WANT vs NEED

Last month we took a step back from Boy meets Girl to focus on some preliminary work. Although you can certainly throw your Hero and Heroine together on the first page, it may be better to show them apart first.

Then, when Boy Meets Girl, you’ll have the opportunity for SOMETHING to catch your characters attention - and that SOMETHING will directly relate to what is missing in that characters life. Just be careful not to be TOO obvious about it.

Remember, your hero and heroine go into this story ready for love. Even if they don’t know it. Love is what they NEED, not necessarily what they want. If you asked the hero and heroine on page one if they’re looking for love, they would categorically deny it. Might even say HECK NO! I never want to love again. (Oooh, backstory.)

But in that first meeting, you can give the reader a glimpse into why these two are perfect for each other. Which means you have to know all that before you start writing.

If you look at the beat sheet I introduced last month (http://jamigold.com/2012/11/write-romance-get-your-beat-sheet-here/) you’ll see that the very first thing listed is the “Opening Image/Hook: Opening scene or sequence of story; create empathy with characters by showing they lack for something.”

Now this lack that you introduce in the first scenes will be made up of things the character thinks he or she NEEDS. To save the ranch. To get that promotion. To fix a relationship. To attend a crucial event. You get the picture. (Quick assignment - go pick up a handful of romances on your shelf - read the first few pages and jot down the initial WANT for those characters.)

In these first scenes, you want to “introduce protagonists, hook the reader, and setup the romance conflict (foreshadowing, establishing stakes).” Does that sound daunting? It can be. But that’s why we read a lot of romance - to analyze and absorb how that’s done. And that’s why we do all that preliminary character work.

In these initial pages, you want your characters to come across as likable and to have wants that the reader can identify with. To do that, you have to know your characters. REALLY know your characters.

Why does she NEED to save the ranch? What’s in it for her. What’s behind that need/want? If you don’t allow your reader in to see the why then you won’t keep them reading, you won’t keep them caring. Most people never have a NEED to “save the ranch” - but most all of us can identify with keeping memories alive or fulfilling a responsibility that we’ve carried for a long time, or simply the need to make a living.

Are you confused by my interchangeable use of WANT and NEED? Remember, rarely does a character go into his/her story knowing what he truly needs. He knows what he thinks he needs. But that’s what the character arc is all about. The missing link in the hero’s life will be in the possession or person of the heroine and vice versa.
You’ve heard the phrase “he completes me.” Well, there it is.

A hero or heroine will likely go into the story not even guessing that there’s a huge hole in their life. One that only the “other half” will fill. That’s what the story is all about. That’s what the character arc is all about.

So, make sure you know what the true need is. But you don’t have to play that card yet. Please don’t. Simply open the H/H’s story with their normal world - skipping happily through life oblivious to what’s coming.

Make sense?

And if you’re still not sure how it’s done - keep reading great romance novels - the ones on the keeper shelf. Read them. Analyze them. Go through with the beat sheet in hand and figure out how that author did it. And don’t forget to WRITE.

Until next month - BiC HoK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Motivation

Motivation.

You hear it all the time. Your characters need to be motivated to pick up that sword and slay the dragon, venture to a distant galaxy, or figure out why there’s a dead body at the bottom of the well.

What motivates your character to do what they need to do in your story?

But, wait.

Strip away the story for a second. Let’s get back to your character before your story starts.

Long before...

Before she needed to grasp the sword, before he climbed into the rocket, before she lowered herself in the well to study the corpse.

Who is this person—at the core? How motivated was he or she--in general? As a person?

Was she ambitious to begin with? Or filled with ennui? Where did she draw motivation to, say, go to college or get a job? No, really, what drives her to get out of bed in the morning and go pursue her dream? Any dream?

And is it her own dream? Or a course charted by a parental unit? Family pressure? Family influence?

I’m thinking about all of this because I recently met a guy who was successful and highly visible for a long period of time.

And then, wham.

I mean, he got creamed. He was below down and he was below out. He had made some mistakes. He over-extended himself. He went completely belly up. He owed millions of dollars. It was a bleak scene. It took several years, but he’s picked himself back up. And now he's making another run at big-time business success.

He can trace his character and grit back to his parents and how he was raised. It’s such a key part of his life, how he absorbed what they taught him about how to approach that big wide world.

Why does anybody want to do anything?

That’s a common refrain of Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. “Murph,” the Asphalt Warrior (star of eight novels to date). Murph, the creation of the late Gary Reilly, lives a very alternative lifestyle. He questions capitalism, even the need for much of an income. How many people do you know who share that worldview?

With his idiosyncratic ways, Murph reminds me of Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, one of the most memorable novels I read in college, and Herman Melville’s Bartleby The Scrivener. Oblomov is incapable of doing anything significant. In the first 50 pages, he only moves from his bed to his chair. Told you. Great story.

And Bartleby declines most of the work assignments he’s given, even when the consequences mount.

Murph, Oblomov and Bartleby have their reasons. They are three-dimensional human beings.

Their lives are fascinating on their own because their sheer essence cuts against the grain of what’s acceptable.

Ignatius Reilly, also, the central character in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

Ignatius Reilly: “I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.” Yes, to varying degrees, these four are anti-social.

The vast majority of fictional characters are not.

Your dragon-slayer.

Your astronaut.

Your detective.

Before the inciting incident that interrupts your character's routine life, who was this person? What got them up in the morning?

I don’t think it hurts, at a very fundamental level, to understand the answer to that question.

So your character stands out from the crowd.

Final thought from George Carlin: “Actually, if you ask me, this country could do with a little less motivation. The people who are causing all the trouble seem highly motivated to me. Serial killers, stock swindlers, drug dealers, Christian Republicans. I’m not sure motivation is always a good thing. You show me a lazy prick who’s lying in bed all day, watching TV … and I’ll show you a guy who’s not causing any trouble.”