Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Adventures in Editing: Character Fears




In this post, I'm going to talk about a bit about character fears. Everyone is scared of something. Characters should be no different. Even someone who looks fearless is probably scared of something. 

I got started thinking about this after I read this post by S. Alex Martin, one of my writing e-friends. To sum up the post, he basically said that everyone has a deep, dark, inner fear of something.

And chances are that this fear will affect their view of the world and how they act. He gave the example of going blind.

After thinking about that for a few days, I went and I opened a brainstorming doc for my MC Gwen, and this is what I got (copied and pasted directly from the doc).

Types of fear that can apply to Gwen:
-          Fear of the unknown (good for a coming of age story)
-          Fear of being a burden.
-          Fear of being rejected (by society) (not really liking this one. Unless it's her family she fears rejection from.)
-          Fear of being betrayed again
-          Afraid that everyone is lying to her (Okay, that’s extreme, but good)
-          Afraid of letting everyone down and losing the manor.
-          Afraid of losing Bev/living without her once she [SPOILER]
-          Afraid that she, Syd, Bev, etc. will never recover from [SPOILER]
-          Afraid of screwing up the manor more than it was before.
-          Afraid of failing to protect those that need protecting (applies more to Syd).
-          Afraid of not being enough for the manor? Nah. I think she’d be more afraid of losing it.
-          Afraid of hurting someone by accident while trying to fix them up.

Lovely, isn't it? I started with a character that had the emotional range of a teaspoon, and I added all these layers to her. Now she has the emotional range of a half-cup measure, so she still needs work, but progress is progress.  Not all of these may make it directly into the story, but they will affect how she acts.

Then I realized I'd given her all these fears, but I didn't know how she dealt with them. One of my side characters, Twyla, is scared of everything and is very timid, but I didn't want Gwen to act like her. Gwen was supposed to be tough. So, Gwen deals differently with fear. I remembered a quote I'd seen somewhere that said something like "It isn't brave if you're not scared." And that clicked with Gwen quite nicely. She goes ahead and does whatever it is, even though it scares her.

Then I ran into a problem. One of the things that bugs me about this current draft is that Gwen spends more time worrying about her lack of money than she does about the fact that someone is trying to scare her away from the manor, and is willing to be destructive. Then I talked to my mom, and she said that was probably part of Gwen's character. And something clicked again. When Gwen can't do anything to face what she's afraid of, she ignores it. (I'm not sure that entirely works, because surely there's something she could do to stop the saboteur, but it's another start.) So when she is in a scary situation that she has control over, she tries to ignore her fear and plows through it. But when she can't do anything about it, she puts the situation out of her head as much as she can. In the case of the saboteur, this could be dangerous, because the longer s/he's out there, the more damage s/he does.

So, in summary, each should character fear something and deal with it in their own way. Something cool that you could do though is have multiple characters with the same fear that deal with it in different ways, OR multiple characters that deal with different fears in similar ways. Lots of fun possibilities.

One more thing before I wrap up this post. I said before that a character's fear(s) will affect their worldview. Someone afraid of going blind may be very protective of their eyes. Someone afraid of their past coming back to haunt them may not like going to museums or antique malls or other places that glorify the past. Again, lots of fun possibilities.

I think that is it.  Hopefully this post was helpful to someone, and not completely boring.

And a lovely evening/day/afternoon/midnight/whatever to you.

1 comment:

  1. Denial is a classic psychological strategy for dealing with all sorts of things that we don't know how to cope with in life. Gwen doesn't know how to deal with the saboteur, so she puts him/her out of her mind and moves on. Classic denial. Very human. And it makes for some great conflict and suspense as she is confronted with those things that she doesn't want to think about.