Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Does your main character need Prozac?
We writers can talk about motivation and backstory and character development until the cows come home. (Why, yes, I often do!) We can string together long paragraphs of introspection and volleys of dialogue in our efforts to "show, don't tell." (Oh, my, guilty as charged.)
One thing I can easily forget, though, is that a character's mood and outlook on life is probably one of the most important factors in making motivation make sense.
I was thinking about that as I read over two chapters that I've been working on in my current WIP. Both are from my heroine's point of view, and both take place by the same stretch of quiet river. In the first, when the river is a welcome refuge, my gal feels the cool river breeze. Later, though, as the scene goes on and when things go bad, that same river only feels hot and muggy and smells of dank fish.
My fingers hovered over the delete button as I read over those shifts. For a few minutes, I was convinced I needed to fix this. It showed a lapse in continuity, surely.
But I think I've talked myself out of it. After all, in real life, we don't always see things the same way, day in and day out, or even within the span of a day.
Think about how you view something as simple as a ringing telephone. If you're trying to avoid a call, your Great Aunt Zelda, say, whom you just know is going to draft you for bridesmaid duty, every ring creates knots in your stomach. You know how tacky your Great Aunt Zelda is, and her granddaughter, the bride-to-be? Well, her having been married three times already and still insisting on a church wedding and a white dress just says everything you need to know.
If, however, you're fully expecting Publisher's Clearinghouse peeps to call for directions to your house when they stop off with that big check, that r-r-riiiing is as beautiful as anything the New York Philharmonic could perform.
Of course, you can take this too far. If your character views anyone who shares even the most benign "good morning" as a Little Mary Sunshine, perhaps her next stop ought to be on a shrink's couch, with her hand out for a Prozac prescription.
The cool graphic that went with this blog post was purloined from JojoVanB's photobucket -- and trust me, it's better than Prozac to wash the blues away!