Monday, February 10, 2014

Words Versus Resolutions: writing with your character in mind

by Cat Woods

Instead of resolutions to usher in the new year, I learned a neat trick from a fellow writer years ago: a word of the year.

The appeal of this word is that it has the power to change behaviors. Instead of "Lose Ten Pounds" which can be fraught with frustration and failure, the word "health" invokes positive connotations that impact more than the scale. I will eat better, work out more regularly, get more sleep and pay attention to my mental well-being. After a year of practicing health, I will have acquired the behavior patterns I want for a life time goal. After losing ten pounds, I might eat an entire bag of Doritos while mindlessly watching Sponge Bob reruns and crying into my diet soda. After all, I did lose ten pounds. I did accomplish my resolution.

When we write, it might behoove us to give words to our characters rather than just resolutions. While the immediacy of the resolutions and the very definitive outcome of them is what inherently drives the story and offers up our novel's conclusion, I like to think beyond the last page and into a possibility of life where my characters have changed, yet remain the same. I like to think of them as someone with integrity--in the sense that they are consistent in their behaviors and beliefs and actions. They are true to their core--whatever that core may be.

And so, I offer up the word.

  • Harry Potter is tenacious. He refuses to back down until he has solved the riddle of his life. Sometimes this is a detriment. Other times it is admirable and courageous. Yet he never loses this core trait.
  • Katniss Everdeen is virtuous. Her strong moral compass about the way humans should be treated drives every action she takes. Weary and terrified though she is, she holds onto her ideals to the point of stubbornness. Good, bad or indifferent, this trait is what makes Katniss one of the strongest female protagonists of this generation.
  • Verity is ingenious, while her best friend is loyal in Code Name Verity.
  • Curious George is...well, curious.
  • And our own Mindy McGinnis's Lynn is independent.
Readers look to our characters for guidance. They want something deeper than a resolution. They want virtue and tenacity. They want independence, love, hope, faith and curiosity. They want to see themselves in the pages of our books so they can believe that they, too, can overcome the obstacles in their lives and survive beyond the moment.

And so I ask, give your readers a word...and maybe nab one for yourself.

Which character traits do you admire and why? How have you infused these traits into your writing? If you could only use one word to describe yourself at this moment in time, what would it be?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods writes from home, often in her jammies with a mug of chai tea--not potato chips--and surely without the help of Sponge Bob. She wants you to know that no scales were harmed in the writing of this blog post--only egos--and that her word of the year is organization. As in plan and proceed, not declutter closets and junk drawers. Currently, she's the acquisitions editor for a middle grade anthology on bullying. You can find more of her whimsy (and guidelines for submitting) at Words from the Woods.


JeffO said...

That's a really interesting idea, Cat, I had never thought of doing that before. I'll have to give it some thought. (Hmm, sounds like a word to describe me COULD be 'analytical')

Cat Woods said...

I like that, JeffO!