Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Unsympathetic heroes and character arcs

part five

I was kicking at Dead Gorgeous again, doing the free association thing (guess it's my version of fast draft) and wondering what the hell I meant to say.

I know where it's going, I know how to get there, but damned if Connor and Jacey aren't growing personalities. Linda Seger, in her book, Creating Unforgettable Characters, says when you create people who react consistently with the way they were formed it creates depth. In other words, when I gave Connor that crappy childhood, it messed with his head.

He's so damned unsympathetic, it's like there's a wall between him and the rest of the world--and he watches people but really doesn't care. Jacey is the same, only sideways. She took all her childhood experiences and stuffed them in a little bag and locked it away. She tries to pretend everything is fine, but it's not. Maybe she's got the whole braggadocio thing going to compensate, I dunno.

But here they are--two totally unlikeable people, who really don't like each other and from what Cowboy said, he wasn't a big fan either--put together in forced proximity ('cause I like forced proximity, lol...)so they're forced (I like the word "forced" too) to get along, because if they don't everyone they love will die.

...backing it up, how can they love, and how can I possibly use it as motivation if they're so detached? Lack of feeling isn't lack of understanding. Connor has problems feeling love for his brother, but he "knows" he has a problem. Like that old saying, fake it until you make it? Which makes me think that, okay--maybe these two people are total jerks. And maybe they aren't sympathetic now.

But that's what the growth of their character arc is, and that's where reading outside the box comes in, because until I thought about Joshua James' post on static characters, I'd almost totally forgotten that everyone starts as a static character.

It's how they are now.

Sure, it's the sum total of all the choices they've made to this point, and their environment, mind-set and worldview, but--I'm starting the opening sequence and Connor's a jerk, plain and simple. Yes, he has reasons for being a jerk, but until I show how he grows through being with Jacey and how Jacey grows through being with him, it's not a romance.

A romance, like Hague says, should be where the h/h see beyond the facade of identity to the person inside, and starting with jerks is just layering hard and upfront. It gives me the leeway to build a relationship based on more than just sex, because Jacey isn't about sex. For her, sex is the ultimate expression of trust. In a world where everyone isn't who they seem, her background makes her a target. So opening up (get your mind out of the gutter, Cowboy) on any level is hard. these are actually twin character arcs with matching emotional under-stories. They both start out unlikeable, begin to open up, and change through contact with each other to the point where they can and do feel emotion--which built my end for me. Because if Connor changes that much the only way I can end it is to see if he's willing to die for her.


Kaige said...

I really enjoyed poking around on Joshua James' site earlier, thanks for pointing it out.

I'm glad you think out loud like this. It helps you, and it helps me. You quoted Hague: the romance "should be where the h/h see beyond the facade of identity to the person inside". Yes. Now I just need to figure out how to better SHOW that instead of just TELLING it. *sigh*

Word count has been slow the past two days, but I know it's because I'm trying to dig deeper and explore more emotions and my characters have reached a deeper level of intimacy (yes, you can think dirty here, Cowboy!) than I've allowed myself or my characters to explore before.

Why must things stretch so uncomfortably the first time?

jodi said...


God, it's hard to explain. But let's take Brockmann as an example. In the beginning when she had things she wanted to write, she reached deep inside herself for things that were very very true. Since they came from inside, they came out strong.

A good example is the growth arc between Sam and Alyssa over the course of the early Troubleshooter books. As the realtionship built, she showed Sam messing up--and Alyssa getting mad, and Sam saying things that he really didn't mean to say, and Alyssa getting mad, but realizing ok--maybe it's just the way he is, and I need to dig deeper. Then Sam gets MaryLou pregnant and is all honorable and does the right thing.

at that point, I said, that's the way it should be and Brockman is dealing with issues as they should be, and figuring out how to fix them. BUT...what she was setting up for was Gone Too Far where you find out that Brockmann believes that Sam should have tried harder to find a way to be with Alyssa.

She counterpoints it with Marylou's growing realtionship with someone else. And then Marylou does the reflection when she see's Sam and Alyssa together that "that" is love, (they're in a firefight and Sam simply looked at Alyssa and said "be careful") and that's what she wants too.

A realtionship where both parties are equal and happy to be with each other. a soapbox, it's a good soapbox, and Brockmann believed--and because she must have been pulling it from that core of personal belief, it came out really strong and "resonated".

Now fast forward to her last four.

Each one is plot driven. There are no strong issues (other than her stance on gay rights), and because her belief is now centered on gay rights, her plots/stories and characters have gone downhill. I think I waited until her book went down to a penny on the Marketplace before I bought it. Because she's no longer writing romances, but lectures.

And yes--they're great lectures, but her stance overshadows the books.

so...the reason it hurts is because to write well in a way that resonates, is to reach inside and tap that piece of you that shares beliefs with your characters and truth always hurts. It's uncomfortable and nasty, but it makes a book shine with more than written layers.

Most people are not comfortable with who and what they are.

...and yeah--I think out loud (literally), it makes for weird looks.

tired and meandering...sorry...

Unhinged said...

I gotta come back to fully digest this one. I'm on lunch break at work...

But I was here! I was here!

Alice Audrey said...

I'm still digesting too.

Alice Audrey said...

I'm not sure about the resonance thing. I DO think the truth resonates, and resonates for a lot of different people, but I think mistaken beliefs can also resonate if they are held both by the one saying them and the one hearing them.

Unhinged said...

Okay. It reads wonderfully the way you write the relationship here. All the reasons you give, and especially how you came to the ending. I think the pulling it off part is going to be difficult, but if anyone can do it, you can.

My only niggler? Or, question for you to keep in mind if you choose: how can you begin a story with TWO unlikeable characters? (Unless, since Conner isn't sympathetic, you show Jacey's weaknesses and/or doubts.) Or, maybe her sidewayness might be enough to make up for two unlikeable characters at the get-go. Maybe the pow! writer's voice will. :-)

I'm also curious about why Conner "has problems" loving his brother--which suggests he WANTS to love his brother, but can't. Hopefully there's a subplot there.

I still love the last line (story resolution idea) of your post.

...if Connor changes that much the only way I can end it is to see if he's willing to die for her.


jodi said...

yes, Alice--I think so too.