Saturday, March 15, 2014

Wrap up from the facebook event, how to create understanding for your characters and a little bit more on reflection characters

...and if that's not a long title, I don't know what is. It's amazing sometimes how life will just be going along, and all of a sudden there's something like a clog in the whirlpool of everyday events. I'm slowly getting myself unclogged, but if somebody somewhere made a power snake for busting through backlogs, I'd be all over it.

The Facebook event was great!! I know I sound a little gushy, but it was sort of a cross between a really good workshop chat and an open house. It went so fast it surprised me to look up and find four hours had passed. We talked about making your heroine sympathetic (or not)...

I have a question Jodi. And thanks for taking them. I'm at the climatic Dark Moment in my wip. The heroine is a victim of child molestation. She ran away from home and is now 28. She's lived her life by the work hard play hard rule and take no hangers on. To her, any man presents a threat to her self-preservation so she prefers to luv em and leave em. She's met the hero who has his own emotional hang ups but sees something special in her and sticks around. The molester appears after ten years and is deranged enough to think he and heroine can make it as an item. She refuses him and tells him to get lost. He does, temporarily, but resurfaces after she's finally got her life together, her new business and an exclusive relationship w/ hero. But molestor resurfaces w/ a bang and tries to do just that with her ---by force. She's clever enough to dial hero on speed dial who figures it out and calls 911. All is well or so hero thinks after he saves the day but something breaks inside heroine, she feel unworthy, her fears come back w/ a vengence and she's disgusted with herself thinking , as she did as a child, that she did something to cause the attack & is not good for hero. She takes off for parts unknown closing her new business for the holidays. My question, sorry if it took so long, is how can create the right rationale for the heroine to not make her appear heartless, inconsiderate to the hero who'd saved her. I need make her sympathetic when she leaves without notice.

Thanks for asking! Going to be blunt here so forgive me, okay? Don’t get hung up on making the heroine sympathetic. Make her understandable. From reading your synopsis, it looks like the assault is part of the heroine’s arc. It’s…you’re right, her black moment. The moment when her motivation to heal herself and be with the hero runs right into her motivation to curl up in a ball and listen to all those people who say people who are molested and abused, invite their abuse. Look at your heroine’s focal motivation for the story she’s in? She ran away from home. Why? To escape, yes. But also to give the part of her that motivated her escape a chance to grow. She’s running from the motivation to sit down, shut up and just take it, because there’s something in her that is making her abuser abuse her—she’s running from being a headjob. “Toward” the goal her driving motivation wants for her—a chance to heal, stop the pain and be normal, because deep down inside, she “doesn’t” believe all the brainwashing and she’s fighting it.

When your story opens, that motivation is in control. She is “always” the one in charge of a relationship. The hero adds to that motivation (creates a layer) that adds the words, “with the hero”. Because she’s starting to open to love. He is consistent. And I’m sure no matter how much she tests him, he never leaves. And the great thing about this is that her motivation (her original motivation) is telling her that it’s all fake. How can he love/like/care for her when there’s “something wrong with her” (even though her motivation is telling her there’s nothing wrong with her, her first motivation is always there, telling her (subconsciously) there is)?? The more she pushes and the more he pushes back, convincing her that he won’t leave, that nothing is wrong with her. The stronger this part grows>>  All is well or so hero thinks after he saves the day but something breaks inside heroine, she feel unworthy, her fears come back w/ a vengence and she's disgusted with herself thinking , as she did as a child, that she did something to cause the attack & is not good for hero.

By the end of her tests, she’s probably seriously unlikable, because what’s the point if she moves from being likable to being likable? She just needs to have signs of change. Have you ever had a really strict teacher or boss? They push you and push you, and make life hell. Then one day, after a really hard task, you look up—and they give you a smile or a firm nod and you know—this as a test, and you passed it?

He knows what’s at stake. She’s testing him to see if she can lower her shields with him. And…each time he passes a harder test, her shields need to go down more. Let your reader see how wounded she is on the inside and how difficult it is for her to reach out.

I would suggest that she’s not leaving because she’s not good for the hero, but because she’s afraid (after daring to open up and hope/love) that this will be the straw that broke the camels back and sends him away. And that…will kill her. 

Her earlier motivation (that something is wrong with her, all that conditioning, all those beliefs) comes back, like you said, with a vengeance. Something broke in her, something is telling her this is what will make the hero walk away from her, because he can finally see it.

She doesn’t leave for him. She leaves for herself. She leaves because she’s afraid that if he rejects her, her original (child) motivation will be right. There is something wrong with her. And that everything she was starting to feel with her and him toward her was fake, just when she was just starting to believe her childhood motivation was wrong. She leaves because she’s in so much pain and conflict, she can’t stay.

It’s your job to let people see the shields go down and what life has done to her, and what the chance of being with the hero is doing to heal her. And then—you take it all away.

And your readers won’t say, wtf????? When she leaves, they’ll cry right along with her, even if she smashes all the mirrors and tears up his picture before she goes, because…they’ll understand.

And how to use multiple villains as aspects of an all encompassing conceptual villain... (with a little help with an old post on reflections and a few thoughts from The Big Sleep)


Hi Nick, sorry to take so long getting back to you. I wanted to some time to think about your question  (I always think the best villains have a character arc too... my thriller has multiple villains (all part of one overarching conceptual villain) and it doesn't seem like they can have an arc (not even darker)... thoughts?)

This was a toughie. Basically what you’re looking for is called a reflection character. Hague says a reflection character is someone that “reflects” something about the protagonist and supports them in their quest. In a lot of ways I think that’s true, although Hague uses the word “support” in a very literal sense, and I think the usage is broader. A better way to say it would be to say the reflection character does what he or she needs to do to get the protagonist moving through his arc in the right direction. Even if the reflection doesn’t do anything themselves or is actively against the hero.

In Casablanca, Lazslo is Rick’s reflection. The guy Rick would have been if everything had worked out in his life. Lazslo doesn’t do much. He shows up, has a past and a potentially noble future—he encourages people to stand up for what they believe in, and sings the French National anthem. He also shows Rick two things Rick needs to know. 1. He loves Ilsa. 2. He values her safety more than his continuing fight against the Nazis.

In other words, Lazslo is very much a hero in the old-school, Dudley Do-Right sense. Good, kind, honorable, self-sacrificing, and the leader the resistance so desperately needs. To make him even better, he has a beautiful wife, who when push came to shove left Rick once she discovered Lazslo was still alive. Lazslo “reflects” all the good qualities dormant in Rick. A really strong transformational arc can be even stronger with a good reflection character to show your reader the potential in your hero. 

Reflection characters can also be used to reflect qualities (as in your multiple villains) and life situations or fears, and a good example of that would be a fear reflection.

What is your character afraid of?

Maybe your character comes from a background of domestic abuse, and has “fixer” tendencies. He wants to fix things and make them better, or protect others in his care. Maybe—because of his own abuse, or factors outside his control—he’s afraid of not being there, or being unable to help someone when they desperately need him. Maybe he has a mother or sisters, or a little brother who is being abused and puts himself in harm’s way and takes the abuse on himself—but what if one day he isn’t there and his mom and little brother are killed? 

A fear reflection would “embody” everything your hero is afraid of. All the guilt that he couldn’t be there, the fear he can’t protect his only remaining sister, and maybe—a very deep, very subconscious fear that he comes from the same genetic stock and might have abusive tendencies of his own. Therapy is a fairly recent thing, and even today people don’t always have access. Maybe he escapes and takes his little sister. That makes his sister the fear reflection. The one person who makes the hero’s fear real.

Fear for his sister, love for his sister—terror if anything looks like it might hurt her, and a desperate need to make sure his sister survives and lives happily ever after.

There are so many emotions and situations tied up in our feelings, and in a character-driven story sometimes you don’t want to spend a lot of time digging into internals. Using someone else as a fear (or any kind of) reflection (whether it’s fear, anger, love, etc) would help to layer change, show progress, and emphasize the struggles your character is going through.

To have your character sitting, thinking about how he’s been having these “feelings” of wanting to hurt someone when he’s angry might not work, depending on your story, “but” showing your character sitting around a campfire, rubbing his cold hands, staring at his sister—hating her, wanting to hurt her for one bright red moment, brings it all home in a way that connects on a visceral level.

Maybe the reflection gets sick, or hurt—and your hero can’t prevent it. Love, pain, and the fear he’s going to lose another person he loves is all there in the way his hands shake making the thin watery soup that’s all they can afford. Subtext yes--but also a great way to show your character's arc.

How does this work in a story with multiple villains?

Every character (at the start of their arc) starts out with focal motivation (a way to get a handle on the character). I’ve always called it a core event, because it’s usually an event that encapsulates the emotional state of the protag at the start of the story. There’s a lot of stuff going on—conflict and motivation-wise. Maybe your hero has anger, pain, frustration and determination going on, along with a healthy helping of fear, self-doubt and cynicism. Each of those emotional states is a “facet” of your character. In a movie/book like Chandler’s Big Sleep, there is no arc. Marlowe doesn’t change. What changes is the facet (of Marlowe) that we’re looking at. Need, greed, lust, cynicism, admiration. Each facet that’s revealed pushes a part of the plot. It’s less of a movement “along” the arc, than an exploration of a point “on” the arc.

Your protag has an arc, but I’d like to suggest each villain is a reflection of one of the protag’s less admirable facets, and a visible representation of the issues he needs to overcome to reach his goal. That doesn’t mean each villain is one-note, just that the most memorable part of each villain would visibly address an issue (like a proud peacock of a guy whose cockiness is his downfall. Something that would address the protag’s refusal to ask for help). To defeat him, the protag could bring in a partner, ask for help from an old friend, break into someone’s home, find them there and ask them to help him, the variations are endless. You can roll some issues together, focus on them one at a time, pump up some villains to make it screamingly hard to defeat them, or make them so easy the hero will be wondering what the big deal was.

And I rambled, so quick summary?

The villains don’t have arcs, they simply layer the protag’s arc by exploring facets of his character. But…with a little effort? I’d also suggest that you can have the villains create an overreaching arc, using different villains to stand in for movement on the villain concept's conceptual arc.

It was a really good morning. :)




3 comments:

Lisa Lawler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Lawler said...

I enjoyed the FB event, too. Can't think of a better way of spending the small hours of the morning. Lol

But I also find that as much as I can read the theory, it's of great benefit to be able to talk - even virtually - about it all, because that's mwhen the lightbulb moments happen. :)

Jodi Henley said...

true. :) I think that's why I do the workshops, because until I have real people to bounce ideas off, I have no idea if things work, don't work or are just a big hot mess, lol. And besides, it's my favorite subject, you know? I love those lightbulb moments :)