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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Make a Wish - or Set a Goal?

Most of us do it consciously once a year: we set a New Year's resolution. It's generally something we want to happen to us during the year - lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more. But what we might not realize is we are constantly making mini-resolutions to ourselves in the form of wishes or goals. And as a writer, recognizing the signs of each can help us create truly multi-dimensional characters.

A wish is something the character wants to happen. It might be a dream of becoming a famous musician, a renowned painter, a globe-trotting actress. Perhaps Life didn't go exactly as that character would have wanted, and she's now stuck in a role for which she never planned or wanted: taking care of a houseful of children, putting her own hopes on hold to help her spouse achieve his, or health issues or money issues that derailed her.

A goal is also something the character wants to happen, but unlike a wish, a goal involves action from the character. The person wants to become a renowned painter, so she takes art classes, dedicates time to her craft, learns how, when and where to participate in art shows and gain public awareness of her talents. To be achievable, one major goal - of becoming a renowned painter - must be divided into smaller goals; achievements that continue her progress forward.

Characters are almost always ones of action. Let's face it, having a character sit and wish for something to happen doesn't make for great reading. She has to get out of her thoughts and do something.

Wishes are passive (waiting for something to happen) but goals are active (making something happen.)

But we can also use the passive wishes as underlying reasons for a character's actions. For example, suppose we have a beautiful and talented woman who dreamed of becoming a famous actress. She's been participating in community theatre, taking acting classes, and learning her craft. Now she meets a man who has money and power. She becomes part of his life - and flash forward twenty years. Now you might have a character who is frustrated. A trophy wife who feels her best years are behind her, Mrs. CEO or Mrs. General who lives totally through her husband's achievements but has none of her own.

Now you have a passive character who has a motive. A motive to strike out at the person who she believes derailed her career, perhaps even her entire life. A motive for murder. A motive for infidelity. A motive for a crime.

In writing, it isn't necessary for the author to paint the entire picture all at once. But the past can surface in small increments, unfolding as the plot unfolds, like a mosiac that forms shape as the reader continues turning those pages. In the end, we don't just have a character who plotted her husband's demise. We have a multi-dimensional character whose motives have unfolded in such a way that the reader feels some emotion for her: sadness, perhaps, maybe anger at her circumstances, perhaps even feel her frustration and urge to take control of a life that has been on auto-pilot.

It's that richness, that depth of character, that helps to propel a character forward. And the clever use of wishes versus goals makes all the difference.

Read p.m.terrell's latest suspense/thriller, The Banker's Greed, to see how characters who allowed Life to simply happen to them take control and change the course of events in their lives--and many others.