Publishing News: my publisher is still working on Developmental Edits. Also, we’ve had two authors’ support group meeting thus far. It’s going well, for a bunch of introverts talking about stuff they’d rather not. I’ll have a blog post about it soon.
This time I thought I’d touch on how I develop characters. This goes hand-in-hand with creating a scene with the W’s, but this is focused specifically on the character, rather than the character’s relationships and actions in a scene. Just as there is tension inherent in every scene, there is tension within characters, between their Position and their Interest.
So what are Position and Interest? Picture yourself in an everyday situation, like, say taking your car in to be repaired. Your mechanic tells you that your car needs a lot of work, and fixing everything will cost $2000.
- Your Position is that you want to get out of that shop as cheaply as possible.
- Your Interest is that your car doesn’t break apart on the highway and kill you.
- The tension between your Position and your Interest will likely lead you to ask the mechanic to set a priority on the repairs, and tell you which ones are a major safety issue versus which ones are nice to have and can wait. You can live with a slightly-dangerous vehicle if it saves you cash in the short term.
Let’s alter that scenario slightly. Instead of taking your own car for repairs, you’re accompanying your grandmother. The mechanic tells her the same thing, $2000 to fix everything.
- In this scenario, your Position would probably be that you don’t want your grandmother to get ripped off, but it’s also not your money she’s spending.
- On the other hand, your Interest is in making sure she has the absolute safest ride on the road. You love your Nana and want her to stay around as long as possible.
- The clash between your Position and Interest would likely lead you to tell your grandmother to spend the cash – all $2000 – to make sure she’s safe and protected. Your need not to get ripped off is trumped by your more pressing need to make sure your grandmother is driving a safe car.
All your characters have the same tensions between their Interest and their Position. In my novel, for instance, there’s a main character, Sam, who’s been arrested for a murder that he may or may not have committed. His older brother is a petty criminal, and has told Sam what happens to snitches in jail. Sam’s attorney visits him and presses him to come clean about what happened the night of the murder. Sam refuses to cooperate. Why?
- Sam’s Position: he’s in jail, without bail money. He’s stuck there for the foreseeable future, and he knows what happens to squealers.
- Sam’s Interest: to get through another day in jail without getting beaten up or killed. He’s not telling anyone anything, even if he’s innocent.
I usually only outline Position and Interest for main characters, maybe for certain secondary characters. That guy who appears in three or four scenes to drive the plot along? He’s not important enough to warrant that kind of time or effort. His position and interest are the same: to get the main characters from point A to point B.
Do you need to state or reveal the Position and Interest of every character? Absolutely not. The truth will come out eventually, but almost never as clearly as ‘I don’t want to get beaten up in jail so I can’t tell you anything.’ Sam’s sitting in the interview room, bruises on his face and cuts on his knuckles. He’s angry and scared and trying to pretend his first time in jail is no big deal. Your readers will know.
I encourage you to think of Position and Interest in your writing, it’ll make your characters’ interactions deeper and more nuanced.
Next time: who knows? I have a promotion coming up to get the word out, maybe I’ll talk about that. We’ll find out together.