Before we get swept away in crafting an exciting plot, we need to wait! Wait until we weigh down our main character.
Susan May Warren pointed out recently in a blog post on Novel Rocket how important it is that we connect with the characters. “Plot is interesting, but not unless it is about someone we care about.”
What makes us care about a character?
Think about the last book or movie you loved. Why did their quest become important to you? Why did you cheer them on?
It seems that almost all characters have some kind of burden they carry. No matter how wealthy, smart, talented, good-looking, or successful they may be, they still have something from their past that weighs them down. Simply put – they are an underdog, and we almost always want to cheer for the underdog.
Consider the following examples:
Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible (1996) was framed for murder and in the 2015 Ghost Protocol film he was blamed for bombing the Kremlin. Before his quest or journey even gets rolling, we are rooting for him because he is innocent.
In The Only Best Place by Carolyne Aarsen (2006), Leslie loves her life in the city where she has a successful career, nice family, and good friends. Her husband moves her to small town Montana where she faces all the inconveniences of a farm plus in-laws that she does not click with. I was on her side lickety-split and hoping she would return to the city. I had to read to find out what happened to my soul mate.
In Snowflake Sisters, Maggie is carrying a load of guilt from having abandoned her sister Sarah to follow her lover to California. Their joint business crashed and Maggie never saw her sister again. She puts out a Facebook request for an older, wiser sister who can guide her as she chooses a man, the right one this time. I feel for Maggie because even though she was foolish, she is now penitent.
In each of the above examples, the main character is an “underdog.” Ethan Hunt was betrayed and framed, Leslie was yanked out of her comfort zone, and Maggie was carrying a load of guilt. It is this weight they carry that sets them on a journey, and in the end, they not only achieve their external goal (what they want), but they also grow and change internally. Without this backstory, they are not human enough to draw us into their quest.
Wait! Before we get swept “away”, we need to “weigh down” our character first.
In conclusion, here are the most recent “weights” I put on my characters, to give you some extra ideas:
Danyal lost his wife and worried he would forget her
Tori grew up an Orphan and worried she would lose her hard-won success
Marnie was heartbroken due to loss of a child
Dmitri lost family members and was starving
Nicole felt guilty for causing a car accident.
Ethan grew up in a homeless shelter and is out to prove his worth.
If Pam could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.