Friday, October 07, 2011

Fiction Friday: Who Are You?

Below is a reprint from a weekly e-newsletter I subscribe to. This one I had to share with you. I included information about Holly Lisle, the author, at the bottom of the article. Her article on plotting with notecards was extremely helpful when I wrote The Mailbox and had not a clue what I was doing.

Holly's Tip -- Ask WHO.

There comes a day when you're sitting with your writing, and you
look at an important character you're writing who has just done
something that makes absolutely no sense in relationship to his
role in your story, and in a fit of frustration, you snarl at this

Who ARE you?

Truth is, a lot of times characters will lie to you. One will come
into your story dressed in a hero's cape and tights, and when you
finally follow her home, you discover she doesn't just have a
skeleton or two in her closet...she has a whole row of bodies lined
up in her basement.

Or you'll find that you get these warm little shivers every time
you write your villain, and what you WANT are COLD shivers, and
then all of a sudden your villain saves a cat from a couple of
neighborhood bullies by being bigger and scarier than they are...and
there goes HIS credibility as a monster.

Not a single one of your characters is who he SAYS he is. Not a
single one of your characters is who YOU say he is.

Your characters ARE what they DO. Same as you.

Words are wind. Unless they're backed up by actions that match
them---either in the real world or in fiction---they're meaningless.

If your have a character who does nothing that matters, then even
if you SAY that character is your main character, he isn't.

If you have a character who hurts people, causes chaos, lies,
cheats, steals, or destroys lives or property or hopes and dreams,
then even if you planned that character as your hero, he isn't a

You can write a hero who has wonderful intentions, who wants to
save the world or his part of it, who takes actions he says
will help everyone...but if the end result of his actions is that the
people he wanted to save (or maybe a whole bunch of other people he
didn't care about) are hurt, or lose what matters to them---then he
isn't your hero. He's your villain.

Intentions, like words, don't count. Action and the consequences
of that action are all you look at when you're evaluating your
character and his role in your story.

Your characters are what they do, and your job as the writer is to
clearly and honestly evaluate what they do, and build the story
around the people they actually are, and not the people you think
they should be.

You CAN fire your main character from the role of hero, and turn
him into a villain.

You CAN fire your villain and rehire him as your hero.

You can also dump a character who contributes nothing from your
story and replace him with that unappreciated guy who's been doing
all the work for the last hundred pages.

First, though, you have to look past what your character says to
what he or she does.

You have to ask:

When we've moved past words to actions, who ARE you?

Write with joy,

This email is Copyright Holly Lisle. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of any portion of this email is strictly
prohibited without the express written consent of
Holly Lisle.

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1 comment:

Katie Church said...

Oh my.... I have to say, I often find myself only delicately reading over some of the posts of the many blogs I enjoy, but this had my attention captivated entirely! I have such an immense love for writing, and I believe that this was something that I really needed to learn. I sometimes do draw weak characters as Holly illuminated here so eloquently, and what a wonderful piece of advice to simply look at the characters' actions rather than their voices.
Thank you SO MUCH for posting about this, dear Marybeth!

God bless, Katie C.