Thursday, December 13, 2012

Putting Your Characters on the Couch by Caridad Pineiro

People always ask me whether I'm a pantser or a plotter and invariably it's tough for me to answer.  I definitely write a synopsis, but it's generally a very loose one, maybe because I am definitely a character-driven writer which means that sometimes the characters surprise me.

When that happens, I find myself tweaking that general plot line to accommodate the new thing I've learned about the character. Usually it's a minor tweak because I'm fairly well familiar with my character and the conflict they need to face and resolve during the course of the story.

Why am I so familiar with them?  I like to say that I put my characters on the couch and delve into their psyches to peel away their layers in order to best craft a story that enhances the main conflict.

For example, in THE PRINCE'S GAMBLE, the heroine, FBI Agent Kathleen Martinez asks the hero, Prince Alexander, at one point what is most important to him.  Prince Alexander replies, “Freedom.”

When I set out to craft Prince Alexander, I knew his theme would be about “freedom”, but on various levels that would set him on a collision course with the heroine.

How you may wonder? For starters, Kathleen is there to investigate a missing hostess and a possible money laundering ring.  If the prince is connected to the crimes, he may lose his physical freedom.  Even if he isn't, if the casino's reputation is jeopardized, it could impact his economic freedom.

But there are more layers to that “freedom” conflict.  As the story progresses, we discover that the prince is very paternalistic and over-protective of his younger sister.  Why?  He wishes for her to have freedom away from the paparazzi that normally dog them when they are in Europe.

In addition, however, he wants her to be free from the kind of fear he's experienced as the scion to a royal family.  In time, Prince Alexander reveals to Kathleen a deep dark secret from his past and worse yet, he must confront his fear about that secret toward the end of the book.

But there is another deeper fear that the prince and confronting that fear will bring him emotional freedom and in time, Kathleen's love and trust.

So put your hero or heroine on the couch and try to figure out what is their “psychic wound.”  Ask them these simple questions.

1.      What do they fear more than anything?
2.      How did that fear arise?
3.      Have they confronted that fear or does it still have power over them?
4.      What would it take for them to overcome that fear?
5.      Would doing so give them power?  Love?  Peace?

Once you have the basic answers to the above, ask yourself what kind of conflict you can craft that would force your character to face that fear  and overcome it.  Readers love a story where they can root for the hero/heroine to be victorious!

Also ask yourself if it is a universal kind of fear or one that is specific to the hero/heroine.  For example, in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy is afraid of snakes.  There is a pivotal scene where he must overcome that fear in order to succeed in saving the day.  Many people have that fear of snakes, but moreso, many have some kind of phobia and could totally empathasize with Indy as he forces himself to overcome that fear.

Think about whether your hero's fear is universal as that may pull your readers in more easily than a very unique fear.  For example, part of Alexander's desires for freedom come from growing up a royal and in a communist regime.  Those two things have limited his freedom in the past and make him that much more determined to keep it in the future.  These are fears that aren't as universal as Indy's snake phobia, but they are still compelling to many people.

Ask yourself whether that psychic wound has had any impact on the character's physical appearance.  For example, someone who has been either sexually/physically/emotionally abused may got to great pains to be physically strong.  They will likely know how to defend themselves and stay fit because they have the mistaken idea that physical strength is the equivalent of emotional strength.

Also remember that when writing a romance, that psychic wound should have a direct correlation to the conflict between the hero and heroine.  A fear of snakes isn't going to kill a romance, but a fear of trust will.

I hope this has helped you learn a little more about creating characters and conflict in your novel.

Please take a moment to find our more about THE PRINCE'S GAMBLE and my campaign to help raise money to rebuild the Jersey Shore.  From now until March 1, 2013, my share of the proceeds from the sales of the book will be donated to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief fund. THE PRINCE’S GAMBLE is available for download at Amazon via this link: or at B&N via this link: 

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