Get a Free Ebook

Five Inspirational Truths for Authors

Try our Video Classes

Downloadable in-depth learning, with pdf slides

Find out more about My Book Therapy

We want to help you up your writing game. If you are stuck, or just want a boost, please check us out!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Exasperating Characters ~ Plotting via Motivation

No, not these 3 characters. But they are cute, aren't they?

Maybe I should have called this NO Plot via Motivation. Have you ever had a character that refused to talk to you? I have. I'm dealing with her right now. I'm in the second book of a series.

This character, Lacy, was in the first manuscript. She's the sister of another character in my small fictional town. My "plan" was to have her story the main plotline of the second manuscript.

The set-up

In the first novel and through the main POV characters, I set-up Lacy's personality ... or at least what I'd gleaned from her character analysis. I use a fairly detailed character interview, including the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) and the lie the character believes about herself.

In the first manuscript Lacy played a very minor part, so I didn't dwell on her GMC. All I needed to do was let the reader know she was shy, hardly ever spoke, and was plain (and I don't mean Amish).

Lacy is the invisible kind of plain. I wanted a person other people overlooked. The kind who could be at a party and no one remembers them being there. Interestingly enough, her husband is cute, the boy next door. And he adores her.

The problem

I finished the first manuscript having set-up Lacy exactly as I planned. In the second one, she and her sister would both play POV parts. I went through their character analysis sheets and expanded them for POV.

What I discovered changed everything. First of all, I thought these sisters were close, since Lacy's sister, Lydia, had moved after the death of her husband, to be closer to Lacy. Ha! I found deep-seeded animosity between them, stemming from their childhood. Was I shocked!

Lydia was easy. She's open and shared her life with me. Lacy? She clammed up. So much so, I realized she wasn't ready to be a POV character.

Resolution ... for now

I changed the second manuscript's plot and POV character. Lacy will play an increasing part in this one, and it's my hope I'll discover more of her motivation. That's what has me stuck. I know what she wants, I know her conflict, but I don't know her motivation.

At first I thought perhaps I'm not far enough along as a writer to write a character that is so far removed from me. After all, I'm not remotely shy. Well, maybe a tad in certain situations. Oh, come on, I can be shy. But not as shy as Lacy. While we always grow as writers, I'm still fascinated by Lacy.

I've decided to forge ahead, even though I can't figure her out ... yet.

But I refuse to be intimidated by her. So,  I'm taking a course, "Plotting Via Motivation" by Laurie Schnebly Campbell ( Laurie told me, accompanied by a chuckle, that she's looking forward to playing counselor to Lacy. I'm looking forward to the course.


  1. Love your post, Ane. I especially like the fact that, since Lacy has already existed, however quietly, in a previous story, you can't just toss her character design and make her an entirely different person to suit your needs. (I'm sure you're thrilled about that too.) But it shows how close to real life our fiction can become.

    I need to get cracking on a novella that's due soon. My character had better talk to me, or we're both in big trouble.

  2. Thanks, Trish. And you're right about Lacy already being there. But great news! On day 3 of the course, I've found her motivation. I was amazed. And like I said, I have a pretty thorough character interview sheet.

    Now, I'll delve a little deeper into what I found to flesh that out and I may be ready to write her!

    After I finish my current WIP, of course.

  3. The Lacy syndrome has frustrated me in real life characters. Why won't they just speak up? Now I have a daughter that confounds that situation even more. She's not plain. She looks like she part-times for Vogue while earning the top grade in her Chemistry and Trig classes. With all that brain power surging around in her head, you KNOW she's thinking something. She's bound to have something to say. And still she keeps her mouth shut.
    Parents, boys, teachers, they're all confused. This time I understand the character and her motivation. I also understand the mindset of those on the outside looking in: pretty people have an obligation to entertain us don't they?
    I'm now fascinated with exploring on paper the character with stereo-typical beauty and brains who lacks the predictable confident personality.

  4. Whether in real life or in our character write/sketch ups, shy people do have reasons for clamming up. There are thoughts of inferiority with others, worried about what others might think of them if they mess up or say the wrong thing and feel foolish, some gladly stay out of the limelight (they are in their comfort zone of not having anything required of them), and another reason is prior bullying by their peers or family.

    Thank you, Ane for this post! Keep writing!

  5. Ane, now I'm REALLY looking forward to working with Lucy...or, rather, to watching you work with her.

    She's sure not the first uncooperative character to come down the pike, and she might be taking some quiet satisfaction in stumping the panel -- but does SHE even know what she wants? It'll be fun finding out!

    Laurie, liking the trio photo :)

  6. I have a similar character, Grace. She is the star in a novel I wrote in 2009 for NaNoWriMo; before I learned about character interviews and all the rest.

    I have tried repeatedly to interview her. I can basic statistics - age, birth date, home town, family history, etc., but she will not speak to me.

    The last time I tried, I even took the long way around. I described my trip to where she lives with her grandfather. I was able to describe the surroundings, the long, winding road to the farmstead on the hilltop, the river below, the path to town, the barn and the house and the sound of someone chopping wood around back (Grace).

    I got to the corner of the house and to the point at which the next step would bring her into view and....

    Poof! Couldn't take the step. Couldn't write another word.

    Like you, I've set Grace aside for later.

    Hearing that you've come to terms with Lacy gives me hope for Grace, too!

  7. Carrie, from this course and a series of questions Laurie asked, I found Lacy's motivation! Not only found it, but the whole plot line came together like nothing I've ever done. The spiritual journey, the moral premise, the character arc, the conflict, it went BAM! I can't wait to play it out in the course and Lacy is back in book 2 of this series!

  8. Great post, Ane! Shy people often feel they have nothing in common with their current companions (or that their particular differences will set them up for ridicule or rejection) At least, that's how I felt the couple times I've been shy. I love to set up "oddball" characters whose growth stems from overcoming their shyness. Hey, is that Gina in the white sweatshirt on your right? Tell her I said hi. I met her at BRMCWC--it was my first time there but it sure won't be my last. Can't wait to see how Lacy blooms in book #3.

  9. I love this!!!! Beautifully written, Ane, and your expression is priceless. Such a gift of enthusiasm, my friend.

  10. That's Gina, Mary. She and I are crit partners. :) The other gal is S. Dionne Moore and she's my brainstorming go-to. We both have such warped minds, we can follow each other's train of thought without derailing. ;o)


Don't be shy. Share what's on your mind.