I’m writing the first draft of my novel. It’s not nearly as inspired as my imagination had painted it before I started. It comes across flat, one-dimensional, and it’s difficult to love the characters (let alone know who the characters are).
It’s funny because before I started, I wrote character arcs, explored their deepest fears, and I had their background fleshed-out.
But when I read the first ten pages of my draft, none of that came across.
Have you ever had that problem, a character you know so well refuses to show who they really are on paper?
What was wrong
You know what the issue was?
There just wasn’t enough of it. Practically none, as a matter of fact. I included enough background information about my character, I gave him a few obstacles to tug at the reader’s heartstrings, and he had a sense of humor so he was likable.
You see, yearn is an intense word. It’s to have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from. And if a character doesn’t deeply desire something he can’t have, any scene you write is not really a scene – it’s just filler crap.
You’re doing scenes wrong
And that’s when I realized, in the first ten pages, I didn’t write a single scene.
For a scene to truly be a scene, each character in the scene has to want something. There has to be conflict, an obstacle inhibiting the character from getting what they want, and before the scene ends, one of the characters has to be different as a result of that scene.
Example: If Joe walks into the coffee shop wanting to propose to Jenny, by the end of the scene based on what Jenny says, Joe doesn’t want to propose.
There’s a value change. Every scene needs character change. You read that correctly, every single scene.
I found that the first ten pages of my novel was filler crap. (You see? I’m not only hard on you, I’m hard on myself too. Makes it even that way.)
I had to reread it and ask myself, “What does my character want in the first ten pages?” And when I discovered he didn’t want anything, I had to ask, “What should he want?”
How to fix it
This is a little exercise. It’s helped me rescue flat characters more than I’d care to admit.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What does she want?
- Why does she want it?
- What does she NOT want?
- What are the repercussions of her desire?
- Where in the scene is her desire revealed to the audience?
- How does the audience know what she wants? Through dialogue, actions, or interior thinking?
- What or who prohibits her from achieving it?
Every scene needs these answered. Sometimes the audience will know the desire before the scene begins, but there must be conflict, there must be intense yearning, and there must be repercussions to that desire.
If you don’t have that, it’s not a scene at all.
Question(s) of the day: What part of a scene do you struggle with most? Do your characters yearn in every scene? Could that be intensified?