Character Development

I'm gonna talk a little bit about character development today. Mostly because it's what I've been working on all week and it's lodged in my brain, but also because I just want to. I guess I'd be in the wrong job if I didn't think this crap was interesting. I can't imagine this will be all that interesting to most of you, but I promise I'll get back to my usual office supply store posts sooner or later. ;D

Anyone who's ever taken a fiction class or read a book about writing fiction has probably heard of The Goal. That's because it's the most universally parroted rule of fiction. A character must have a goal. There are a million reasons for this, some more complex than others, but at its heart, having a goal simply brings a character movement. It gives them a reason to act and a direction to go in. It's what keeps the writer from sitting on their hands staring at a blank piece of paper and saying, "Now what?" If John-Boy really wants a pig, the "Now What" is...well, to get John-Boy to a pig store, I guess. That's a horrible example, but it's Saturday, what do you want from me? I used up all my brain cells for the week back on, like, Wednesday.

The character's attempts to accomplish that goal are the best possible source of tension in a book, mostly because writers are sadists who like to make things difficult. It's not a story if John-Boy goes to the pig store (don't judge me) and just buys a pig. It's only interesting if John-Boy can't afford the pig. Or if the store's out of pigs. Because of the huge demand in pigs, I suppose. Does that even happen? Is there ever a rush on pigs? I don't know. Maybe there was a sale. 

In a perfect world, each character in the book has a goal, and those goals will often conflict, which provides drama and tension between characters. If two characters want to buy the same pig, the last available pig, there's gonna be a rumble.

Obviously this is the most simplistic example the world has ever known, but you probably get my drift. 

The richest fiction comes when each of those characters has an emotional reason to want the pig. When he was a kid, John-Boy's cruel father told him he could never have a pig, and now that John-Boy's an adult, he'd going to assert his independence and manhood by buying a pig. Maybe the other character (let's go with Antoine, just because I like that name) wants a pig because it was his beloved mother's dream to own a pig, and she recently died in a catastrophic thresher accident. So he's super motivated to get that pig. And now John-Boy and Antoine have a reason to fight it out in the hopes of being the lucky guy who gets the pig.

I've now typed the word pig so many times that it doesn't even look like a word anymore. This is seriously getting away from me at this point, but it seems like way too much work to go back and come up with a different idea, so we're all stuck with it now. 

The point is that John-Boy and Antoine not only have goals, but emotional motivations that will compel them to act. There's a lot more to it, obviously, but that's the beginning of basic character development as every writing book and Creative Writing program in the country will tell you.

But as a writer of romance, I always like to break my main characters down further still by creating a central need. These needs are the "musts" that a person has to have in order to be happy in a long-term relationship. And I'm a firm believer that for the relationship to work, the other partner has to be able to meet that central need easily. If he's constantly opening a vein to give his partner something crucial to his happiness, that relationship is going to tear one or both of them up over the years.

Some mild Bad Judgment spoilers follow in this paragraph (in regards to character development, not plot) for the purposes of discussion: For example, Brogan's central need was to have someone who wouldn't take advantage of his giving nature. Brogan would not be able to exist in a relationship where the other person took everything Brogan offered, because Brogan doesn't know how to stop giving when it starts to negatively affect him. To this end, to be the perfect match for Brogan, Embry had to be intrinsically independent emotionally. He had to want to stand on his own two feet and never rely on someone else. It doesn't cost Embry anything to avoid taking advantage of Brogan; on the contrary, Embry prefers not to get help from Brogan at all. Embry's central need, on the other hand, was to have someone willing to reach past all his thorny defense mechanisms and pull him into a place of emotional safety. Embry needed someone who wouldn't give up easy, and since Brogan is a sucker who doesn't know when to quit, it's simple for Brogan to deliver on that count.

Obviously, Brogan and Embry's central needs are complimentary--they're each naturally suited to providing the one thing that the other person needs more than anything. Everything else can be complicated and difficult and confusing, but I'm a firm believer that if you're not getting your most crucial need met in a relationship, it's a bad relationship. And if meeting that need is going to exhaust your partner because it doesn't come easily to them, you're going to be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of your life, assuming you make it at all.

My personal opinion is that the complimentary nature of the main pairing's central needs are part of what causes that sense of connection that characters have to have in order to believably fall in love. This is something that I've found to be central to every romance I've ever read that I've really loved.

So Jim-Bob's central need might be that he needs someone who is confident and secure enough to remind him that being a man isn't something you can buy in a store--something Antoine learned from his late mother. Antoine maybe needs someone to remind him that he doesn't have to complete his mother's dreams in order to be worthy of her love, something that Jim-Bob, who dreams of having the love of a parent, sees clearly. Maybe their kindness and willingness to understand each others' motivations brings them together, and they pool their funds so they can afford to buy a pregnant pig and start their own pig farm. And then they live happily ever after.

This is the worst story ever. No one should listen to me about fiction. 

Here, I'll make it up to you. Have a cat.