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Listen to me! Or: The non-list-making, non-threatening, let’s-have-a-cup-of-coffee-and-chat method of creating living breathing characters.

Christian books should reach beyond our hearts to touch our souls. Regardless of the genre — suspense, romance, historical, or chick lit — stories can touch our lives, even change us. And, while plot lines are important…it is characters that drive stories. When we think of the Hunt for Red October, we think of Jack Ryan. When we think of the Fugitive, we think of Dr. Richard Kimball. Characters drive the plot. So, how do we create characters that live and breathe and drive a story into our hearts?

Throw away the list!

When I began writing, I did what seemed logical – I filled out character lists. Answered hundreds of questions. But my characters still felt flat, and more than that, their actions, dialogue and conflict didn’t seem to connect. At the time, I was home schooling, and as I looked at developing my children’s self-esteem, it hit me. People reveal themselves from the inside out, based on how they see themselves, or want others to see them. And discovering how a character defines himself is the key to making them come alive.

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Saggy Scene Series: The ONE Easy Trick to creating Scene Tension

Build in a Fear of Failure!

I am a closet SciFi junkie, and my current love affair is Falling Skies. I’ve been with them from the beginning and to be honest, I love the show not for the Sci-Fi, but for the characters. In short, I love the hero, and his three sons, and want them to survive.

I care about these Sympathetic Characters.

Which is why I found myself at the edge of my seat during last week’s episode. The hero, Tom Mason (played by Noah Wylie) and his oldest son, Ben, are trapped in a prison camp and need to escape. They’ve devised a wild plan to break through the electrical walls that holds everyone prisoner.

I realized the episode was fantastic when I found myself on my feet at the end of it.

Here’s the play of events – the hero has to distract the bad guys (skitters, or very large alien bugs) and get them to a building they’ve rigged to blow. In the meantime, Ben has to gather up all the prisoners and get them into the tunnels near their escape route. Finally, a third group, incidentally, a motley crew of soldiers who hate each other, has to climb over the wall with this homemade electric-repelling suit to get to the power supply and take down the electric wall.

If you are a fan and haven’t seen the episode, stop reading here.

The plan begins perfectly – Tom kills a guard, which brings out a horde of bugs, who chase him (he’s on a motorcycle) through the city, away from the escapees.

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Saggy Scene Solutions: 4 Ways to Make Your Reader Care

You know what’s NOT a great idea? Putting dinosaurs in a Transformer movie. But why, you ask, do dinosaurs show up in a Transformer’s move? Probably because someone was sitting in a meeting, looking at the script and said…”I dunno, something is missing…”

It’s not the dinosaurs. It’s the fact that yes, even on page 98 of the script, we still don’t really care about the main characters.

Yes, I’m talking about Transformers 4: Age of Extinction. Sure, I WANT to care about cute Mark Wahlberg (and frankly, still do, because I’m deeply concerned this movie is going to hurt his career. Mark, call me if you ever decide to do another movie with dinosaurs in it. Especially if it does not have the words, Jurassic Park anywhere in the titles.) And, I want to care about his daughter (aka, the long drink of water, Megan-Fox stand in, eye candy), but frankly, the most emotional dimension we get from her is a plump-limped, disbelieving look (really? there are transformers in my backyard?) on her close-uped face.

And don’t even get me started on Shane, the boyfriend – or rather, “Driver” (he’s introduced as a “driver” early in the movie – and that’s what he does the entire movie. Drives. Except, what kind of driver is he? Milk Truck Driver? Ice-road trucker? Go-cart? He is driving a souped up Aveo at the beginning so I’m leaning toward that one. But, Im still trying to figure that out.) I hated Shane from the moment he pulled out his “Romeo and Juliet” license to date Mark (aka. Cade’s) hot daughter. (since he was 20 and she was still – yeah, right – 17). I’m using the word “date” loosely.

If Mark truly wanted to make me care, he would have put one of those meaty fists into Shane’s beautiful, Irish-speaking face. (He’s from Texas, so the Irish accent TOTALLY makes sense.)

But, I’m veering away from the point. Which is – if you don’t want people to fall asleep while your dinosaurs are fighting machine-aliens in Beijing, you have to make your characters LIKEABLE and if not that, at least SYMPATHETIC.

Again, it starts with a wide-angle look at the story. Let’s go back to Transformers 4 for a few more moments of pain.

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Saggy Scene Solutions: Use Goals versus Obstacles to create tension!

I’ve been on the phone a lot this summer, helping my clients brainstorm scenes. One of the biggest issues I see in ACT 2 is the struggle to set up a scene correctly and create reasonable tension to drive a reader through the scene.

Last week we talked about how to set up a scene. Today, we’re going to talk about how to use the combination of Goals against External and Internal Obstacles to create tension.

In Act 2, it’s essential that each scene have tension. Many people confuse tension with obstacles. Obstacles do not cause tension unless they stand in the way of something someone WANTS for a Very Good Reason.

My son just got back from football camp, so we have football fever around here. Which means it’s time for a football metaphor. The push FORWARD of the offense is the WANT (motivation) and GOAL (a first down!) of the character.

The Defensive line is/are the obstacles that push BACK against the character. You must have both to create tension.

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