I’ve recently returned from another writing retreat (our last for the year) where I discovered a new exercise that’s helped me enormously in writing the first draft of my current thriller, No Good Deed.
I’m still at the stage of outlining my plot and, as always, am looking for ways to get more drama into my scenes.
Usually when I begin a new story I start by getting to know my characters. I freewrite on their backgrounds, explore their early formative experiences, determine their goals, their strengths and weakness, internal conflict, etc.
This time I added an extra step. I already had a pretty good idea who my characters are as individuals so I started putting them together in pairs.
I remembered that when writing Run To Me, the thing that kept pulling me back to the story was the emotional dynamic between my heroine and the boy protagonist. Before either of them did a thing or said a word in the story, a potential dynamic existed between them – they weren’t just any woman and boy, but a mother who had lost her son and a boy with no family.
The characters on their own were interesting and had traits and backstory that were compelling. But it wasn’t until I put them together that the real chemistry started to happen. A perfect example of a result being greater than the sum of its parts.
So that’s what I tried with my current work in progress. Instead of just focussing on my individual characters, I asked myself, what is the dynamic between each pair?
I started with my heroine and explored her relationship with the villain – how she reacts when she first meets him and how those feelings change over the course of the story.
Then I did the same thing with the heroine and the hero, the heroine and her father, her missing sister, her best friend, etc.
Exploring the dynamic between my characters has given me heaps of ideas for scenes and dialogue. Ways to get naturally-existing emotion onto the page. And pairing two secondary characters together has given me a few surprises as well.
For me the relationship between characters is far more interesting than any one character on his/her own.
In Jaws, one of my favorite movies, the three main characters – Brodi, Hooper, and Quint – are all interesting on their own. But it wasn’t until they were forced together on a small boat, in close quarters, that they became my favorite trio of characters.