Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Do Your Characters Have Motto?

MOOD STATUS: "Alert". Not sure if it's because I just came back from running or it's because of the Monavie I've been drinking.

Anyhew, moving right along on my conference recapping...

This is the second seminar (in a short list of four) that I really enjoyed--and I've even been trying to apply this one to my own editing.

The seminar was called "You Say Tomato, I Say To-Motto: How character motto influences Plot, Conflict, and Other story elements". It was given by Harlequin Super Romance author Susan Gable.

First let me say that I did take a similar seminar by her at last year's conference. Or maybe it was the year before. Regardless, when I heard she was doing this workshop last minute, I changed my schedule to make sure I could take it again. It was THAT interesting.

What is character motto?

According to Ms Gable, it's a deeply held personal belief, stemming from the character's back story that impacts the way she or he views the world and the way she or he behaves.

Interesting already, no?

Well, here are some of her examples:

* appearances aren't everything, they're the only thing
* do the right thing
* what's in it for me?
* he who dies with the most toys wins
* life's short, eat dessert first
* success is the best revenge

She went on to explain how each of her characters have a motto. But the motto has to come from some sort of back story. Because those kinds of life views aren't just innate. They have to come from some sort of experience. Then, if you know your character that well, you can go and apply details about your character through setting, their behavior, choices and actions.

How are motto and theme related?

According to Gable, your motto is your character motto and your theme is your book's motto.

How can motto drive plot?

If you know your character's motto, you can use it to drive your character's growth arc. What your character has to learn by the end of the book will depend on your character's initial motto in the beginning of the book. By the ending, your character should modify their motto or adopt a whole new outlook on life.

I confess I LOVE this idea! (Which is why I had to hear the workshop again)

What a wonderfully easy way to understand your own characters. I'm trying to apply what I learned with the worksheet Ms Gable gave us as I'm editing through my rough draft. I have my hero's motto no problem. But I feel as if my heroine is kind of flighty and I really don't understand why she does certain things.
This is what I'm working on today: layering in motivation and back story.

If you're interested in more of what author Susan Gable has to say on that subject, check out her website for article and handout links.

What do you think of this technique?
Do your character's have mottos?


Chicki said...

I tried that with a past manuscript, but found that I wasted too much time sitting around trying to think up something. Guess it works for some writers though ...

Kristen Painter said...

I don't have the time or energy to think of mottos. I'm not a writer that works in such detail. I tell the story. That's all. If someone else figures out a motto at the end, good for them. I think there's a danger in getting too wrapped up in this sort of detail. Who cares if there's a motto if the story holds your attention? Now, if the method works for you, great. If not, don't worry about it.

Joanne said...

Love this idea. It seems important to know our characters beforehand, so we know where to lead them through the story. What fun to have a prominent quirk or habit that is so identifying it lends charm, and to infuse it into scenes and the character traits. Strong traits like that seem to endear them to the reader as well :)

Tamika: said...

I'm loving this technique. It makes perfect sense when I think of my MC and all her tragic perceptions, they do stem for her backstory.

I'm jumping over to the link, thanks Jennifer this is a huge help.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I really like it. It seems a lot like the moral premise concept, only narrowed in on the main characters. I'll have to think on how I can fine tune my moral premises to be character mottos. Thanks for the info, Jennifer!

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

LOVE this idea, too. One more way to get to know our characters. Yes, my characters have these...I'm going to get to the bottom of all of them today.
Nice post!
~ Wendy

Jody Hedlund said...

Very cool! I think it goes very well with the whole idea of GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Thank you for sharing!

Stephanie Newton said...

I was thinking the same thing, Jodi. It seems like a way of thinking about the character's motivation or internal conflict that encapsulates that character's wrong thinking. It's a cool idea.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Ooh--I've never thought of this before but I guess they do! What a great idea!

Cindy said...

What an awesome exercise! I'm definitely going to remember this...might be able to use this motto somewhere along the way (like in a query letter or something :D).

My character's motto is, "If you don't like who you are, make it up."

Tess said...

oh, this is good stuff. I like it and think it could help me understand my characters on my WIP even better. thanks for sharing.

Ava Walker Jenkins said...

This is a great way to really hold those characters under a microscope and cement that backstory. It gives so much more creedence to why they DO what they do and why they THINK the way they think. Very helpful.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I did a post on this exact workshop a few weeks ago. (Although I didn't get the privilege of attending, I got the info off RWA's site.) I really like the idea of the motto too, it's a simple concept but can tell you so much about the character.

Also, you have a little gift over at my blog. :)

T. Anne said...

This is great. I def.. have noticed my new NaNo MC has some back story issues lol. I'll have to think of a NaNo for her.

Mailed your book yesterday (finally) A funny thing happened on the way to the post office. I'll be blogging about it in the future. :)

Jill Kemerer said...

My characters have mottos, definitely. I might not put them into words, but by the end of the book, their mottos come through loud and clear.

Great concept! (BTW: What is a Monavie?)

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i really like this idea! it's something i kind of do anyway, i suppose. i'm definitely checking out her links.

The Character Therapist

Jennifer Shirk said...

Oooh, Cindy! I want to read more about your character now!!

Susan Gable said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed the workshop, Jennifer, and that you found the motto concept helpful!

I do give a dislaimer at the beginning of all my workshops that what works for me may not work for you.

Truth is I've found that even with different books I have to find different tools to use.

Sometimes I know all this well in advance. Sometimes I have to stumble into it as I go.

But I'm glad so many of you are finding some help with this.

Anybody have any questions?

Jennifer Shirk said...

Yes, I did, Susan!!
Obviously, huh? LOL!

In fact, I've been making notes on your handout all morning. :)

Jaime Theler said...

Thanks so much for sharing! It's like their main motivation only looking at it a little differently. I'm going to figure out my characters' mottos ASAP.

Susan Gable said...

See, now by coming to the NJ workshop, you got the new, updated handout. LOL. That's not the one on my website, cause I tweaked it before the NJ conference.

I did submit this workshop again to RWA National, so maybe they'll let me do it again in Nashville. I also submitted a longer workshop that I "lifted" the motto section from. Motto was just a small piece in that longer workshop, and I decided it merited its own workshop.


PatriciaW said...

Author Susan May Warren offers up a twist on this. She asks, "What's the lie your character believes?" See, the lie drives the character's actions and responses. But ultimately, the lie is proven wrong and therein lies the character's growth.

Heather Sunseri said...

I love this, Jennifer! I can totally apply to this to my current characters!!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Patricia: Oooh...the lie he/she believes. Yes, that's good stuff, too!

Susan: I hope I can get to Nationals next year. I really enjoyed the version you gave in NJ that had the "story superglue" along with the mottos.

Susan Gable said...

Jennifer, Story Superglue is the other workshop I pitched to National. We'll see if they pick either of them. Cross your fingers!

And I'll cross mine that you get to go to Nationals, too!

Terri Tiffany said...

This is great! I am going to do that with my characters. Have a great day!

Lynnette Bonner said...

I really like the "lie the character believes" perspective. I can see that in my current heroine. But I hadn't given it too much thought until this point. :)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Susan: Crossing fingers AND toes!

Lynnette: It is an interesting perspective!

Erin said...

i kind of agree with Denise. i'd spend too much time staring at my computer when i could be using that time to write. my mind just doesn't work that way. but props to those it does work for!

Lynnette Labelle said...

Great post!

Lynnette Labelle

Candice said...

When I first started writing I thought I didn't need to necessarily understand all my characters motivations to be able to write them. I thought I just needed to understand my main character. Boy was I wrong. I know now that understanding what motivates each character is the key to inspiration in every scene. So now I guess I have a term for that... Motto. I like it.

Natalie said...

I think it's a great idea. I think a lot of my characters act as if they have mottos--I just don't know what they are!

~Ellie Kings~ said...

Hi, thanks again for joining my blog, hope to be reading more of these helpful tips.