Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Giving Characters Opinions!!

Carol Tanzman checking in.

Pixar Story artist Emma Coates  tweeted 22 story basics that she’s learned from working at Pixar. You may have seen some of these tweets; they’re great.

I particularly liked:

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

It’s something I haven’t ever actually verbalized to myself—but I realized I’ve been unconsciously doing exactly that in the my latest YA novels from HarlequinTeen. In dancergirl, Ali is passionate about dance. She has opinions about her teachers and their choreography, as well as her own dancing. What’s working for her–-and what isn’t. Her opinions grow out of a deep commitment to the art of dance. What she is willing to do, how far she is willing to go, as well as discovering where the limits are––all grow out of her opinions and beliefs. It definitely makes her a more three-dimensional character that was fun to write.

Valerie Gaines, in Circle of Silence, is equally, if not more, opinionated. Val’s passion is TV news. She fights to be the Producer of her TV news crew, she fights to get to the bottom of the mysterious story that is the main conflict of the book (“Who—or what––is MP?”) and she fights her team, at times, in trying to figure out exactly how to report that story. Valerie’s opinions, which do change, don't come out of a vacuum. As a high school student, she learns from the Campus News teacher. She does her own “research” and watches her idol, Emily Purdue, a professional news reporter on TV, to gain tips for her own broadcasts. She also critiques the rival crew’s stories in Campus News. All to further her ambition--which is to be the best reporter she can be.  

One thing that I especially like about Valerie is that her friends are also opinionated. Because the rest of her crew is just as into TV production as she is, they have their own ideas of how to do things. It makes for some interesting scenes as the crew members argue over the best way to do something. The tenser the situation, the more opinions they have. Having characters with specific, and differing points of view, I believe, tends to make the writing feel very realistic. It also helps to keep things from getting too preachy, as if the author has a specific ax to grind.

And, while conflict may not be the most pleasant thing in one’s personal life, in literature it is exactly the thing that leads us all to turn those pages! As Emma Coates noted, having opinions creates not passive characters, but interesting ones that deepen the story you are telling!


Jordan Dane said...

Nice post, Carol. Character opinions become VOICE & add color & depth to narrative prose for me since I use deep POV. Thanks for sharing.

Carol Tanzman said...

You're right to make the point about voice. I hadn't thought of it in that way but it's absolutely true. Thanks for adding so much to the post!