Last night I dreamed I was awakened on America’s Top Model by a 4am call to an impromptu modelling gig. I’d slept in my clothes, my hair was a mess, my breath probably worse, and we were leaving NOW. The girls and I had partied in our model’s apartment the night before and I was badly hung over. And because I was still the age I really am—shouldn’t I have been younger and better looking? I mean, wasn’t it my dream?—the other girls were young, beautiful, probably handled their booze better than me.
So here I was starting at the back of the pack. America’s top model? Oh, please.
Soon I was hanging out on the sidewalk in front of a designer’s studio where I got to assess how bad my situation really was. I had on blue jeans, the I’m-about-to-paint-the-house kind with a T-shirt bearing some rude slogan I refuse to include in this blog, and flip-flops which, according to my dreamworld friends, were universally hated by designers. Hey, they were wedgies . . . and in a tasteful black color. So what if they were foam? How bad could that be?
I woke up defending my flip-flops. How superficial is that? Not that it was all bad. How many middle-aged women get to pretend they’re a hot model, even in a dream?
Except . . . there’s that matter of me being a writer and a writing teacher. In no time I noticed that my dream was an inciting incident. And I had a big goal, simultaneously out of reach and yet achievable for someone willing to pay the price. If I were to actually take off with this unlikely premise what else would I need? After all I have this huge goal, a good reason, and an obstacle.
What’s missing is focus. My reason for wanting to be an aging model is fuzzy and I was totally concerned about my age, thus working against myself. Having caught a few episodes of Top Model, I discovered these girls have lots more to worry about than just being good looking and skinny. They’re expected to be versatile – an angel in one shot, ultra sultry in another. They’re expected to be outgoing. Graceful in movement. Adaptable. To never, ever complain, no matter that the boning in the gown she’s been given is about to give her an unscheduled mastectomy.
Another girl might be too shy, someone else not classy enough, another’s boobs too big and yet another deemed too thin and suspected of being anorexic. Then there are girls with the clumsy walks and gorgeous women who just aren’t photographic. Hardly anyone is just right. And since they all want to be models (including my dream world self) their concerns revolve around their body image. It was the breadth of the demands on them that made me see what rich material this and any reality show provides.
It’s all about concerns, which are the core of unique characterization because everybody has them. Writers can use the list of impossible demands that models face as a springboard to building their own characters. You can make the character an Amazon or a cherub or a tough- as-nail cop but the reasons they behave like believable real life individuals are triggered by the things/people/events that concern them.
Does she strive to be thought of as competent? Her concern is to do things correctly. Does he think of himself as fearless? His concern is to find situations that test his courage. Do his
children mean everything to him? His concern is to keep them safe and happy.
So, back to my dream. Although I risk making a fool of myself, I’d like to go into what my concerns might be if I really were on America’s Top Model competing with a dozen women young enough to be my daughters. Well, I’d probably be the first one to hit the gym each morning, making sure that nothing sagged. And I’d watch my diet more closely than the younger ones. I’d also make sure everyone liked me because I’ll need their support since I’m already one down. My concerns would be hiding my wrinkles, keeping up my stamina, and hiding the roll around my waist.
Now this is the most important thing to remember when you strive to give character’s individuality: each character has their own concerns, which blend or clash with other characters, or make that person seem weird. But it doesn’t take much backstory to make the weird believable. All you need is a reason. I want to win the modeling contest. I’m too old. If I’m reasonably successful at hiding this, my insecurities will seem weird. Then I confess that I’m afraid my husband is getting tired of me and I want to prove I’ve still got it.
As soon as the reader know a reason, the character no longer seems weird. Concerns are always external evidence of motivation and when used effectively they make every character unique.
Which leads me to think, with this much concern would I have partied hard enough to end up with a hangover? It looks like I did. What’s up with that? A new concern, one not yet revealed? One that derailed me? What could it be?
These are good questions for an author to ask because concern is actually a symptom that reveals the character’s motives. When you write a scene and you have fully defined the motivation you can then show it through the concerns being expressed. It goes both ways. Witness the concerns and you can figure out the motive. Know the motive and you can develop the concerns.
This premise is not an invented writing technique, it’s a simplistic take on how people behave in real life, and is just one part of the personality expressions tools I’ll cover in the Motivation Matters workshop that begins on July 11. You can register right here on Savvy Authors through the Home Page.
In the meantime, I invite you to observe a concern that uncovers a motivation then post a comment telling how you did it. Or, maybe it would be fun to share one of your weird dreams. PG-13 or below, please.
I love comments, particularly when they provide an opportunity to stretch the imagination, so even if you never post comments, I urge you to try it now. I’ll check in several times.
- Bestselling multi-genre author Connie Flynn writes stories known for their twists and turns. Her published novels and short stories span the mystery, romance and fantasy/sci-fi genres. A lifelong Arizonan, she lives on a lush green park with her Goldendoodle and enjoys spending time with her large multi-generational family.
She woke up one morning on a Mississippi riverboat casino with a huge headache and a huge case of amnesia. With the help of new friends she rebuilt her life. Now, nearly two years later, a tall dark man with killer good looks comes after her. A bounty hunter, who claims she killed her father then ran out on her bail. She says he’s got the wrong woman. He says she’s guilty as sin. One of them is right . . .
Suddenly so many people are after her, she can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. But one thing she can do is KNOW WHEN TO RUN.