Friday, January 29, 2016

Best of the Archives: From Seed to Fruition: Building Characters From Inside Out

Gooooooooood Morning, Seekerville!!!!!!!

I love parables. I love analogies. I love hearing one thing and seeing how it relates to another, because those kinds of things... comparables... relate to me.  I might react in haste, like those self-righteous men in the street, but when I hear Jesus's rebuke, I see the light. The comparison of their sin to hers makes it all seem so clear, doesn't it?

You remember the whole mustard seed thing, right?

From the tiny seed,

the great tree groweth?

Story building works the same way. A tiny seed can be planted almost anywhere. From anything. Like the fields that had good seed fall on bad ground, some story lines develop better than others. But it’s in this development that branches grow.

And then we prune. Artful pruning, the blessing of any horticulturist. (Had to throw ONE BIG WORD in here for Mary Connealy's sake, she's so stinkin' smart, a total Miss Smarty Pants. Oh my stars.)

So let’s say we’ve got the story seed growing. Maybe several. Now we need to choose.

Ever felt like this when you're planning a story??? ;)
STORY IDEAHe’s a white knight type sheriff, a man of great principle, well-regarded in his hamlet of Shadowville. She’s the suspected terrorist, the femme fatale, the one thing that can bring him down. And everyone knows it but him.

(Like a bad-boy hero who turns to good, the femme fatale needs to have a REASON to be a danger to the hero either physically, mentally or emotionally. Just being a crazy woman DOES NOT DO IT. Ask any man. They apply that to us UNIVERSALLY... men are such... men.)

Of course in some cases...
That's perfectly fine, LOL!

So we’ve planted a seed. But this SEED sprang from somewhere (I love George Lucas, don’t you???) so this story could have a prequel.

And that would be a Young Adult novel, where this tragedy-bound young woman is pushed out of the inner circles, left on her own, reviled, ignored, mis-treated:

Novel by Gene Stratton Porter

She’s the ultimate success story. Prom Queen. Beguiling. Sweet-beyond-sweet. A town princess who must leave her cozy nest because of some strange or compelling circumstance. Let’s say she’s adopted… And she realizes her mother/father never knew about her, thought her dead. So she’s compelled to search them out, but this takes her to a strange, new place where she’s ill-received. Suspected. Her past is brought into question. Her future is shaky at best because she’s ‘one of THEM’… Whoever THEY are...


Pine nuts/seeds from pine cones....

All seeds come from somewhere. Do not ask which came first.

I don't know.And that’s the children’s story, the prequel version done for 4th-6th graders, where a young girl is tucked into a town and no one wants to accept her. Think Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day”, the story of the little girl who saw the sun when she lived on Earth, and no one in her Venus classroom believed her. So from this seed you can organically grow a tween-type book that shows the whys and hows of this girl’s life, her neediness, her resolve, her strange history, her shaky future. And because it’s for kids, you should think Hatchet… Holes… Bridge to Terabithia… The Great Gilly Hopkins

Think DEEP because we remember deep books from that era. We shrug off the inane ones. Now you’ve got a tween basis for a story. A strong story.

But let’s move back up the ladder to the adult version. Because that’s how EASY it is to story-build in a creative mind. Work backwards… Move forwards.

Moving forward on an unmarked road isn't always EASY, but it can be satisfying...

Imagine. Envision. Predict. Foresee and foreshadow.

RESULT: Automatic depth.

And even if you NEVER WRITE THOSE TWEEN OR YA NOVELS, you now have a depth of story to work from. A deep, simmering cauldron of information to pull from, because now you know the woman’s history, her thoughts, her mode, her reasoning. You can deepen her character in ANY DIRECTION YOU CHOOSE because you know her.

I don’t do actual biographies for characters, but I let my mind delve into what happened TO them, to reveal things about them. “The past steps on the heels of the present, whether you like it or not, Jacob.” (Sarah, Plain and Tall)

This is a universal truth even when our characters work to bury the past. That in itself affects their present and future. They cannot get away from it.

I keep a cache of great YA novels, including The Yearling, Katherine Patterson’s books, The PearlAnne of Green GablesWhere the Red Fern Grows, etc. These books are great inspiration for character development. Re-reading strong YA books helps me remember what it was about the emotional development of the story that compelled me to keep them on my shelf. Because isn’t that an author’s greatest honor? Right up there with making people cry? To have his or her book tucked on a “keeper” shelf?

For so many characters, trauma that occurred in childhood or young adulthood causes the scars our heroes and heroines react to in the adult story. Buttons and triggers get pushed. Emotions overflow. Fear, dread, hope, joy and resolution work hand-in-hand.

Don't discount those coming of age stories. The very best grown-up stories are deeply invested in those fledgling roots.

Author of a lot of books, and generally considered a know-it-all who makes really good cookies, multi-published and best-selling author Ruthy Logan Herne loves to talk about writing, kids, faith, cooking, and romance... The old-fashioned kind of romance, that makes you smile... and sigh.

Friend her on facebook (Ruth Logan Herne), @ruthloganherne on Twitter, or stop by her website or blog 

And here's a peek at her newest Love Inspired series "Grace Haven" with Ruthy's latest Romantic Times Four Star rated release "An Unexpected Groom".

This post is from our archives. Comments are closed on Fridays for more reading and writing.