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Writing Tip: Who cares?



Writing effective character development requires that you answer two basic questions:


· What does your character care about most in the world?

· How can you take it away from her?


Most of us go head-first into writing without knowing the answers. And that’s okay. As we discussed in How to write a novel,” your first draft is you telling yourself the story; i.e. figuring out what these answers are. But as you come to the next draft, it’s worth pausing and seeing if you can answer these questions. You’ll save yourself the heartbreak later when the editor finishes reading your manuscript and you realize you still can't articulate it.


In Dance With Me, it was hard for me to get through the metaphor of what Charlie represented and let her tell me what she cared about most. So much had been taken from her, but what which story was I really trying to tell? At first, since she is a sophomore in high school, I thought what she cared about most in the world was the love of her best friend, Scott. So I rewrote the whole opening scene and adapted much of the story to answer that question. But that turned her story into a love story and Dance With Me isn’t a love story. It's a story about loss. I realized the answer had been staring me in the face: What she cares about most is feeling connected to her family and I do a pretty astounding job of taking that away from her at every turn.


Once you have the answers to these two questions, you’re ready for the ultimate question, the boss battle of writing your story:


· What’s the point?


In other words, why should the reader spend her time reading your story? When she finishes the last page, what message will she walk away understanding? Once again, here’s Paula LaRocque (you might remember her teaching us about avoiding vague qualifiers and writing the shitty first draft):


“Create a question in the reader’s mind but delay answering it…or evoke reader curiosity but delay satisfying it.”


In other words, give us a question in the first 50 pages and then think of the goal of each chapter as answering a piece of that question. When we get to the end, whether happy or sad, the ending will feel like a resolution because we’ll have the answer. To give you an example, think of the parable about the Tortoise and the Hare. The question is, “Who will win the race?”


In Dance With Me, the question is, “Will Charlie find the connection to others she’s craving?”


If you’re working on a novel, I would love to hear your answers to these questions! If you’ve read my book, let me know if you agree with my answers.


*LaRocque, Paula. The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well. Grey & Guvnor Press, 2003. Pg. 123

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