Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Of Flaws and Values

I know I've raved about the class I'm taking—the Deep Story class with Carol Hughes.  (Get thee to a sign up sheet.)  I've learned lots about developing emotion and planning the elements of a story for maximum impact.

But I had a setback on Tuesday.  I'd been plodding along, following through her lessons and applying them to my manuscript.  So far my changes have been small.  Defining something that I did intuitively.  Tweaking something for more emotional pow.  Adding a scene here or there to make sure the story flowed.

I was feeling pretty good about this story.  Relieved, even.

Then Tuesday happened.

The lesson's title is Building Your Characters.  I have characters, I thought.  I've made characters.  But, as I read, I got that sinking, sucking feeling in my stomach.  It wasn't about having the character, but about building the characterization for those characters.

Let me recap.  Two things she focused the lesson on were developing the characters Inner Flaw and Core Value.

The Inner Flaw is that little piece of vulnerability inside your character.  It's a fear or an old wound.   It's the thing that limits their potential and growth.  Maybe a fear of betrayal or abandonment.  Some insecurity.   With this Flaw comes the need to explain the flaw.  Why do they feel that way?

Hand in hand with the Flaw is their Core Value.  A sort of personal mantra.   It's the belief that guides their decisions and choices.

Well, I read this and promptly thought, "My characters have no internal flaw or core value!"

Personal black moment.  Insert teeth gnashing, breast beating, and general implosion of book-related self-esteem.

When my hubby came home, I lamented over dinner.  "My characters have no depth!"  (I expanded in melodramatic fashion but I'll leave that out for brevity.)

I think he just barely resisted rolling his eyes.  "I'm sure you're doing great, honey.  Are you sure?  Maybe you've got more than you think and you don't realize it."

As this has happened a few times this month, I took a deep breath and conceded that I would look again.  DH, having fixed my problem in male fashion, went back to his dinner, content.

I remained skeptical but concealed my panic.  It's not good for everyone's digestion for me to wail and pull my hair at the dinner table.

But late Tuesday night, while I was up with my teething kiddo, I tried to approach my panic rationally.  And perhaps it isn't as bad as I thought.

My hero's father was alcoholic, a mean and violent drunk.  He would vent his ire on his wife and his son.  Growing up in that sort of unpredictable environment made my hero determined to live methodically and responsibly, to be steadfast and upright where his father was not.  (His CORE VALUE.  See, I was doing better than I thought.)

I thought again and decided that the flaw/wound under that is that he's secretly afraid that he is as worthless as his father said he was, or as worthless as he thinks his father was.  (FLAW!  Yay!!)

My heroine was harder, as I've found she has been so far in the course of this class.  Good to know because I've been able to think through her more.  Bad to know because, well, it's hard.

My heroine's been let down by everyone and she's afraid of being let down again (FLAW) so she keeps her expectations low.  But heroine has a son and she's determined not to be the source of let down for him (CORE VALUE).  I'm still working on how this works out for her, because she's sort of my Achilles' heel right now.  But she's coming together.

The lesson of this class lesson was that if you put your hero and heroine into situations that make them violate their core value or face their flaw, then you ramp up the tension and emotional investment.

That sounds great to me but I'm SURE that I need to work harder there.  But it isn't as bad as I thought.  At least I have something to work with.

So, ladies and gents.  How about playing along?  Can you pinpoint your hero and heroine's Flaw and Core Value?  Any book that can serve as a good example of these things?



2nd Chance said...

As this has happened a few times this month, I took a deep breath and conceded that I would look again. DH, having fixed my problem in male fashion, went back to his dinner, content.

Hee, hee.

You write men so well!

Inner flaw... Daniel core value. To protect his son, period. Daniel, inner flaw. Judgemental.

Janey, core value...loyalty. Inner flaw...doesn't think she's good enough.

Quantum said...

Very Pirandellian Marne!

Google reveals a number of artistic endeavors entitled '* authors in search of a character', inspired by Pirandello's masterful '6 characters in search of an author'

But yours is the best by far! *grin*

You have got me thinking about myself now. If I am to be an RL hero, what is my flaw and core value?

Hmm. Can't think of any flaws.
Perhaps that's a flaw in itself.
I'll have to ask Mrs Q later. :lol:

Or maybe I'm just not suited to be a Hero after all! :cry:

Hal said...

Oh what a fun exercise!

Okay, let's see. My heroine's core value is family, I think. Family sticks by each other, no matter what. She was really close to her father, who she lost as a teen, and then her husband, who she lost as a young mother. So she knows the value of family, knows how quickly they can be lost, and therefore holds them as close as possible. And her flaw is that she's scared it's *her.* That people leave because she's not worthy of being in their life.

Holy crap! What a breakthrough! And really, this is what drives the entire plot. She's told her husband was dirty, and was killed. She sets out to prove that he was framed and died innocently. She does it to make sure her daughter doesn't grow up thinking her father is a traitor, and to be loyal to him, but she's really just terrified to admit that another person she loved left her.

Hmmm. Maybe dad needs to leave instead of dying....or that might be too obvious....

Marn, excellent blog! I realize this doesn't sound like a breakthrough to anyone else, but I'm like all jazzed up and doing the happy dance here. this is the kind of big-picture stuff I'd been struggling with, that is suddenly making sense. Woo hoo!

p.s. - George cracks me up :)

Marnee said...

Chance - LOL! Men are so much fun to write. I personally thought my desire to vent at the dinner table without expectation that he'd fix things for me was classically female too. LOL!!

Great core values, Chance.

One of the things I'm wrestling with is the scenes that come from these things. Are there any scenes that you've devised or any events in the story that come from these characteristics?

Q - I refrain from pointing out anyone else's flaws as I would hate for someone to point out mine. :) But I would advise to listen to Mrs. Q.

And I KNOW that you're suited for hero work. You manage hold your own with a bunch of lady writing pirates. A better hero I haven't seen.

Marnee said...

Hal - I'm glad you had a breakthrough!! :) And I don't think that because it's an "obvious" thing that it makes a character simple. There's a LOT of stuff--complex stuff--that comes out of simple things. Being abandoned as a child is that sort of traumatic event that can create complex problems. It's not simple. It's a simple act but it doesn't create simplicity.

You'd like this class. Really.

And George cracks me up too. He's the best.

Donna said...

Marn, this is really intriguing. I find it easier to discover this stuff as I'm pantsing along, and then when I go back to revise, with my Excel spreadsheet, I analyze each scene and figure even more of this out.

My head is hurting and the coffee isn't doing the trick, but when it does I'll be back with some answers. :)

Thanks for sharing this from your class. We've all gotten to benefit from it!

Bosun said...

Q - Whatever you do, DO NOT ask Mrs. Q that question. A pandora's box you do not want to open, my friend. Not that you aren't perfect, just don't ask.

I have this stuff for my characters already and would love to say it's because I'm just that good. But I'd be lying. Dee (Dee S. Knight) gave me this awesome character worksheet a while back and these two questions are included. So much conflict comes from answering these two seemingly simple questions.

Heroine - Beth
Flaw - people pleaser which has resulted in having no back bone. Her parents were not good people so raised by her grandparents always hearing "Don't be like your mother." She's spent her life trying to make up for the daughter her grandparents didn't get.

Core Value - Kindness and always doing what's right. She became a lawyer because that's what her grandparents wanted, not what she wanted. But the opportunity to use her job for good makes it easier to go to work each day.

Hero - Joe
Flaw - Bitter and negative. He's totally Eeyore. :) And quick to think the worst of people, including his own little brother.

Core Value - Home is what matters. The island, the water, and his way of life are most important to him and anything to protect them.

Bosun said...

That should be "...and HE'LL DO anything to protect them." Brain skipping around today.

Hellion said...

Marn, I will be sure to take Carol's class later this year. I know it's being offered in August and it sounds amazing! And I completely cracked up at your story because that's the nervous breakdown I have--every five minutes--but I don't have Mr. Fix-It nearby to say, "Are you sure? Maybe you should look again?" Bad for the digestion. *BRUHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA*

Core Value and Inner Flaw.

I will have to think. I know both of my characters have them--but as you so expertly revealed, these come from the backstory of your characters, so I need to think about Adam and Eve's backstory for a bit to identify them. I'll be back. (No that wasn't a reference to Arnold.)

Marnee said...

Donna - Carol actually talks about pantsing. I do think the way she approaches this class would be beneficial to pantsers during the revision phase. It talks about the big picture things. Too often I feel like writers get bogged down in the micro aspects of writing (how one particular phrase sounds, one scene, etc) but she spent the first few lessons laying out the big story elements. Very beneficial, especially since she applied them directly to the romance genre, which is something I rarely find in craft books.

Bo'sun - I can't wait to see how you pair these characters up. Joe sounds interesting. I love heroes who have a strong sense of home.

Any scene ideas where they face these things? (I'm really trying to get a handle on ways this is applied. I have some ideas for mine but I really think this hasn't crystallized for me yet.)

And go Dee. That works sheet sounds really useful.

Bosun said...

Oh, and I can send you the worksheet. I love it, gets a ton of backstory down. Stuff like who was their childhood best friend and their favorite color. But then you get these big aspects as well, with greatest fear thrown in.

Bosun said...

I have a few scenes, Marn. From the get go they're bouncing off each other. Once scene in particular, he gets tired of her starting every sentence with "Lucas says..." or "Lucas wants..." Lucas is his brother and her fiance. He pushes her with, "Don't you ever think for yourself?" He basically forces her to find her back bone.

There will have to be another scene (or more than one) where she stands up to him and points out being unkind to people just because you're a bitter is not acceptible. And she might call him a spoiled little boy for clinging to his toys and refusing to grow up.

Heh. I hadn't thought of that one until just now, but I like it.

Marnee said...

Bo'sun - Is okay, I'm blaming the weather for my brain malfunctions today.

Hells - DH is incredibly patient with me. In fact, most of the time now, just seeing him reminds me that I'm probably overreacting. I'm like Pavlov's dogs; he's reassured me so many times that he's become his own calming affect. I recommend finding someone like this--doesn't have to be a spouse, I'd imagine, but that works for me--for every writer. The stuff that goes on in my head can make me feel so crazy. But he's so steady he grounds me without saying anything sometimes. :) (Big XOXOXs for George today, love you hun if you're reading).

I hadn't really thought consciously about the importance of backstory but you're right. And coming up with backstory for Adam and Eve does sound tricky. I can't wait to hear what you do.

Marnee said...

Bo'sun - please do. :) And I like your scenes. Hmmm.... The way you did that might give me some ideas here. *off to look at my storyboard*

Bosun said...

I don't have it in my work computer, so I'll send it when I get home tonight. Remind me if you don't see it by 10p.

My heroine also has an intense fear of water and boats (stemming from an episode in her childhood) so having her hero be a charter boat captain helped with the conflict. Oddly enough, this story was well underway in my head before I realized she has this fear. I'm happy she revealed this tidbit so early. :)

Marnee said...

I like when characters are so accommodating. :)

Hellion said...

Q – Whatever you do, DO NOT ask Mrs. Q that question. A pandora’s box you do not want to open, my friend. Not that you aren’t perfect, just don’t ask.

*LOL* No kidding.

Bosun said...

Marn- If she had waited until we were halfway through this draft, we would have had words. And not the good kind.

Hal said...

I've been working on this damn story for two years, and the heroine just now let on she has a fear of abandonment. I'd be pissed if I weren't so excited about this little tidbit pulling the whole story together :)

Bosun said...

But you already said that, Hal, just not using the word "abandonment". Her whold hang up is based around people leaving her and that's really the definition of being abandoned. You gots this. LOL!

Hellion said...

Okay, I don't know if I did this right or if these are the right answers, but they're the best I've got right now.

Adam: he’s a staunch traditionalist. Everyone has roles and their proper place, things they are born for and best at. Not exactly embracing of change or modernization (except where technology is concerned). Probably a lead believer in the caste system. *LOL*

Inner Flaw -- Inflexible. Unwilling to adapt to evolution of relationships, et al. Fear of change.

Core Value – “If it wasn’t broke, why fix it?” (Refuses to see anything as broke though until it’s too late.) Stop meddling with something until it is broke—or as the doctor says, “Don’t poke it.” Be happy with what you have now.

Eve: a big thinker/analyzer, evolver, yogi. Nurturer, caretaker who has now come realize being a caretaker means she needs to take care of herself first.

Inner Flaw – Passive-Aggressive. Let’s things build up until it explodes and difficult to fix. Determined to handle everything (control freak), neurotic and stressed when it all goes awry. Now the yoga deals with her stress and has given her new ways to deal with stuff, but her newfound passion for her new way of life has become an all or nothing for everyone. No compromise. (That seems ironic—a passive aggressive yogi?)

Core Value – Oprah. “How can I be the best ME?” What do I need to do or change to be happy?

Their happiness beliefs are in conflict. He has low or no expectations (other than for things to remain the same, stable); she has higher expectations, she now wants more than she’s been getting. He wonders why she’s unhappy now after all this time; she wonders why he can’t pony up already, if it means that much to him, which clearly she doesn’t since he’s unwilling.

Hal said...

lol Ter. You're so right. It's all there, just not in a way that I saw how it informed the entire big picture. It's suddenly less muddled and more cohesive in my mind now. It's a beautiful thing :)

Marnee said...

Hal - I agree with Ter. I think it's there and you just didn't define it.

That's one of the things I've completely taken from this class. I do things but because I don't do them consciously, I miss that bit of POW that comes when things are done deliberately. Because realizing they should be there, I can hone it to a razor's edge. It's the difference between killing someone with a club and killing them with a sword. Both can get the job done, for sure. But the club is messier, requires more effort in the long run--probably--and lacks subtlety. A sword has flare, is clean and swift, elegant. And it can find that place that causes the most damage, smooth and sure.

Hellion said...

Marn's a little blood lusty this morning! I love it! *LOL*

Marnee said...

Hells - I love it. They're like "Everyman" and "Everywoman." It's perfect. Though I keep thinking how you're going to redeem him. He's like the original Neanderthal. (literally). LOL!! I can't wait to see.

Marnee said...

I was just stuck in traffic. Maybe it's on my mind.... LOL!!

Marnee said...

Hells, I keep thinking that Eve seems very New Age. LOL! I'm not sure why I'm seeing that, but I keep seeing her in yoga pants, eating granola, and lamenting aluminum in her deodorant.

Hellion said...

Eve is the granola one of this crew, yes. Adam: red meat and potatoes; Eve: grains and soy, yoga and exercise. I find granola people annoying so I thought Adam would too. *LOL*

2nd Chance said...

Well...Daniel judges Janey about being a pirate. But he doesn't really understand what being a pirate means. So he gets all judgemental on her. After they've had sex, she's very blunt about it. They f*cked. He's all, no, they made love. She stands by her assessment, saying he doesn't know her well enough to say that. He's all, "I don't f*ck." All holier than thou about it.

It's a judgemental thing. She doens't mean to downgrade their firest romp, it was fantastic, but he can't accept it as more physical than anything else. While Janey can't see it as anything but.

It's a scene that sort of pokes at both of their flaws.

Janga said...

I do love these workshop days. It's always such fun to see what's going on with everyone's WIPs.

My ms. is still very much in process, but here's my attempt at the exercise:

A member of a wealthy family with a media empire and strong social consciousness, she is driven to give back, to the point that she abandons her best chance for personal happiness and even risks her life to care for the neediest—children in the world’s poorest, war-torn regions. Her mother, a shallow, self-absorbed beauty, has always been peripheral in her life; her father was killed in a boating accident when she was ten. Her grandfather, in an effort, to deal with Saja’s grief and his own, encouraged her to focus on the needs of others, less fortunate than she. Core Value: responsibility. Inner Flaw: inability to admit her own neediness and become a receiver of gifts that could meet her emotional needs.

Brought up in a loving, intact family and taught to appreciate his family’s deep roots in a particular place, he has an abiding interest in history and a passion for preserving the past architecturally. He cannot forgive Saja for leaving him, but neither can he forget her. Now a widowed father of two, he is committed to his children and his profession, but a dozen years have been insufficient for him to let go completely of his anger at Saja. Core Value: family nurturing. Inner Flaw: inability to let go of the past.

Bosun said...

Seems to me if Eve is all about being the best version of herself, then she'd be willing to change herself to get there. But from what I've seen, she isn't willing to change herself. She's willing to change her situation and would really like to change (or stab) Adam but not herself.

So maybe her flaw comes more from an unwillingness to change herself or admit she could be the one who needs fixing? Or at least part of the problem.

Marnee said...

Chance - I like this example. I think if there's a way to intersect the flaws, that's probably a good way to play up the conflict and tension. I like this. I think I'm really getting a handle on this. I'm writing some sexual tension scenes right now and I wonder if I can twist it to play with this stuff.

*pondering* :)

Hells - I like granola. *confused* :) I know what you mean though. There's a stereotype here you're messing with.

And I think that the flaw of seeing everyone else's flaws but your own is a very very good flaw. Prevalent in the real world I think too.

Marnee said...

Janga - I love Saja's Flaw and Value. Your example shows that these work great if they're a flip side of the same idea. Her need to be help others in need comes hand and hand with an inability to accept that help for herself. I know moms like this.

And again, Brody's a home guy. I love that.

Bosun said...

Janga - I love that your character has such a solid, loving family, and that still manages to contribute to the conflict. Seems like every characters' backstory is paved with losing a parent, both parents, or a sibling. I'm totally guilty of this in the current book, but not in the first one. Hmmmm...never thought of that before.

Quantum said...

Marnee: I would advise to listen to Mrs. Q.
Bo'sun': Whatever you do, DO NOT ask Mrs. Q that question.
Helli: *LOL* No kidding.

We have been together for a long time. There were a few 'internal flaws' at first, which we quickly sorted. Now we mesh like a well oiled machine and simply don't notice any residual flaws.

Doesn't mean that you lot don't notice though! *grin*

A book that beautifully displays flaws and core values is Robin Carr's Virgin River 12 'Wild Man Creek'. Gillian the heroine shows tremendous courage and determination (core values)to allow her man to fulfill his ambition and leave her, possibly permanently, to fly helicopters and photograph wild life in Africa. After they separate she finds that she can't cope without him (flaw?).

Colin the hero leaves Gill, the woman he loves deeply, to pursue his adventurous ambitions in Africa (flaw ... what an idiot!). That's where I have got to, but I fully expect his loyalty and love (core value) to drag him back quite soon.

Fascinating blog and comments Marnee. :D

P. Kirby said...

I have this weird gender reversal thing going on with character building. Which is to say, that despite being female, I identify with my heroes and consequently, they're the first to get "character." Leaving my poor heroines as blank slates for some time.

This happened with The Canvas Thief--I was all about Benjamin; Maya was just a name--and it's how my steampunk-ish thing is progressing.

Remember the posting on this blog about method writing? Well, I'm already in method writing mode with my hero, Mordecai. I see through his eyes, he's in my head. I know what makes him tick.

But my heroine, Shelly is a cypher. She's still more of a sketch, an idealistic foil to Mordecai's cynic, than a fully-fleshed out character. I imagine it's because, I'm just more interested in the hero. Eventually, once I get a handle on my heroine, I always love her. But it takes so dang long to get to that point.

Anybody have the same (or opposite) problem?

Bosun said...

I think I'm pretty even on this one, Pat. But then I'm not a veteran at this either. My brain seems to linger in the center so I get both of them pretty clearly.

I'm guessing as long as your heroines come around eventually, you're in good shape. And for a female author, being able to get inside the male character brain is a great skill.

Marnee said...

Thanks, Q! :) And you and Mrs. Q sound like a matched set. :)

I haven't read Robyn Carr yet. Another lovely lady to add to my TBR. :)

P - Carol Hughes - the facilitator of this class - has a name for this. Mental Gender. She talks about how to understand your (the writer's) mental gender and how it affects the writing of your characters' mental genders.

I found that my hero was easier for me to write as well. He's a male mental gender (think stereotypes, that he's an ordered thinker, that he's not ruled by emotions). But my heroine wasn't gelling because she's a female mental gender. And I don't think as well like that. (Though I do have my moments of emotional turmoil, I'm usually pretty "male" in my thinking). Once I realized that she was ruled by emotions, I figured out what those emotions were, and then things fell into place.

Do you think this is your problem too? Do you think that your heroine is ruled by some sort of emotional response to something?

(You can tell me I'm off base here.)

Hellion said...

Can both my character have the same inner flaw: an unwillingness/inability to change? I would say that that Eve believes she has changed: changed who she is, changed with the world--and Adam is just unwilling to grow with her, so they've grown apart. She's not willing to "regress" to make him happy because doing so would make her unhappy.

I rather like when characters have the same sort of flaw or problem, approached from different angles because I think it gives them a sort of common ground if they ever recognize it.

Marnee said...

Hells, I agree. Both my characters are insecure. It's two different sides of the coin, but insecurity is the bottom line. And I think that it's hard to face something in yourself but so easy to see it someone else. So, when they start to have their, "this is what's wrong with you" talks throughout the story, there's a level of pot calling the kettle black that they can't help but recognize. I like that stuff.

And unwillingness to change is a great flaw. With plenty of room for growth.

Bosun said...

It sounds like if Adam is willing to get on board with technology, that he's okay with learning new tricks, but he doesn't necessarily want his external world to change. Whereas Eve thinks she has enough tricks and doesn't want her internal world to change.

So yeah, same flaw, different angles. Does that make sense?

2nd Chance said...

See! I like that! Same flaw, just the other side of the coin. That would be a nice juicy conflict to bite into.

P. Kirby said...

Do you think this is your problem too? Do you think that your heroine is ruled by some sort of emotional response to something?

Oh, yeah. I can totally see that. The truth is, I have a hard time relating to a lot of women. And while my husband will argue that I've got some big emotional triggers, for the most part I don't let emotions make my decisions.

So yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Definitely something to think about! :)

Hellion said...

Wow, have we stayed on topic all day? How weird. *LOL*

Bosun said...

Marn's just that good. She's figured out how to herd us in.

Marnee said...

I concur with the same flaw thing. Then it's almost like the "theme" of the story. Which makes it feel more satisfying, I think, when they both overcome it in a different way.

P - I thought the whole mental gender thing was interesting too. I liked it because it helped give my story some ying and yang. (That sounded dirtier than I expected....) Sort of a balance.

And we stayed on topic all day? *flutters lashes innocently* I hadn't noticed.