Monday, February 4, 2019

What My Dogs Taught Me About Story Characters, Part 2

In the previous blog, I discussed the profound effect childhood experiences had upon our two dogs. To recap, Toffy was locked in a small room as a puppy, probably smacked for minor puppy indiscretions, and fearful of stern male voices. Bandit, on the other hand, had no idea anyone abandoned him. He was cosseted and loved from puppyhood. He saw life through a completely different lens than Toffy.

Remember, internal conflict should be based on the character’s past and how he or she deals with life. Although not all types of fiction require emphasis on internal conflict, it behooves a writer, especially a writer of romance or character driven stories to create characters with strong internal conflict.

For example, the romance in a story needs internal conflict, but the character’s internal conflict exists with or without the romance. In other words, Toffy will always be frightened of small rooms whether or not she has loving owners. Unless something bad happens to Bandit (and no, it didn’t), he will always be trusting of humans.

In a romance, the hero triggers a confrontation with these inner demons for the heroine, and/or vice versa. For the romance to succeed, the character needs to grow and change into someone who has learned a lesson that frees him or her to love.

Now I’m not suggesting you overload your characters with crippling psychological baggage, but you do need to search their lives for major events that have shaped them into the persons they are when your story begins. These character-forming moments should be the linchpin of their motivation throughout your story.

Let’s look at my recently released novel, Butterfly Bride. The germ of this story came from a passage I read in Lawrence Stone’s book, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500 - 1800. He describes a typical arranged marriage between two young people. The groom was not complimentary of his bride and soon left for a tour of Europe that took him away for several years. Upon his return, he failed to recognize his own wife at the theater.

Stone doesn’t delve into the situation any deeper, but the wheres and whys of this situation gave me a plot with many possibilities for external conflict. It didn’t give me any internal conflict so I dug into the lives of the heroine and hero to discover their internal conflicts. What would they be like at the beginning of the story? How would they change by the end so that they could fall in love with each other?

In other words, what psychological baggage do they have when the story starts and what psychological baggage do they have when the story ends?

Hope, the heroine, lacks self-esteem and self-confidence because she is less attractive, overweight, and stammers while her sister is a confident beauty. Her marriage aspirations are few. She sees herself married to a nice, probably older, gentleman.

Kit’s parents divorced, something almost impossible to do in Regency England. The scandal sent his mother to Scotland and his father into a spiral of drinking and gambling. Poverty has dogged Kit throughout his youth, but he hides behind arrogance and pride.

When his father loses a wager, Kit honors it even though it means marriage to a young woman he’s never met. Hope’s father offers him a future: marry Hope and leave immediately for Canada and learn about the shipping business. Kit accepts his soon-to-be father-in-law’s offer of financial help.

He’s gone for seven years and returns to discover his child bride has blossomed into a lovely woman—who has filed a petition to annul their marriage. I don’t want to give away all of the story, but this is a romance with a “happily ever after” ending. Hope and Kit resolve their internal conflicts and grow into being capable of loving themselves and each other.

If Butterfly Bride were a literary novel, the ending might not be as happy for our protagonists. What if, like Toffy, Kit could not shake off his past. What if he were unable to come out from behind arrogance and pride to love Hope?

This is why I prefer romance.