It’s time to start making some order on our story.
Levels, what are they?
In short, it’s the same process we analyzed before, but this time we’re bound to a scheme that goes down into our character through levels.
Let’s call it level A, the most simple kind. Imagine introducing someone as in the famous scene in Bridget Jones’s diary:
“Introduce someone with thoughtful details, as in ‘Sheila, this is Daniel, Daniel this is Sheila. Sheila likes horse riding and comes from New Zealand. Daniel enjoys publishing and comes…”
Well, no. Maybe this first level should get less intimate. Visualize yourself instead as a TV quiz presenter and you want to introduce one of your contestants:
“This is Sheila. Sheila is in her mid-thirties, a respectable citizen and an excellent teacher in a school for the hearing impaired. She likes swimming and she and her wife are now moms of a wonderful boy called Josh.”
So, level A gave us a bird’s eye view of our character’s life. We know she is a middle-class mid-thirties woman, a mother, and has some hobbies. We start now wondering if this is it. We dig some information there, but is it enough to make an interesting character?
That’s why we have a B level, like in that monstrous Dubai parking where I used to get lost between ‘Parking lot F 32 12th floor or F32 11th floor’. The only difference is we need to constantly explain why we parked our characters in such a parking spot; we cannot just assume it was the best spot for us and the characters have to fit there.
Now start asking yourself and, therefore, your characters why they make some decisions. Sheila is a teacher for children and teenagers with hearing disabilities, but why she’s doing this job? Is she or her sister, her mother, or her wife deaf?
We know she’s married to a woman. How does this fit with her character, her background, and the place she lives? What is it like to live in a small town and be a gay mother? If you decide to place her in a specific location, it’s not coincidental and never has to be.
Although sometimes during Christmas time we need to park our park in a very random parking spot far away from the mall’s entrance, that’s not an excuse. Our characters must arrive when the mall is closed and park their car in their correct spot. I hope you get the sense of this simile.
So, we raised a hairbow creating a flat, stereotypical character that a quiz presenter can introduce in a handful of seconds. Then, we raised a second hairbow to our reader by giving that quiz participant some critical information and background history.
Now it’s time to psychoanalyze the characters and take from them all resourceful details. You can ask your characters whatever you want, way more questions than the ones you asked them before.
You can ask what your Sheila would choose between a beautiful university research career in Geneva and a simple life as a teacher in a small town in the U.S. And why not? She doesn’t want to, or she’s scared? She tried already and failed? Is it related at all to any other characters?
Yes, that’s an important point to keep always in mind:
All the details you raise about your characters must be helpful in the story’s development and, therefore, for accomplishing the final goal they need to reach. The characters would eventually pass hundreds of small goals in a story, from getting out of the sofa to saving someone from being hit by a car.
But they will always have a final, super goal to accomplish. They will fulfill or not, but that’s irrelevant. The important is they reach that crescendo and arrive at that last moment ready, together with the reader.
So, to paraphrase Collins, if a woman is obsessed with money all her life, a perfect detail to put in could be her playing with a small golden ring when she’s nervous. Then, the reader would know that the second would always prevail between her personal happiness and a lot of money.
That’s all for today. Let’s go back to write something interesting. I have a couple of lovely characters to write about. And you?