Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wussing out on Emotions

I know it’s a pet peeve, but I can’t stand characters who don’t know why they’re falling in love. And I don’t mean stupid people, but a smart hero or heroine on the verge of committing right here and now—irrevocably forever moreover to die for the other, or kill themselves, or do some horrific act they wouldn’t do otherwise.

She didn’t know why she loved him? He didn’t know what drew him to her?

Seriously--somewhere deep down inside, your character knows what’s going on.

In all fairness, it might interrupt the story flow. A fast scene shouldn’t slow down for introspection. But if they’re just standing around with nothing to do, wondering what it is about the other person that makes dying for love a viable option, it wusses out on the emotional understructure of the story.

Character is always true to him or herself, which means in any given situation, there are a limited amount of outcomes--to go back to the ball pit analogy; there are only so many balls. True chaos, despite sounding messed-up, is a “determined system”, which means minor changes create huge numbers of totally different paths, but every path must make some kind of sense when looked at as a whole. In other words, the balls are in a confined area—even if it’s a really big confined area—courtyards and hallways can’t just appear. They’re either there and accounted for, or not. There are limits to what can and can’t happen.

Character-driven stories are about characters, what they’re doing and how they feel. Sometimes they don’t want to face their feelings and that’s significant in itself. I had a “something about him” scene--and so do lots of people. It’s only recently I’ve started breaking them down into "the writer knows what’s going on and is really deep in the character’s head", and "the only reason these two characters are in love is because the author said so."

Back that up—

--this is not about rough draft.

If anything it’s a layering issue for when the writer goes in to tighten the story.

Rough draft:

She didn’t know what it was about him that drew her, but she was desperately afraid she was falling in love. TAKE ANOTHER LOOK MAYBE EXPAND

Maybe when the rough is finished, a good hard look says the best way to get Keira’s emotional state across is to leave her oblivious, because you “want” her to be pole-axed at a later date. In which case, this works with a little polish.

Or maybe you want her to be a little more self-aware and throw in a little foreshadowing to make a coming scene crank emotionally? Then you’d take another look—this time at the actual words.

“…she was desperately afraid…”

On some level, even if the author won’t admit it, she knows what’s up.

Desperately afraid? Of what?

Why is the growth of this relationship a bad idea? Is there something about the hero that terrifies Kiera, even while it draws her close? Is she protecting someone, is she worried she might betray her family? Is the hero a bad influence on someone she loves? Does he touch something in her that’s outside the norm or wrong for her time period?

Maybe Keira is a werewolf and her dad is the alpha. Maybe she’s falling in love with the alpha of the pack moving into their territory. Maybe leaving to follow her heart will start a war with the potential to kill everyone in her family.

Why not— (warning. I am not good at writing paranormals, but for some reason I've been feeling the urge, lol...)
John's strength drew her. (what pulls her to him) He crossed into the Pack’s territory and watched her with hot green eyes. (a little bit of foreshadowing. He’s trying to take over the territory and now he’s not just right up against Keira, he’s inside her family’s boundaries) She stepped closer (she’s drawn) and lifted her chin (submission and defiance because she’s torn). “Promise to leave the Valley and I’ll go with you.”

…her big issue. Need and desire vs. loyalty and fear of losing the people who—until now—have meant everything to her.

Exploring the issues behind not-knowing takes time and thought. Even making the deliberate choice to leave it short right now, still leaves a hole for exploring the issues later. Being deliberately blind, or unwilling to put in the work cheats not just your characters, but your reader.


Jennifer Leeland said...

I run into this a lot. Especially with cranky characters who don't want to tell me stuff.
Recently, it's been my Princess with the Britney Spears obsession.
She's tortured me.
She's not nice.
I rewrote that book FIVE TIMES and I still don't know if I fixed all her inconsistencies.
She is a nut case IMHO.
And yes, she's one of my favorite characters.

jodi said...

*I see crazy people all the time, but it's probably my pov O.o*

lol, Jen. Inconsistencies are cool, because you know they're inconsistencies. You don't got to fix them all. People are if nothing else--random as all hell.

Your knowing makes it cool. It's only when people don't know it's a glitch, or can't figure it out so they're just writing the equivalent of a band-aid, it gets me itchy. :)

btw, your sex scene is still making me flush. How your keys don't melt, I don't know.

Eva Gale said...

Oy I struggle with this. I hate having non self aware characters but then you where I get stuck is how do youi add that without taking the legs out from the story? I have this total fear that when you strip it all down, it's Dick meets Jane....HEA.

Jane sees Dick feeding homless people on his days off. Jane falls in love and acts on that emotion. Dick falls in love with Jane when he finds out that she has been the anon doner to his fledgling -after they hammer out the details fo conflict of interests, they walk into the sunset holding hands.

Hailey Edwards said...


I love paranormal and fantasy romance. When para became the new "it" genre, things took a southerly turn.

One of the problems with authors jumping on the paranormal bandwagon is having so many of them use "fated mates" poorly.

When done well, I love it. I enjoy when the characters resent the bond, struggle against the realization their life and happiness is irrevocably tied to this other person they didn't know/want, and still manage to accept the situation and allow room for love to grow.

On the other hand, when a hero strolls in and says, "Hey baby, that mark on your palm/shoulder/back means you're mine." *smirk* "Let's do it."

And the heroine responds with, "Yes! I'm an independent woman who will never bow to the whims of any man, but I instantly love you!"

That gives the entire paranormal genre a bad name and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It's a tough balance to strike, and I think you can tell when a book has been written by someone who reads para enough to at least understand the mechanics (if not the execution) versus someone who wanted to stick their toe in just because para was the new hot thing.


That being said, I also love the whole mating heat angle. Lord knows I would never claim proficiency at pulling off the execution of either, but if the characters react in believable ways and stay true to themselves, it's a fun series of events to watch unfold.

Er... so that was long and slightly off topic-ish. *blush*

I'm saying I agree with you. Both characters should realize what they are feeling and why, then react accordingly. Magical fixes and InstaLove are both no-nos.

*slinks off*

jodi said...

lol, Eva. I can't stop laughing at Hailey's rant. I see exactly where she's coming from. But then--I see a lot of paranormals. (I stink at them, but I see a lot of them, and mates are probably the Jimmy Choos of the paranormal world)

Hailey, never be afraid to be random on my blog. I am so random I have my psych profile on divas, which you probably noticed. :)

Eva, you realize that's a "question", right? I have, "different openings" ('cause I started that one and never finished part two) movable scenes (one page down) and my upcoming rant on craft and Egri.

But...yeah. I can feel my soapbox, Eva. :)

Hailey Edwards said...

Good to know. lol

I read a topic and often my mind wanders in the opposite direction. My conclusion makes sense to me, but everyone else... not so much.

Since you welcome randomness, I have a question I'd love for you to answer. I'm interested to hear your take on this.

If someone, let's call her Hailey, wrote a book about demons where chapters one through four were high fantasy (taking place in a complete other world) but chapters five through twelve occurred on present day Earth, what would you call it?

The book deals with two different breeds of demons, one of which is colonizing Earth.

What exactly is that? Is it fantasy because the beginning is technically "high fantasy," or is it "urban fantasy" because the majority of the book occurs in a modern setting (though not in a city).

Shannon Butcher made a comment about "rural fantasy" being fantasy in a small town setting.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I have discovered that is what I always write. I will have a secondary world/race/culture, but I always bring the characters to modern Earth.

I'm also a country girl and favor small town settings.

Then you get into paranormals, which commonly deal with demons. So what makes a book a fantasy vs a paranormal?

This might be one of those, "Why did the chicken cross the road?" questions. Or maybe you could blog on the genre distinction some point in the future?