First, you don’t want to miss the AMAZING wonder-ful discoveries I made while workshopping. That’s going on over at The Muffin where I blogged today.
Okay, back? Now it’s on to today’s AMAZING character wonder that will change your writing forever. But first a BIG thank you to Kathi Appelt, a pretty amazing author and teacher, who shared her wisdom about character-writing.
She shared lots of fine tips on writing about people. But the one that I’m in love with is the “controlling belief.” It’s such a simple concept (but I’m not going to lie. Figuring out the controlling belief can be a wee bit difficult).
When Kathi (I can call her that because we sat next to each other at the table) discussed knowing the controlling belief of your character, she explained its importance in terms of pushing and pulling. The “controlling belief” is what pushes your character through the story–the belief pushes and the goals pull.
And now I suppose you’ll want an example. Hmmm…let’s look at Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz again. She believes that it’s possible to find the way back home. (Of course, she wants to go home, but that’s not quite the same as what she believes, is it?). And her goal is to get back to Kansas. So she follows the yellow brick road–and her belief pushes her through all the obstacles she meets along the way to the Wizard. But then she learns she has to kill the witch, so now she has a new goal within her bigger goal. Is her belief strong enough to push her through the next obstacle? I mean, suddenly, she has to kill someone!
Wasn’t it brilliant of L. Frank Baum to not make that the goal in the beginning of the story? Because I don’t think readers would have bought that a farm girl from Kansas, falling from the sky, could jump up and decide to kill someone. Dorothy has to grow a bit (and we have to get on her side, too) before she can push through that obstacle, even though her controlling belief is in place. Of course, in the end, Dorothy finds that the way to get home was always within her. But doesn’t she learn a lot about herself on the journey? I mean, besides the fact that she’s kind of a bloodthirsty young woman.
If you know what your character’s controlling belief is, then you’ll know why he/she does everything. EVERYTHING. And you might want to find that CB for all your characters so you’ll know what makes them tick.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But I bet if you’ll think of some of your favorite stories and/or characters, you’ll get a handle on figuring out the whole controlling belief tip. Katniss in The Hunger Games believes she’s the only one that can save her sister/family. Scarlett in Gone With the Wind believes she will survive, no matter what. Sam-I-Am believes that green eggs and ham are amazingly delicious!
It’s pretty amazing when you start to think about characters this way, isn’t it? And just think of the AMAZING things it will do for your story! (Um, try not to think about the amazing rewrite you’re going to have to do, now that you know all this.)
This is beyond awesome advice! You go, girl!
I KNOW, right? Totally changed my thoughts about my novel. So I *hope* now, I’m going in the right direction! 😉
Another worthy exercise. I’m glad I’m not too far into my rewrite or I’d be in trouble. LOL Thanks for sharing all this stuff!
Lisa, I promise this is a good ‘un. Of course, you’ve got quite a few characters to figure out, but still. It’s amazing how much this helps!
Wow! That makes so much sense. It’s like the protag believes but does he/she believe ENOUGH to push through whatever the biggest obstacle is in the story? Suddenly, the protag – and the reader – wonder if the belief AND the goal are powerful enough? (Is that right? I have a headache now….) 🙂
That’s absolutely right, Madeline! The goal has to be worthy. And the controlling belief has to be…well, believable. Take a couple aspirin and start writing. I know you’re going to see how HUGE this is in driving your story!
Sounds simple. But I think it’s going take me a few tries to wrap my mind around it. I’ve never heard of this before, but it makes perfect sense.
Thanks so much for sharing Kathy’s wisdom and your awesome examples. My wee brain is spinning at the wonder of it all.
This is absolutely fab advice. Now, if I could figure out my own controlling belief, perhaps I could figure out why I do the things I do. And the secrets of the universe, too. I’m glad you had such a great time at the workshop, Cathy!
I’d never heard about this tip, either, but it’s been really helpful…and actually, Suzanne, I sort of realized what my CB was and then thought, “Gee. I’ve been writing about myself.: 😉
And SUCH a great time. Totally recommend it!