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This week, From Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure (Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish) – James Scott Bell
RE: the Lead Character
I love creating characters, probably my most favorite part of writing fiction, hence the reason I’m reading several books on developing plot! In Plot & Structure, Bell tells of the four characteristics your lead must have in order to hook the reader and carry them along for the journey of the book, the “why should I care about this character?”
Here are the four, and how my lead character, 16-year-old Lily Capriani, ranks:
IDENTIFICATION: How will readers identify with Lily?
Bell says readers will identify with lead characters using “the marks of a real human being.” Most likely we are 1) trying to make it in the world, 2) a little fearful and 3) not perfect.
This is how Lily is…
1) Trying to make it in the world…
Surviving her mother’s abandonment
Needing to separate herself from her alcoholic mother and the gossip she left behind
Wanting to study culinary arts overseas to create her own future, far away from her current circumstances
2) A little fearful…
Hoping her mom will return
Shelters her emotions, keeps a distance
Being stuck on Half Moon Bay Resort forever
Ending up like her mom
3) Not perfect…
SYMPATHY: Why will readers care about Lily? Root for her?
Bell says there are 4 ways to establish sympathy: 1) Jeopardy (physical or emotional trouble) 2) Hardship (facing a misfortune not of her own making) 3) The Underdog (we love rooting for those rags to riches heroes) 4) Vulnerability (we worry about a character who can be manipulated or injured or worse)
Lily evokes SYMPATHY by…
Vulnerability: she is stuck in her current life on the lake, reliving her mother’s abandonment each time she reappears to wreak havoc; Lily has an unsettling suspicion that her Nonna is keeping a terrible secret from her, which would have devastating results on her already unstable life.
LIKABILITY: Why would readers want to hang out with Lily for her journey (through several hundred pages?)
Lily is a likable character because…
She has an empathetic heart, kindness especially towards the elderly (her Nonna, the older resort guests) and underdogs (Frank) who she observes in an abusive situation, even though she struggles with her own distrust of people and need to remain “disconnected” so not to get hurt (mom’s abandonment)
She has a witty sense of sarcasm and humor and some smart ass one-liners
INNER CONFLICT: What inner voices battle within Lily making her a complex, multi-dimensional character?
Lily battles with the decision to leave Half Moon Bay and her Nonna to study culinary arts overseas
She justifies this decision by the need to live her own life and get away from the looming family secret, yet guilt over leaving her elderly Nonna to run the resort.
Lily also battles the improbable dream: that her mom will return sober, wanting to have the perfect mother-daughter relationship. If she leaves, she leaves that dream behind.
So, how does your lead character rank?
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