I’ve recently watched Me Before You(*spoiler alert* a reminder, this is not a romance as there is no happy ever after). At the beginning of the movie, Lou Clark has put all her own dreams or plans of the future on hold as she waits out her life in a teashop. Boom, cue the inciting incident** – she loses her job. What to do? She finds a job taking care of wheelchair bound Will, which leads to the meet cute.**
All of that aside, the Lou we meet at the beginning of the movie is not the same as the Lou by the end. This is the character arc, the development of the character over the course of the events of the novel. Sometimes, the character does not change, and a devastating example of that is in Manchester by the Sea(definitely not a romance). In romance, however, we want and need our character and their love interest to grow over the course of the novel.
Key things to remember on writing up your character arc:
By the end of Me Before You, Lou is no longer the naïve Lou she once was, and has accepted that not everything can be ‘fixed’ But, she has broadened her horizons and is visiting Paris, echoing Will’s footsteps.
Yesterday, I had a talk with one of my coaching clients about characters. Not so much characters as those character sheets that writers are always filling out. The ones that ask what their favourite colour is or whether they prefer hard rock or classical music. One course I took had me filling out six pages worth of detail. As my client noted, “jeez, I don’t even know myself this well!”
Does it help to know that your character likes bananas but only when in banana bread and in no other form?
It depends. Does it say something about his behavior? Does he not like bananas because they mean sticky fingers? Or is it something that fills in a character form?
I’m not knocking someone else’s process. For lots of writers, these forms are helpful. But what if you’re like me or my client and find these forms a great big, time suck?
What do you need to know about a character?
What are the essentials?
What are the nice-to-haves?
It doesn’t matter if your character is a six-foot-three god with flaming red hair if you haven’t got the above sorted out. Knowing that he prefers red wine to beer and trucks to sedans will only tell you so much about who he is. But the part that will have him drive the plot forward with his decisions and actions? Now that you HAVE to know.
There’s a fine line between being a redeemable jerk and just being a jerk. But, how can you tell?
I’ve read a couple of MSs that crash and burn into the ‘complete dickhead’ category. Here’s some quick tips to keep in mind when writing about the Alphahole:
Do you want to write a romance novel?
Everyone wants a HAPPILY EVER AFTER (HEA).
A little something to get you started on your writing journey: