Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Matters to Our Characters

Morning Light by Walter Elmer Schofield--1866 - 1944So it’s the day after the big snow and my son wants to join all his friends at a house in another neighborhood.

They’re playing video games and watching movies and having a blast—and the only thing separating him from the party is his parents and their determination not to drive in the snow.

“But Erik’s mom drove him!” “And she’s from New Jersey.” “But Wesley’s dad drove him!” “And he’s from Canada.” “But Jacob’s dad drove him!” “He’s from upstate New York. And your dad is from Alabama and your mom’s from South Carolina. When it snows, we stay inside and don’t operate motor vehicles.”

I can remember what it was like to be a teenager and have cautious parents who seemed bound and determined to foil my every fun idea. Although my idea of a good time in bad weather isn’t driving over to another neighborhood and hanging out with a bunch of teenage boys, he made me feel how badly he wanted it.

It was the winter of his discontent. And he was definitely letting me know it.

As Kurt Vonnegut said in Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

The reader may not want the same thing. But they need to feel like it’s of vital importance that the character gets the thing they want. And understand some of the character’s motivation and desire for it.

It’s the perfect set up for conflict—establish what the character wants and then put obstacles in the way of his getting it.

Like a snow-covered road and reluctant parents.

What does your character want most? Have you made the reader feel the urgency, too?

Hope you’ll visit again tomorrow when I’ve got author Lois Winston guest posting! And I’ll be visiting Burrowers, Books, and Balderdash. :)