girdle of Melian, for the inspiration for this blog. In one of her blogs she asked the question... how to make the reader care about the main characters? Poor Deniz, she did a slash and burn on her manuscript. That's when you cut apart the book you are writing losing large chunks of it if not whole chapters like she did.

That got me thinking how do people become invested in main character? Investing a reader means to care what happens to a character, to empathize with them. Similarities that the reader can relate to instantly came to mind as I answered her. But it is deeper than that. You have to know the character inside and out so you will know how the character will react to any given situation. Under my PAGES to the right you'll find a section called "Lesson-Know Your Character" my character sketch is an example of how I define my main character in a story. This one is for my novel, Surviving Hank. I go into great detail about the character "Cassie." Aw heck, why flip back and forth like me -I'll just copy it here.

Character Profile Worksheet


Basic Statistics
Name: Cassie Reidman
Age: 35
Nationality: White
Socioeconomic Level as an adult: Poverty level or close to it.
Hometown: Oakville, born and raised.
Current Residence: 46 Madison Street, Oakville, GA at the intersection of Madison and Jackson Avenue
Occupation: Manufactured home builder- insulation team
Income: $467 per week, small inheritance $5K from Grandmother which is almost exhausted from her legal battles with ex-husband.
Talents: hand embroiders wedding dresses
Birth order: Only child
Spouse: Ex husband Hank Gardener, his towards her-openly hostile.  Hers towards him-indifference.
Children (describe relationship): Tommy Gardner, excellent
Grandparents (describe relationship) : both deceased, fantastic relationship with grandmother (Avis) who passed away two years ago of heart attack at age 75, (Jeremy) passed away 20 years ago from industrial accident at Cornerstone Homes, electric saw short-circuited and electrocuted him.
Parents:deceased in car accident ten years ago while driving her to the hospital in labor, Crystal and Henry Reidman, father was professor at Swainsboro Technical College taught welding, mother was homemaker
Significant Others: None, doesn’t date although many have asked. Doesn’t want a repeat of Hank.  Relationship with Les Brubacker after ex’s murder
Relationship skills: Introvert
Looks/Personal
Physical Characteristics: athletic build, busty, average in looks, muscular arms and legs from running
Height: 5’4”
Weight: 120 lbs
Race: white
Eye Color: blue-gray like storm clouds
Hair Color: mousy brown, short, shaggy hair cut.
Glasses or contact lenses? none
Skin color: pale but slightly tanned during summer
Shape of Face: heart shaped
Distinguishing features: Mole over left lip, considers this a beauty mark. 2” faded scar above right eyebrow from accident which killed her parents.
How does he/she dress? mainly jeans and t-shirts, sundresses and sandals. Has a scandalous black mini dress in the back of her closet which she is afraid to wear.
Mannerisms: Clicks tongue in disgust, rolls eyes in disbelief, will flip her hair back in anger, will run her hands through her short, shaggy hair when frustrated.
Habits: (smoking, drinking etc.) bad habit- occasional drink, a beer with friends.
Health: perfect health, sick with childhood diseases like chicken pox, measles, and mumps.
Hobbies: Healing sick animals, reads romances, loves to cook
Favorite Sayings: “Kiss my grits!” Flo from “Alice” TV show she watched in 1985 as a kid, now empathizes with the Alice character as a single mother. A.A. Milline’s Pooh character, “Oh bother.”
Speech patterns: southern, drops “g” in “ing”, gonna, ain’t, fixin’ to, and a lot of slang
Style: Neat, but not fashionable. Down to Earth.

Greatest flaw: Too big of a heart and can’t say “no.”Graduated from high school only to her father’s disappointment. Wants to get away from Oakville but is afraid of moving.

Best quality: Her smile. Genuine and smiles with her whole body language.  Believes in college for her son. She reads constantly.
Background:
Intelligence Level: 12th grade. Well read. Attending college via internet for Business Administration.
Any Mental Illnesses? None except temporary insanity in marrying Hank
Learning Experiences: Take everything you hear with a grain of salt, reserve judgment, treat others like you want to be treated.
Character's short-term goals in life: graduate from business school, see justice done by her ex, survival.
Character's long-term goals in life: How does Character see himself/herself? Cassie sees herself in a dead-end job, too little education to go higher in any career, thinks with a degree she can get a better paying job and helping others.
How is Character perceived by others? She’s wonderful, helpful, dependable
How self-confident is the character? Struggles with confidence issues
Does the character seem ruled by emotion or logic or some combination? Ruled by emotions tempered with logic.
What would most embarass this character? Public scrutiny.
Emotional Characteristics Strengths/Weaknesses: Very introverted, shy, can’t take a compliment. Has conviction that she can graduate from college. She’s a peace maker and avoids conflicts.
How does the character deal with anger?  She mostly outwardly stuffs it and lets it brew inside.
With sadness? She cries then gets angry with herself for crying because it’s a waste of time.
With conflict? Heads it off at the beginning most times, but mostly tries to avoid conflicts at any cost.  She’s a coaster.
With change? With loss? Heart sick with loss. Avoids change with fear
What does the character want out of life? A better life for her son. Graduate from college. Really wants to be a vet, but settles for working with people.
What would the character like to change in his/her life? Of course wouldn’t everyone?
What motivates this character? Her son and hurt animals.
What frightens this character? Death and leaving her son to be raised by his father.  She hates fire.  She hates guns, but buys one as a last resort.
What makes this character happy? She takes pride in her son’s accomplishments, is embarrassed by her own, cooking a new recipe and it coming out perfect,
Is the character judgmental of others? No. The only exception is her ex husband and that’s more making him do right by his son.
Is the character generous or stingy? Too generous
Is the character generally polite or rude? Very polite to all
Spiritual Characteristics?  Christian believer.  Has firm faith and foundation. Prays, attends church, studies her bible, active participant in church functions.
Favorite book genre- historical romance, action, murder mysteries.
Favorite author- Barbara Taylor Bradford & Anya Seton
Favorite music/artist- Contemporary Christian- Third Day & Jars of Clay
Character’s Position in story- Protagonist
          Scene where character first appears: 1st chapter POV


Relationships with other characters:
1. Hank Gardener: -- Her ex husband, married in lust and then found his true nature and left while newly pregnant with their son. Actually, she wants nothing to do with him.  She just wants him to abide by the court ordered child support of $50 a week.  This is a necessity in her life to pay bills.  Deadbeat dad. He is murdered.
2. Tommy Gardner: -- son.  Cherishes him, but does not spoil him. Reprimands with firm hand and earns respect from him. Loving and protecting from his dead-beat dad.  Is 5’4” tall until confronted with something which hurts her son and then can be 10’ tall and in your face.
3. Les Brubacker: -- Detective with Johnson County sheriff’s office investigating the murder of Hank Gardner.  She is attracted to him, but she is also the suspect of her ex husband’s murder.
4. Wills Conners: -- Cassie’s attorney.  He’s made a mint in all the contempt charges Cassie has brought against her husband in the past ten years.  Relationship is friendly and good. He constantly asks her for dates.
 So who would be interested in a character like this and why? I always start with this because it's my target market of readers. From this it helps me make a decision where to start. I got a degree in marketing and I still use it so sue me. No, not really please.

  • It's a southern fiction because of where it happens and the dialect.
  • Women-because I write women's fiction. God, I hate that term.
  • Ex-wives of dead beat dads.
  • Someone looking for romance but not overly romantic sort.
Since this is a suspense the action or investing qualities have to begin right up front. I can just about start anywhere.
  • I can start with Cassie going to court against her dead beat dad ex husband for nonsupport. I'd make the readers  aware that this isn't the first time. How many ex-wives of dead beat dads couldn't relate to that?
  • I could start with the murder of the ex-husband. That would definitely be exciting with her protesting her innocence. Who couldn't relate to that? Wouldn't anyone really want a dead beat dad, worthless human being out of the way?
  • I could start it in a jail cell after she's been arrested. With misery, despair, and worry about her son. What mother couldn't relate to that? It pulls at the heartstrings.
I chose to start the story with the first one. To show what she's had to endure up to this point. With the actual murder occurring in chapter two. The reader is then drawn into a conflict that many ex-wives face. They feel sympathy for her having to go through this charade of a court system against a dead beat dad with money and power behind him. They root for her to get revenge against this tyrant and hope there won't be a backlash, but I wouldn't have a story if there wasn't some kind of backlash, now would I?

Sometimes a writer will write a dozen chapters or more only to find the beginning is not right. I've done that and still sometime do that. I prefer the scientific or methodical approach when writing fiction... rough expandable outline, and character sketches. The story will follow.

Any beginning you choose remember...
  • Make the reader feel the same punch in the gut, elation, or whatever the character feels. Use all the senses.
  • Define the problem.
  • What's at stake or consequences of the action.
  •  Make a reader relate on some level of their subconscious mind.
Keep writing and loving the Lord.


4 comments:

S.P. Bowers said...

Wow, I can't do those character sheets. I usually have some info written down but mostly it's in my head.

J.L. Murphey said...

Ah but Sara,
If it's all in your head...if you get stuck while writing you can't see the forest for the trees. When I keep it in my head and write that when the character starts yelling at me. I'll do five of these full sheets and a dozen mini sheets per the characters in a book. Mainly the characters you see listed above are full sheets except for the ex-husband because he dies in chapter 2, but I still need his history to justify everyone else's opinion of him.

My character studies actually contain pictures and floor plans of houses, where they work, type of cars they drive, etc. Even a photo of someone who matches a written description of the character. So I can actually look through their eyes. That way I can write as if I'm actually there with them. Like Johnna said in B&W, I can put the reader in the room with the characters.

Debra Giuffrida said...

I love this Jo! I usually do what Sara does...it's all in the head, except I do try and find a photo of someone that looks like how I think my character looks. I am going to sit down and do a character profile of my heroine in my romance...she needs help and maybe if I do it I can write her...she's my tough nut. Thank Jo!

J.L. Murphey said...

Debra,
I found early on in writing fiction that characters are the key. How easy is it to write about yourself are a friend? Pretty easy because you know them inside and out. The most common problem writers have is 2 dimensional or wooden characters. How do you solve this problem as a writer? You write a character sketch so you can refer back to them.