by Rachel Hauck, @RachelHauck
During an edit with my former fab editor, Ami McConnell Abston, I developed a small “rule” for my characters: Everyone must have a problem.
Not so much walk on/walk off characters but those who interacted with the protagonist on a consistent bases.
The teen girl who worked in the vintage shop.
Ami challenged me to make those secondary or thirdary (is that a word?) characters more interesting by giving them a small problem.
In The Sweet By and By written with Sara Evans, I gave the athletic teen working for the heroine, Jade, a money issue. She’d wrecked a friend’s car.
So whenever Lillabeth came on the scene, there was something interesting and curious about her.
Otherwise. why did she matter? She could’ve just been the nameless and faceless “shop girl.”
Lillabeth’s problem made the dialog more interesting. And believe it or not, gave the reader a break from Jade’s on going drama!
Here’s another tip I learned while working with Ami: Why does it matter?
Why is my protagonist a novelist?
Why does he refurbish furniture?
What about setting? Does it matter? Does it play into the story at all?
Granted, not everything has to be vital to the story, after all, we are just making stuff up. But 90% of it should link together.
Recently I was reading a book where the heroine’s career and family was a big part of her story but in reality, none of it mattered to the conclusion of the book or the satisfying ending.
In fact, her story almost could’ve been eliminated because at the end, she served as a “surf board” for the other characters to tell their story.
If your protagonist’s job or vocation, or journey, doesn’t play a strong factor in the development of the story, the journey, the epiphany and conclusion, then you’ve got the wrong job/journey/want/vocation.
Here’s the test for your story: If the job of your gum smacking, wise cracking waitress protagonist doesn’t play a significant party to her journey, to the story, find a job that does!
In other words, as you write, keep asking yourself, “Why does this matter? How does it fit into the overall story?”
You can MAKE UP anything you want! You’re the master and creator. But the story has to fit together. Like puzzle pieces.
This is where I lean on The Story Equation. I ask:
What does your protagonist want? What’s her goal?
What’s the story goal?
What wound will be healed?
What’s the epiphany?
What will he do in the end he can’t do in the beginning?
If you could change your lawyer protagonist to a ditch digger and still have the same story — minus a few tweaks of course — then you need to do some thinking!
Have you ever read a book where one story line just seemed to be that “thing” that moved you through the pages to get to the best and most dramatic parts?
So you ask: Why did it matter?
Now, given your particular genre, this rule varies. A romance focuses on the romance. But you knew that already didn’t you?
She could be a ditch digger and he could be a lawyer but as long as the romance is layered with the relationship and motivation, with intimate conversations and a heart stopping kiss, then you’re good.
But still, how much deeper and more satisfying the romance would be if the protagonists personal goals and vocations mattered to the story!
When I was writing The Wedding Shop, I came up against this problem. I’d wanted Haley to be a veteran but once I got to writing, it didn’t seem to fit.
So I gave her the personality of an air force veteran. I made her a logistics expert which tied into her ability to run a wedding shop.
I also gave her a history with the shop. That was her main motivation.
In reality, I could’ve made her an entrepreneur. Or a downsized corporate executive. Or a burnt out saleswoman.
But when I decided to make her a veteran, I wove those elements into the story. Her discipline, her experience, her mistakes played into her determination and desperation to open the shop.
I kept asking myself: Why does it matter?
Other genres like general fiction, suspense, thrillers require your protagonist to have a job that weaves into the heart of the plot.
As you develop your stories and as you’re writing. keep asking:
Why does it matter?
Ask: if I take out this element, does anything change? How can I weave those layered elements like jobs, wants, goals, etc tighter into the story?
You got this.
Go write something brilliant!
Beyond the Craft Building Blocks: Why Does It Matter? by Rachel Hauck Click to Tweet)
Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?
With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.
Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.
New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a past ACFW mentor of the year. A worship leader and Buckeye football fan, Rachel lives in Florida with her husband and ornery cat, Hepzibah. Read more about Rachel at www.rachelhauck.com.