by Fae Rowen
This post isn’t just for romance writers.
As a genre fiction writer you know that to be drawn into your story, your readers have to care about your characters. This is true of all genres-women’s fiction, historical, mystery, thriller, science fiction and all the rest, including the new “hybrid genres.” As authors, we set the stage for our readers to fall for our characters. True, they don’t have to fall in love with our fictional heros and villains, but it sure helps us sell books when our public connects with our characters.
However, when the reader doesn’t believe the transformation process, your book may get set aside unfinished or, worse yet, be tossed against the wall. In this second of a three part series (you can find Part One here), I’ve got more tips for tying backstory to your plot and characters to create difficulties that can be realistically resolved for a satisfying ending.
Today we’ll deal with a character with any combination of the following traits:
- Lack of awareness of her own needs
- Experiences chronic anxiety, frustration and despair regarding his relationships
- Lives with depression
- Feels undeserving, inadequate or unlovable
- Disruption in relationships
- Futility at work
- Obsessive thoughts
- Insecure about whether her needs will be met
- Fear that having his needs met will result in abandonment
- Accepts what is given instead of asking for what she truly wants
- Anxious to please, to the detriment of herself
- May “give to get” and feel resentful that others don’t give as much
Select four (or more if you’re diabolical) that fit with your story. Now imagine your primary character arriving with this baggage.
I don’t want to be that person any more than you do, but the truth is, we all have some of this stuff in our suitcases and so do our readers. They’ll recognize and connect because of our common human experience–and you won’t have to work that hard because these traits are psychologically connected.
And so are the behaviors connected to them. Here are a few:
- She sometimes try to “buy” love, but the other person resents being manipulated.
- When he has a close associate or partner or love interest, he becomes unavailable and sabotages the possible connection.
- Although she may feel the current relationship, she always worry about tomorrow.
- His fear may push push his partner away.
How can you create organic growth in the character arc that your readers feel? Feel in such a way they experience the pain of growth and the satisfaction of challenges overcome?
You show the behaviors connected with these traits changing throughout your book.
- Show her learn to recognize and receive love, caring or true support when it is present
- Show him maintaining contact himself. Show his growing sense of connecting with his emotions–after he realizes he has emotions, of course.
- Show her learning to differentiate between the past and the present so that what happened before doesn’t steal her future.
- Build acceptance that relationships change and sometimes end.
- Give opportunities for growing understanding of what is real and what is realistic.
- Show him accepting love or kindness or help rather than deflecting them.
- Have her clearly communicate her needs, wants and desires in dialogue or through actions
- Show his lessening obsessive focus on others. This means he has more time to be himself and participate in cool (or dangerous) activities.
- Show her lessen and finally stop her compulsive worry about what other’s think of her, whether it’s her past, her clothes, or her present circumstances.
- Show them actively considering how their words and actions will affect other people.
And always, always dribble specific backstory details like a very, very hot sauce. (Okay, I know some of you like spicy things. Think ghost chilies here. Really hot.)
So, I’ve got this Navy SEAL who has no needs (he’s a SEAL!). He’s feeling inadequate because he thinks he’s responsible for the failure of his team’s last mission. He’s obsessing with how the tactical error occurred and what to do to make sure it never happens again. And he has to please his commander, because our SEAL is up for a promotion. All this inner turmoil makes him a difficult man to be around and his team starts to pull away from him socially.
My genre and his backstory will determine how the plot unfolds–whether a security leak caused the failure of his mission and puts him in jeopardy, he sees the tactical problem during training for the next mission, or a love interest throws a wrench in all his plans. (I’d usually opt for all three, but then, I love complex plots.) The genre will determine the strategies I chose for his character arc to reach that satisfying conclusion.
But beware. None of the previous “bullets” are genre specific. In fact, if you like surprising readers with twists, revisiting your choices above could supply just what you were missing in that believable character arc.
In April, we’ll visit another type of character’s backstory and arc. And we’ll take a look at characteristics of the perfect character.
Do you have trouble building a believable past that can act as a springboard for growth for your characters? Have you used backstory to supply a twist that will thrill your readers? Are you feeling generous and have your own tips to share?
Photopin Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/5448477213/