Three Dirty Birds talk about Chapter 22 and More Characterization

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Today the Dirty Birds are talking about character attitude, quirks, idiosyncrasies, intention and motivation. That’s a lot! Good thing we’re good talkers, right?

Zoe: This was the anti-character-worksheet chapter!

Kate: I didn’t find much in this chapter, to be honest. A few things were good, but I really had to work to keep my mind on it.

Zoe:
I actually really liked the doubts, shame, secrets, and desires questions he gives. It comes right before he puts down all those tedious character worksheets, and while I was reading the questions, and I was thinking, “THIS IS WAY BETTER THAN CHARACTER WORKSHEETS,” because the questions actually got you thinking about the inner workings of characters, instead of their favorite colors and what car they drive.

Ana: I was going through this chapter thinking: Yay, character sheets are a waste of time. I don’t need to feel lazy anymore!

Zoe: I liked his line, “A character with an attitude is always more interesting than a character with a history.”

Ana: Best line in the chapter.

Kate: It was an excellent statement, because a character’s attitude encompasses the whole of their previous experience.

Zoe: The “intentions differ from motivation” section…part of me kept thinking, “This is interesting,” and the other part was thinking, “…or it might be if I was sure I understood what he was saying.” I may need to reread that section sometime.

Ana: I’m not sure I agree with what he said about motivation. I mean, yeah, I do want to know why my characters are doing what they’re doing / why they have certain goals.

Kate: I think he was wrong here. Motivation is very important, not just for the author. If the reader doesn’t see that the motivation is consistent, then the character actions lose that connecting thread that pulls the reader along. So, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant that it doesn’t need to be stated explicitly but should be understood, and assume he simply had difficulty getting that all out.

Ana: Yeah, I was trying to understand his motivations, but it was kind of difficult. I agree with him that character motivation is complex and can’t be distilled into one word, but who’s saying it has to be?

Zoe: What I got out of what he was saying was that, okay—you have a character who’s looking for Pepsi. That’s both his “need” in the scene and what he’s actively doing. His intention is to slake his thirst, and his motivation is why Pepsi in particular. So the reader needs to know his intention, but not that Pepsi reminds him of childhood days with PopPop. I don’t know. Like I said, I was half-confused through the whole section.

Kate: It wasn’t one of his shining moments. I did like what he said about using setting as more than a location, but that could just be me patting myself on the back, because I like to do that a lot.

Ana: No, I agree. When I was writing my first novel actually, and I gave it to my friend to read, she pointed a chapter out to me and said something along the lines of, this is an epic scene, it shouldn’t play out in an office, that’s way too boring. She basically made me rewrite the scene for location alone, but in the end, she was right. It was much better after I changed it.

Kate: It think it’s important to remember the psychological effect of the setting on the characters and on the readers, and how changes to that setting can foreshadow, or mirror, changes occurring in the characters. I have one story where the setting starts out very clinical–steel and glass and organized–and gradually moves toward a more organic model, with wood and leather and softer edges, as the relationship between the characters progresses.

Zoe: (I’d participate in this part of the discussion, but I’m busy scribbling notes for something I forgot to do setting-wise in my W.I.P.)

Ana: Yeah, Zoe almost wrote a sunny horror story. Can you imagine?

Kate: I’m horrified. 🙂

Zoe: Dodged a bullet there. Thanks, guys.

Kate: Anything else to discuss from this chapter? We’ve already hit all the points I found interesting, or even lucid.

Zoe: Nope, that does it for me.

Ana: I was just thinking about the setting in my last novel, and how I didn’t even really have a setting at first. It’s definitely something I have to keep reminding myself of. For some reason though I used a lot of sea and coastal metaphors throughout the story, which I wasn’t aware of until my editor pointed it out. So we moved the story to a city with a harbor…

Kate: That was your theme, right? The mutability and hidden depths of human emotions?

Ana: That’s what I’m going to say the next time someone asks me about it.

Kate: Okay, so that pretty much wraps up that chapter. Next one up is Depth: Revelation vs. Transformation

4 responses to “Three Dirty Birds talk about Chapter 22 and More Characterization

  1. “Zoe: What I got out of what he was saying was that, okay—you have a character who’s looking for Pepsi. That’s both his “need” in the scene and what he’s actively doing. His intention is to slake his thirst, and his motivation is why Pepsi in particular. So the reader needs to know his intention, but not that Pepsi reminds him of childhood days with PopPop. I don’t know. Like I said, I was half-confused through the whole section.”

    But you see, for me, as a reader, if the character was obviously totally intent on Pepsi, that it must be Pepsi or nothing and he’ll kill to get that Pepsi, you’d better be telling me why. I need to know that. I find that I need to know what the character’s motivation is for doing the things that he does, that are important. If that’s not clear for me then I spend all my time wondering why the character is behaving like that and I’ll drop out of the story. The motivations of the MC need to be clear for me or I’ll be puzzled or, if they’ve been hidden for too long, I’ll end up feeling duped when they are revealed and the book is a bummer for me.

    Oh! Also, I have found that instead of those character sheet things, something Zoe suggested way long ago always helps – is interview your character. That’s what I assume all those questions this dude asked were about. Anyway, it’s helped me out on more than one occasion. 🙂

  2. Definitely, interviewing your character, or writing ‘extra’ scenes with them can be a big help. I don’t use character sheets, but I can see where, if you have a character that’s going to keep coming back in a series, you might want some record of details all in one place, so you can fact check easily. Save the time it would take you rereading your previous manuscripts. Which might be the only use that I, with my writing style, would find for them.

    You know, I think the Dirty Birds should hunt around and see how many different kinds of character sheets we can find and do a post on them specifically. I’m sure I have a couple of different versions somewhere that I downloaded and never did anything with. 🙂

  3. I don’t even think I have any character sheets, unless there are some in the books on my shelves. (I’d have skipped right over them if there were.) I go cross-eyed as soon as I see one.

  4. Good excuse to go through your bookshelves. 🙂

    That would be a fun post. We could come up our own version of a character sheet and call it “Zoe Character Maxims #1”.

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