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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Character Clinic: Day 4

Blog Tour Buddies: Don't miss out an yet another chance to win my Writer's Guide to Creating Rich Back Stories! Click over to Elizabeth Craig's Mystery Writing is Murder blog to see how having red herrings in mysteries is similar to scapegoating characters!

My last Character Clinic assessment this week is for Laura. She's writing about a hero who is a workaholic doctor who focuses primarily on treating third-world countries. When he was 10, his mother and younger brother were killed in an accident, after which he father withdrew into his work and the bottle, causing the hero to believe his dad wished the hero had died instead of his brother. In an attempt to justify his existence by feeling that he's doing something useful and valuable and that he was worthy of being spared, he becomes a doctor.

Hero becomes very independent and closed off emotionally. He builds a shell around himself to stop himself from feeling too deeply. Women quickly discover he's a loner who depends only on himself. He works in busy hospitals to fund his trips to work with underprivileged because it makes him feel strong, instead of the needy abandoned boy he was and still feels inside. He tells himself if he keeps moving locations and never settles in any one place or relationship, he'll never experience that terrible feeling of loss again.

Laura wants to know: Is his justification for becoming a doctor psychologically feasible? Would it be too much angst for the reader if I kill his father off too at some point? I don't want the easy solution of his father telling him that he would have been equally upset if the hero had died.

Off the cuff, I can see no issues whatsoever with his motivation to become a doctor. Sounds like he's got a big case of survivor's guilt, although you didn't mention whether he was in the accident and escaped unscathed or what. But at any rate, he's feeling like he needs a reason to justify the fact that he wasn't the one to die.

This incessant need he has that drives him forward to other countries, trying to outrun it or stay one step ahead of it---what's that about? Is it really about him trying to make his mark in the world? To justify his continued existence, as you said? Is his fear that he won't make any mark in the world at all, or that people won't value the mark that he does leave? What would happen on the inside if he were just to be still? What thoughts would invade his mind?

The way you described him made me get this picture of a man with a sense of urgency about him--not anxiety or depression--urgency. He's got to keep on keeping on, filling his plate to capacity to try to find relief from...WHAT? You'd have to fill in the blank here, as you know him best, but my best guess is loneliness. The loss of his family, the withdrawal of his dad...yes, this hurts. But the underlying fear--the underlying motivation to keep on the move--is fear of being alone.

It's interesting that you characterize him as a loner. He's taken on the sharper edge on the continuum of the very characteristic he fears. Being a loner is socially acceptable. You can appear in control if you're on your own because that's what you're choosing to do. It's like going to the movies solo or reading a book while you eat alone. Cool, if that's your thing. Being lonely, however, isn't cool. Nobody would want to see someone crying their eyes out alone in the back of the theater. So that's what I mean by loner being the sharper edge of lonely.

He hides behind the mask of independence and aloofness. The inner thought process would be, I'll pretend to be a loner so that no one would mistake me for lonely. I'll reject them before they can reject me like my father. I'll keep them at arm's length so they respect the man I let them see, not the man underneath. It's his defense mechanism...and these are powerful weapons. But they won't last forever.(I.e., you will have to slowly strip them away from him and leave him bare bones to build him back up again in a healthy manner for his character arc.)

As to some of your other questions, I don't think the reader will have too much angst if you kill the father off, mainly because his other trauma and loss happened off the page (prior to the book beginning, right?). It will ultimately make his character arc that much stronger (and more difficult to write) because you won't have the easy solution of dad coming to his senses and saying he was sorry. [A close second to this outcome would be some long-lost letter from the grave that he receives....but that just oozes with cliche.]

So the closure with dad could go missing from the story. This outcome is all too often a very real conclusion for people out in the world, and I believe many would be able to relate to this. But as you deprive the Hero of this closure, you also deprive the reader, so you would need to replace it with some other really final closure for Hero to give satisfaction to the reader.

What rock solid motivation could you give him to find completeness and contentment--both personally and romantically (if that's where your story is going)? What could compel him to stop running? When it comes to that black moment when he has to decide whether to hop another plane to a foreign country to continue with this status quo or to take a chance and risk connection with another person again, what/who would make him turn his back on his way of living (that's not really living, but existing/surviving)?

Anyway, I think you've given him some really good internal angst to work through. I like seeing heroes with abandonment issues to work through--it's refreshing. Usually it's the heroines who have to come to grips with being afraid of loneliness. So brava! Many men deal with this and just aren't macho enough to admit it. Good luck with it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your thoughts on my character. You've given me some brilliant stuff to think about.
Maybe I should make that brother older than him and very clever. So hero becomes a doctor because he wants to prove to his father, himself, and the world--- that he's as good as the brother would have been if he'd lived to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor? Father is a top surgeon maybe?

So he's made this his over riding goal because he fears being abandoned and lonely. If he formed a close and loving relationship with a woman he wouldn't feel lonely, but he hasn't the courage to do that as he can't risk being left again (emotionally or physically)

Thanks again.


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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.