Sunday, August 22, 2010

Character's Paradox

Christy here, still working on that new story and am currently digging into my character's lives, trying to figure out who they are from birth to present. I need to know everything about them from their blood type to their underpants.

You won't read all of that in the story, though.

I've been getting to know these characters a little better each day. I'm filling out the character chart I mentioned last week. This is intended to ask tough questions about my characters. Some quesitons I can easily answer, some I've had to leave blank. The character chart I began to fill out last night was from Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method.

If you follow Randy's method, the first step is your story's one liner. The big picture. It could be your "pitch." In Randy's direction, you probably have daydreamed about the story and have an idea of your characters and what your story will be about. I can't say I'm there yet. I have a premise. I know one character well and am watching him grow each day. The other character I'm working with as the one grows, and this second character is growing more as I determine her place in the plot. I have an idea of my character's conflicts, of the story itself, but I need to put this together, to finally view the big picture to determine if this story line is strong enough to make a complete manuscript.

I did not do this with my previous stories. I've started about a half a dozen stories over the years. That's not much considering I've been writing for about 6 years. I would begin a story, write whatever scenes came to mind, but did not develop my characters initially. I knew what they looked like and their age, but I didn't get to know them first. Half way through the rough draft, the story had fallen flat and I didn't know how to pick it up. It was blah, boring and come to find out, I'd written a lot of backstory.

With this story, I'm taking a different approach. I don't have six years to complete it. Well, I do, but I'd rather spend the next six years, God willing, to work on MANY stories.

So this brings me to the character chart. When I purchased the Snowflake Method, the Empty Character Chart came with it.  Last night, I began to complete the chart for my hero and my heroine. Everything was flowing along quite nicely until I came to the Character's Paradox.

Huh? (I'm scratching my head, resting my chin on the heel of my hand. Feeling like a heel because I'm not too sure what this means.)

So, I looked up the word "paradox" and here's what said:

1. a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

2. a self-contradictory and false proposition.

3. any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.

4. an opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion.
I knew my Character's Paradox was important. So important, in fact, that it could find its place in the pitch. Yes, that important.
For my hero, I believe I have him figured out. I'm not going to tell you too much about him, because he's special to me and I'm keeping him secret. My heroine is also special to me, but she's more generalized.
My heroine is Beth. She's 33 years old. She's got a knack for automobiles. She grew up around her father who is an awesome mechanic. Her brother had no interest in the way a motor worked, but Beth did. She went to college, got a degree in management and combined her love of automobiles and in management to now work for a large auction house. She travels the country setting up large auctions for this company.

Beth's all about looking good. From her hair to her toes, she adorns the latest fashion. She won't walk out of the house undone. Looking beautiful when she's on stage or meeting with important clients helps secure her confidence. To everyone else, Beth appears to have a complete life. She's got a high rise apartment in a big city and one of the partners of the company she works for has his eye on her, but it's more than business.
Yet, as each day goes on, Beth's life is sliding. She's at the point where the closet full of clothes doesn't matter any more, the job is fullfiling but not everything. Her parents are pressing her to settle down, but the man that seems most interested isn't everything she imagined in a husband. The one person she always wanted seems so far out of reach because she sees him as being on a level in life that she could never achieve. The level of goodness and honesty, God fearing. Beth admits she's not good through and through. She's made mistakes, she been in the fast lane. Even though everything in her life seems perfect and materialistically fullfilled, Beth is empty and lonely. Wearing the best doesn't make her the best, and she doesn't know how she'll ever turn her life around or begin to settle down, to step away from what she's become.

Now I ask you, is this my character's paradox, or is this a lot if internal conflict? Do the two - Paradox and Internal Conflict - work hand in hand?

Do you have a handle on your character's paradox?

Care to share?


  1. Hi Christy:

    I have never considered having a Character Paradox. I have examples for your four definitions that might help in getting the creative juices flowing;

    1. Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.

    2. The alien travelled so fast that he got to his destination before he left.

    3. The pediatrician who says he never wants children of his own but who obviously loves all his patients and is wonderful with kids.

    4. The belief that all the recent record cold temperatures prove global warming is true.

    Does a character need a paradox? I do have a character in my WIP “Characters in a Romance” – the Wicket Witch of the Eastern Establishment who owns and runs an exclusive women’s college in which she expounds on the evils of the romance novel and why it is so bad for women; yet, at the same time she controls all the romance publishers and editors in Romancelandia. She must OK all acquisitions. She loves romances but still thinks they are bad for the average woman. She is a very interesting character but only features in one chapter.

    BTW, does your story have a Moral Premise? The Moral Premise book has a very interesting take on developing characters before the plot that you might find very interesting.


  2. Christy,
    Kudos to you on planning a manuscript. I'm currently in a heap of yuk with one I not only didn't plan, but took 2 years to write it off and on--(I wrote a whole other book before I finished this one!) I'm so lost in my own work I printed the thing out and refuse to type one more word until I read it and see what the heck the book is really about. But I love these characters and I love the story idea I once had.
    There may be something to planning. Let me know how it works for you.

  3. Vince, your number one is pretty close to a line in a David Crowder song. :)

    Christy, I love your heroine! I'm not sure what Randy's talking about for sure, but I'd guess it would be something like you mentioned: she's all together on the outside but empty on the inside.

    I agree with Vince. Give the Moral Premise a try to see if you can figure out your main "lesson learned" in the story.

  4. Good luck, Lindi! I think this is how you write, though. You will go back and chart it all out and then it will all make sense. Maybe you have to write it all out, get it on paper, to then go back and sort it.

    Vince, I love all the suggestions and I'm smiling about that alien!

    Missy & Vince, I will try this moral premise. You guys have mentioned this before, so I will definitely do some studying on it. I know it will help this story.


  5. I've never thought about a paradox with my character's personality. I might have it, but just not identified it.

  6. I'm definitely into paradoxes... I've studied theology for four years, I had to love them. :-) But what is so cool about character paradox is that paradoxes are complex. They invite and require investigation. So while we might not know yet what our character's paradox is, everyone has one. It's what makes us interesting.

    Great post, Christy.

  7. Love that, Rebecca: paradoxes invite investigation.

    Makes a reader want to keep reading!