Friday, December 4, 2015

Building Better Characters

So. I'm on a roll here with my current project and am still going to be mostly absent this month, but while I was working so hard on my story and characters I came across something I thought I'd share. It's another character building exercise (because I love building better characters) that helps us delve into the deeper emotions of our characters. 

"Start by picking any moment in your story when your protagonist (or any other character) feels something strongly. What is that feeling. Write it down, Now, pause at that moment. As what else does this character feel simultaneously? Write that down. Next ask, what else does my character feel at this moment. This third level emotion is our focus." 

In my current tale there are three estranged sisters who have brought together by their mother's murder. One of the sisters, the oldest, is Alice so I did the exercise for her first. At the beginning of the story Alice is devastated (first level emotion) by the news of her mother’s murder. Not only does she love her mother as her mother but also as a friend. But what else does Alice feel simultaneously? Anger (second level emotion) at whoever did it. How could they? Why? What’s wrong with people? She hopes they rot in hell forever.  Next ask, what else does Alice feel at this moment? Afraid. (third level emotion) Her mother has been the one who has led her through society, provided her with a home and a lifestyle she not only wouldn’t be able to keep up on her salary, but would be afraid to even try to keep up on her own. Without her mother, she feels lost and afraid and alone again, like the kid she used to be and couldn’t wait not to be so she wouldn’t feel like this.
 
Examine this third level emotion: What is it like to feel this feeling?  Alice hoped never to feel like this again; she thought growing up would mean she wouldn’t. It’s even worse now because there isn’t even an adult to rely on. What might (or should) this character be feeling instead?  What would a finer human being feel? She would feel and exhibit the proper amount of grief for the proper amount of time and then get on with her life and everything would go back to being fine and dammit, what was wrong with her? Why did she always feel like she was faking being grown up? Regardless, why is this feeling the right and only one for this character right now? Because she needs to be down so she can learn to rely on her sisters who will help her be strong, for herself and others. Finally, what does having this third level-feeling tell this character about herself? What does it say about her condition? That she has some shite to deal with and get through. Has this character sunk or risen?  Sunk. Has this character grown or regressed?  Let’s call it a set back. What’s the truth in it?  She’s probably not the only person to feel this way when one of their parents dies. How is this feeling beautifully universal or painfully unique?  Is feeling this feeling to dwell in heaven or burn in hell? It’s hellish. She can’t wait to move on, but it’s going to take some work and she’s going to have to...change.

I did this exercise for all three sisters and it was interesting to see both the similarity in their answers, and the differences. It also helped me realize that Alice isn't as grown up as she may appear to others (or as grown up as I thought she was!), which helps me know how she reacts to situations, and clues me into her inner feelings so I can write her deeper.

Anyway. That's what I've been doing; writing my little ass off and trying to build better characters, and, a better book. 

I may not be back this month to post until the Cephalopod Coffeehouse on the 25th - unless I have something interesting to share - but I will be back for First Impression at the beginning of January so if you have a first page you'd like critiqued (your NaNo project maybe?) check out my sidebar (right) for all the FAQs and happy writing!


12/26/15 Update: I discovered where I found the bit on Third Level Emotions. Donald Maass. I should've known.




13 comments:

  1. Third level emotion - I'll try that with my next story. Thanks!

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  2. Hmmm. Interesting. Third level emotion. Not something I'd considered.

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  3. Intriguing. And I love that it gave you greater insight into your characters.

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  4. This is a neat exercise. Thanks!

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  5. You keep writing your ass off girl!

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  6. That's awesome! I'm glad it's helping and that you're getting a lot of writing done. (I'm lucky if I can come up with one emotion for my characters during a scene. My CPs always have to beat me with the write-more-inner-thoughts-and-emotion stick. lol)

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  7. This is a great exercise, especially since I'm trying to write a chapter right now where the protag is feeling something strongly -- and I don't like what I wrote very much. It doesn't feel -- genuine. Perhaps that's because I'm focusing on the first level of emotion (and the most obvious one): fear. I guess I need to dig deeper. Thanks for the tip!

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  8. Nice. I'm going to have to remember this one and apply it.

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  9. Interesting idea to add extra depth. Will definitely give it a try. :-)

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  10. Third level emotion is a provocative idea - for real people, too!

    See you at the Coffeehouse.

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  11. That's really interesting! I've never tried this. But I'm sure it's true--people don't just feel ONE emotion about things; it's a mixed bag. Happy 2016!!! Hope it's a super year for ya. :)

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  12. happpy Holidays, Marcy!

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