Autumn...the time of year when I wax nostalgic, remembering people and places from my past. Does fall, this bittersweet interlude between summer and winter, affect you like that, too?
When I was growing up, a great-aunt was a small-town postmistress and my grandma was her backup. So I spent a number of hours in the rear room of a small frame building listening to their soft Texan accents as they chatted with locals, sold stamps, processed packages, and placed mail in postal boxes--the old kind where you had to spin the combination lock this way and that.
Oscillating floor fans gently stirred the shadowed interior on a day when a rooster’s crow served as an alarm clock, horned toads scuttled across hot sand streets, cattle lowed in the distance, and the universal topic of conversation revolved around would it ever rain again?But I digress... Today we’re talking about story characters!
Do you sometimes find yourself forgetting a character’s eye color? What vehicle he drives? Or maybe the scene you just wrote falls flat, is episodic, and doesn’t move the story forward. After much head pounding you belatedly realize it’s because you haven’t kept the GMC that drives your characters foremost in your thoughts. You didn’t take advantage of that secret she’s keeping or his greatest fear to increase the internal or external conflict. Maybe out in the muddled middle you lost track of what your story is REALLY about.One of the other things I remember from that small-town post office was being fascinated with the “wanted” posters. Just like back in the Old West, the bulletin boards were tacked with layers of notices providing details and images of criminals who were attempting to outrun the law. Posters that were designed to stick in a reader’s mind.
Which brings me to the birth of a character “wanted” poster.
In September 2014 Seeker Janet Dean and I attended author-editor Jeff Gerke’s ACFW workshop “Write Your Novel In A Month.” In that session, Jeff mentioned how it was important to remind yourself of a number of things as you write. Things that, once you get bogged down in the writing weeds, are too easily forgotten, allowing those inner deflating “voices” to cause you to doubt, flounder, and lose focus.
Jeff suggested posting answers to the following questions at your work station for a frequent refresher.
- WHAT is the “story core”? The premise?- WHY did I want to write this story in the first place?
- WHY will a reader want to read this story?
During a workshop break, Janet and I chatted about the usefulness of keeping those ideas front and center as we wrote. Then we elaborated on some of Jeff’s (and others’) ideas to formulate what else would be helpful to post as a reminder as we write each scene. That’s when we came up with a character “wanted” poster.
What did we decide belonged on that single sheet of paper that we can regularly review?
- Core story concept
- Moral premise / takeaway
- Why I am writing this
- What will appeal to a reader
- Location / season
For both hero and heroine:
- Character description (core character, e.g., dreamer; headstrong; burned out)
- Personal (physical description, personality, mannerisms, background, job)
- Goal - internal
- Motivation - internal
- Conflict – internal
- Goal - external
- Motivation – external
- Conflict – external
- What happens if goal(s) not met?
- A secret kept
- Greatest fear
- Greatest flaw
- A lie tells self
- How will he/she change?
Then, using Microsoft Word’s table feature, I created a 1-page “Wanted Poster” that concisely summarizes things to remember as I write. I post it next to my desk--or I could post it as my “desk top” image so it’s there every time I log on.
So how do YOU stay focused on the core essence of your story and characters as you write? What other elements might you add to a character “wanted” poster of your own?
To celebrate the debut of my new “Hearts of Hunter Ridge” series, I’ll draw the names of three winners for a copy of “Rekindling the Widower’s Heart.” If you’re interested in being included, please mention it in the comments section--then check the Weekend Edition to see if you won.
GLYNNA KAYE treasures memories of growing up in small Midwestern towns--and vacations spent with the Texan side of the family. She traces her love of storytelling to the times a houseful of great-aunts and great-uncles gathered with her grandma to share candid, heartwarming, poignant and often humorous tales of their youth and young adulthood. Her Love Inspired books--Pine Country Cowboy and High Country Holiday won first and second place, respectively, in the 2015 RWA Faith, Hope & Love Inspirational Reader’s Choice Awards.
A Future to Build On - All widower Luke Hunter wants is to raise his three kids—and be left alone. When Delaney Marks arrives in town to oversee the youth group's house renovation project, Luke decides he must come out of hiding. He's worried she's too young to get the job done. He'll have to keep a close watch on her—and on his heart. Because being with the vibrant girl makes it easy to forget their age difference and to start hoping for a future he doesn't deserve. As tensions rise over project pressures, Delaney tries to make Luke see that some things are just out of his control—and that he is worthy of happiness...with her.