Monday, November 24, 2014

What Makes Your Characters Uncomfortable?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Everyone has their hot buttons topics--the ones that get their blood boiling, or makes their skin crawl, or triggers an inappropriate response to the situation. While this isn't much fun to encounter in real life, it's a great way to create conflict and tension in a novel. Pushing someone's hot button (either accidentally or on purpose) can cause a character to act in ways they otherwise wouldn't.

Take at look at your current project and list the important characters: your protagonist, antagonist, secondary characters and anyone who might be in a position to affect how a scene plays out. Think about those characters and their background, their hopes and fears, their education, their opinions, and ask them:
  • What makes you uncomfortable?
  • What makes you furious beyond rational thought?
  • What makes you change the subject or walk away from a conversation?
  • What don't you want to think about?
  • What scares you?
(Here's are more fun things to ask when creating characters)

Next, try looking at how your characters might answer these questions as they directly apply to the story. You can ask these questions about specific plot points or goals, or use them as a way to deepen or flesh out individual scenes.
  • What makes you uncomfortable about the current situation?
  • What makes you furious beyond rational thought about the problem you're facing?
  • What makes you change the subject or walk away from a conversation that you need to have to solve your current problem?
  • What don't you want to think about what you have to do?
  • What scares you about attempting this goal or solving this problem?
(Here's another way to get to know your characters)

Finally, take these answers and look for ways they might add additional layers in your story. Facing fears is often a compelling part of a character's story arc, and even in a more plot-focused tale, forcing a character to deal with what scares them can add wonderful conflict and excitement. Think about:
  • Where might you make these characters uncomfortable in one (or more) of the above ways?
  • Where might the hot buttons of one character trigger the hot buttons of another?
  • Where might a hot-button reaction completely throw a character for a loop and cause them to make a bad decision?
  • Where might a hot-button topic inadvertently send a character in the right direction?
  • Where might a hot-button topic teach a character a much-needed lesson?
  • Where might a uncomfortable character add interesting subtext to a scene?
(Here's more on what your secondary characters are good at)

While not every scene has to be flooded with uncomfortable characters, it's a handy tool for scenes where you know you need more conflict but aren't sure how to add it. It's also useful for throwing obstacles in a character's way when there normally wouldn't be any problems with what they need to do.

What makes your characters uncomfortable? 

Find out more about characters and point of view in my book, Fixing Your Character & Point-of-View Problems.

Go step-by-step through revising character and character-related issues, such as two-dimensional characters, inconsistent points of view, too-much backstory, stale dialogue, didactic internalization, and lack of voice. Learn how to analyze your draft, spot any problems or weak areas, and fix those problems.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Fixing Your Character & Point-of-View Problems offers five self-guided workshops that target the common issues that make readers stop reading. It will help you:
  • Flesh out weak characters and build strong character arcs
  • Find the right amount of backstory to enhance, not bog down, your story
  • Determine the best point(s) of view and how to use them to your advantage
  • Eliminate empty dialogue and rambling internalization
  • Develop character voices and craft unique, individual characters 
Fixing Your Character & Point-of-View Problems starts every workshop with an analysis to pinpoint problem areas and offers multiple revision options in each area. You choose the options that best fit your writing process. It's an easy-to-follow guide to crafting compelling characters, solid points of view, and strong character voices readers will love.

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. Thanks. This is a very useful post. I will be posting your link on my blog.

  2. Love it - these triggers can be used dramatically or comically, depending

  3. Oh, these are such great questions! Thanks for the reminder. Happy Thanksgiving, Janice!

    1. Glad you liked them, Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  4. good points to consider, thanks.

  5. Great tips! I'm doing a rewrite at present, so these tips come at a good time.

  6. This is wonderful information! Thank you Janice!