“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” ~Twyla Tharp
This week I tasked myself with coming up with a Wants list for my characters, principal and supporting, for Big Dang Projeckt (ignore that Big Dang “ZERO” in the margin). As a former student of the theatre, I understand the need-and jokes-regarding a character’s need for motivation. “Wants” has never been a favorite term of mine when it comes to character motivation, as it conjures the wrong picture in my mind. I “want” a shiny new toy, more books, Chucks in Burberry plaid. “Wants” doesn’t do the job of what I’m really going for.
Even motivation can sell its own idea short—motivation is an incremental, meta-step of character desires. “Desire” comes closer to the mark, but still misses it. It does the job in a pinch, but doesn’t quite convey the soul-tugginess of what can drive a character to desperate extremes. It doesn’t drive conflict. The kind of conflict that can ramp up story, and its readers, like a motorcycle jump by Evel Knievel.
So what does?
“Yearning” works for me. It not only hits the nail on the head, it makes a reader want to give it a whack, too. Yearning resonates. A story without well-paced yearning driving behind it is a pristine blanket of snow without a plow to clear the way.
So, yeah. Yearning. It’s what drove Gollum to seek his Precious, and Frodo to the edge of madness. It drove Luke to cut his Jedi training short when his friends were in trouble, and Han to chase the girl that drove him bananas in more ways than one. Yearning drove Buffy to become a better Slayer, and made Angel do the right thing more often than not (and never quite give up on Buffy). Yearning is life.
So that’s what I’ve been working on this week. Searching deep for the heart and soul of Big Dang Projeckt. Also making similar, preliminary notes on Waking Muse #1. Example:
Big Dang Projeckt: Protagonist seeks redemption in the form of forgiveness for past mistakes and paternal approval.
Waking Muse #1:
Protagonist seeks relief from guilt, both the guilt she places on herself, and that provided by a well-meaning family. She yearns to play the violin well enough to live up to her mother’s memory, live down her father’s coping strategy for grief, and to make up for her brilliant-but-ill brother’s missed chance to play himself.
How I Do It: In Scrivener (totally not necessary, it’s possible organize efficiently in Word, Google Docs, or any other software of preference, or even in hard copy), I have a folder just for characters (same for plot and setting). Each character gets an Index card on the corkboard. Principal characters get folders, as multiple text docs will end up getting filed within as I continue to development process. They also get labelled Green, and statused as “To Do” until the primary character work is done. Supporting Characters just get text I can throw notes and whatnot in, and labelled Dark Blue (no status), and minor characters yet another shade of Blue (no status). Yearnings get listed as primary Wants in text on the index cards. This way, whenever I’m working on character or need to refer back to it, their motivation is always front and center.
For me, Principal Characters are limited to Protagonist, Antagonist, Helper, and Romantic Interest (if not the same as Helper, or Antagonist, in the case of some romances). Big Dang Projeckt being fantasy, there are going to be plenty more characters where this came from. The index cards, in addition to helping keep track of motivation, lets me see where the connections and conflicting Wants lie.
Thus begins my Book Bible. In the Binder, you’ll notice Character comes before Plot, which comes before Setting, followed by the actual manuscript, in three acts. For a novel-length work, I generally structure my story architecture in 9 Chapters apiece to keep pace on Word Count milestones at key plot points, and the stepping stones in between. (In case you’re wondering, I get a lot of my process from Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist.)
What about you, readers and fellow Word Wranglers? Experienced any yearning lately?