Over the past few weeks, I've done a lot of problem solving and worldbuilding. I now feel much more knowledgeable about my storyworld. I now know why the three people groups have been at war since they came to this land. And I have a reason why the Aerials justify human slavery.
There is one more area I'd like to spend time on before I really start plotting out my story in detail. I'd like to do some deeper character development--at least on my two point of view characters: Drake and Kaitlyn.
I can start writing now. And in other books, I have started writing. If I want to get something down and out of my head, or I want to see if the idea has merit, I might write some chapters. Having a goal, motivation, and story conflict is enough to get things rolling, BUT . . . I can't get very far knowing only those things. I need to know who my character is if I'm going to write a believable character arc. I can't show my character growing if I don't know what's broken in him.
I've written twenty books, and I never used the same process more than once in how I came up with my plot or developed my characters. I'm always learning, so when I read a new craft book, I take bits and pieces from it and try to incorporate that into my ever-changing process.
With character development, you've all likely seen my gigantic character chart. And while I love that chart, it's very rare that I ever completely fill it in for anyone but my few main characters. And even then, sometimes I don't. Most of the things on my giant character chart don't matter to the heart of the story. A story is about a character who rises up to face a situation and comes out changed on the other side. What he drives, whether or not he has a cat, and his favorite breakfast cereal don't matter. It might be fun to know those things, but they don't drive the story.
I do, however, have a handful of things I must know about a character in order to "play them" in the book. I think of this in terms of method acting. I need to get to know these characters deeply, so that I can accurately portray them in the story. And since I can't literally sit down and interview them, I do so in my head.
The first thing I need to ask them is, "Who are you?" And I'm not looking for a long, drawn out answer. I'm looking for a very specific label. It's the same label I would use to describe my character in a logline pitch statement. I want my character to give me an adjective + a noun that describes who they believe they are. This will help me get to know my character and to grow them over the course of the story.
When talking about loglines, over and over I've used the two examples from JAWS and Miss Congeniality, respectively: landlubber sheriff and ugly-duckling (female) FBI agent. Both of these character descriptions are a great place to start because they show conflict in what I know the character is going to face in the story. In JAWS, the sheriff is going to have to go out in a boat to try and kill a giant shark. That's hard to do for anyone, but especially a man who is afraid of the ocean. And in Miss Congeniality, the fact that she is an ugly-duckling FBI agent isn't such a big deal, until she has to enter a beauty pageant. Now we have trouble.
I've been working on this for Onyx Eyes, and I have it all figured out for both Drake and Kaitlyn. I'm going to give it to you one step at a time. To start, here are the descriptions I've given them, then as you read the five things to know about your main character below, you'll see why I chose those descriptions. You don't have to come up with any of this in order. It actually helps me to start with the dark moment story, so I often don't have my character adjective and + noun until later.
Drake: I am an abandoned warrior
Kaitlyn: I'm an invisible daughter.
1. The dark moment story.
What is that character's dark moment story? This is something that happened to them long before the story starts, often in childhood. This event was so powerful, it branded a lie into the character's heart, and ever since that day, he has been a walking definition of that lie. Defined by it. You need to dig until you figure out what that story is. Not just "he was abused by his dad." You need a moment in time that could be watched on a film, complete with five senses details. Here are mine:
Anyway, he died in battle. A soldier came to the door and told my mother. I was sitting on the floor just inside the door, whittling a dragon from a piece of cedar. I saw the blood splattered on the soldier's clothes--I could smell it--and I wondered if that was my father's blood. To this day, the smell of blood makes me think of my father, of his bravery.
When the soldier left, my mother got angry. She started packing clothes and muttering about how she knew this would happen, how my dad had been a fool to fight an unwinnable battle. My mother finished packing the bag and carried it to the door. She looked down at me and said, "I'm leaving. You'll stay here. I have a man up in Novahorn who'll take me in, but he doesn't care for children." And then she left. The door closed behind her with a loud thump. I stared at it for a long while, then I finally got up and opened it. I saw her in the distance, walking away, bag in one hand. She didn't look back.
I came from a really large family with seven children. I was child number five in the long line. My older brothers were already married and had children of their own, and it was my job to cook all the meals and to look after my little sisters and my nieces and nephews. I love my family, but I often felt more like a mom than a child. And it was really hard to get any attention from my parents. Father worked as a soldier, and mother was a maid in the castle. I did one thing for myself back then. I loved to bake. So when the marketplace had a baking contest, I entered my best cuskynoles, which are bite-sized tarts filled with apples, pears, figs, and raisins. My brother always said I made the best cuskynoles--even better than his wife's, so I wasn't terribly surprised when they made the top five. My entire family was summoned to the marketplace the next day, where judges would taste the top entries in each category and choose winners.
I told my family about it, and my parents both promised to be there. The next day, I arranged for our neighbor to come over and watch the children so I could go to the market. I won first place. But my parents never arrived. No one from my family came. That night at home, I made roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots with my award-winning cuskynoles for dessert. Everyone ate with no mention of how the judging had gone. I was working up the courage to share when my elder sister announced she was getting married. The whole house erupted in celebration, and I never got a chance to tell anyone I had won or show them my ribbon. I cleared the table and did the dishes, feeling completely forgotten. I never made cuskynoles again. And I hate roasted chicken.
2. What lie does your character believe about himself as a result of that dark moment story?
Drake: I am worthless. No one wants me around.
Kaitlyn: I'm invisible. Nobody sees me. Everyone else is more important that I am. There must be something wrong with me.
3. What wound did your character suffer from that event?
Drake: His wound was being abandoned and the shame of being unwanted by his own mother.
Kaitlyn: Her wound is being forgotten and the immense disappointment that came with it.
4. What flaw came out of this? How does your character behave in order to protect himself from suffering another similar wound and being hurt again?
Drake: He is distant from people. A loner. Sometimes considered cold. Very independent. He finds it difficult to develop close relationships with people and has never had a close friendship.
Kaitlyn: She doesn't rely on others. People can't be trusted. She is an over-achiever, a hard worker, and overly self-critical. She has a hard time making decisions, and is unable to be spontaneous because she doesn't want to risk future disappointments.
5. What is your character's greatest fear?
Hint: It should be related to his dark moment story manifesting again his his life. And it should manifest again, in the black moment or disaster part of your three-act-structure.
Drake: His greatest fear is that he is unlovable. That he might love someone and be rejected.
Kaitlyn: Her greatest fear is that she is worthless and doesn't matter in this world. That she could vanish and no one would ever miss her.
Okay, so fast-forward to the present...
What is their greatest dream? Knowing all those things about your character's past will help you discover what your character wants and why? This is not a plot question, but an internal one. This is something deep inside your character that propels him through the story.
Drake wants to be part of a family.
Kaitlyn wants a deep and meaningful friendship with someone who sees her.
And since this series will have a romantic subplot, it's important that Drake and Kaitlyn will help each other overcome their lies and wounds and achieve their greatest dreams. They are a good fit because if Drake takes the risk to love someone and is loved in return, he will be fiercely loyal because such a relationship will be priceless to him. That's the kind of devotion Kaitlyn needs to achieve her greatest dream.
And Drake's greatest dream is that he would be part of a family, and while Kaitlyn was hurt by her family, she still loves them. And they are a big, wild, crazy family that will accept Drake as one of them, even if they don't give him a lot of attention. That's the kind of family Drake has always wanted.
One more thing to mention. Once you have all this figured out, you need to give your character some competing goals. I'm currently working on my sixth and (final!) Mission League book. And Spencer is going to reach a place where his two more important goals conflict (stopping the bad guys OR signing a contract to play college basketball at a D1 school), and he'll be forced to choose between them. What he chooses could very well change his life, but since it's at the end of the story, he will now be equipped to make that choice (the right choice), when at the start of book one, he was far too immature to even think about such a selfless act.
So here are some competing goals for Drake and Kaitlyn. If I plot (and write) my story well, hopefully they will both be forced to choose between these goals in the story. They might choose wrong at first, but by the end of the story, they should have grown enough to sacrifice something important to do the right thing. These goals might not mean much to you, but they are events in the story that I will work hard to make sure my characters will have to choose between at some point.
Drake: Find the missing princess. Stop the Aerial slave trade. Help Kaitlyn find her missing brother.
Kaitlyn: Find her missing brother. Find out who she is. Rescue Drake from prison.
Can you answer the following about your characters?
1. What is your dark moment story?
2. What lie do you believe because of that event?
3. What wound did you suffer as a result of that event?
4. What flaw did you develop from that wound?
5. What is your greatest fear?
Because of all that, what do you want most in life?
What else do you want (that will compete with what you want most in life)?