On Mondays this month we are talking about developing our characters through never and unless statements.
In my novel, When Chicks Hatch, one of my favorite characters is Nicky Bell.
She is a pretty self-centered character with many "never" statements that were fun to explore.
Her biggest never statement was a key point in my plot, but there were several others that I knew, but never openly shared with the reader.
For example, Nicky would never leave her house without being flawlessly put together. She values appearance and takes time to perfect her look. We can see that from chapter one where we read:
Any normal student would have lost sleep--and hair--rushing down the hall, in pajamas if necessary, to get there on time. She had
arrived in red Adidas joggers with snaps up the legs and a form-fitting red top. Her hair was pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck, one long strand of hair wrapped around the band. She was even wearing make-up.
Thick, black eyeliner clumped in her lashes, creating a dramatic
contrast to her blonde hair. Her lipstick matched her shirt exactly.
I think this "never" statement adds an "unless" later on in chapter 20. Nicky and her best friend, Jennifer, are fighting and Nicky begins to feel trapped, controlled and overwhelmed.
Her full statement then becomes "I would never leave the house looking ragged or unkempt unless I feel threatened. When I feel weak, I respond emotionally, and sometimes out of character. When I feel powerless in my environment, the things that ordinarily matter a great deal to me suddenly don't mean a thing. I just need to get out of the situation so I can regain my power."
Of course she doesn't say these words in the book, but as the author, I feel she says them to me. She shows hints of this for the reader in Chapter 20 when her best friend's husband, Brad, sees her out jogging after having an argument with Jennifer. I picture Nicky being very disheveled at this point. Brad makes note that she is sweating a lot. Here's that exchange:
“What’s so funny?” she demanded, her hands on her hips.
His hands flew up in surrender. “Hey, I’m just a guy, okay?
Remember, we aren’t supposed to understand this stuff.” He laughed.
“What’s to understand?”
“Hmmm. Where should I start? You’re supposed to relax, and you’re out here working up a sweat.”
“I’m not sweating!”
“You’re sweating. Meanwhile, my perfectly healthy wife is at home crying so hard she nearly threw up. Call me crazy, but I don’t get it.”
“She’s so dramatic,” Nicky said.
Sweating is something that Nicky ordinarily wouldn't let people see her doing. The conversation with Brad is casual, but telling. She isn't thinking about her looks in that moment (or anything else). She's lost control and simply needed to escape in order to regain it.
In what ways are your characters acting out of character? How are they showing their never and unless statements in your story?
Why not blog about it? If you do, be sure to tweet your post and tag me in your response (@HeatherMRandall).
Hop back here every Monday in February to read a new post featuring one of my character's "never" and "unless" statements. If you're a fan of my writing, don't miss it.
We all have things that we would never ever dream of doing.
For example, I would never ever go ziplining. This is, for me, an absolute.
There are some assumptions you can make about me solely from that confession, right?
First, you may assume that I am not adventurous or impulsive.
You would be right.
Second, you might assume that I have a fear of heights. That's also correct.
Do you see how a simple "never" statement can show you things about my personality, even exposing my fears? This is a very useful trick when developing a character for your novel. These never statements will tell your readers important details in a subtle way. With a well placed "never" statement, you don't have to spell out all the details. Your readers will naturally draw their own conclusions.
However, with every "never" statement there is often an "unless" statement.
I would never go ziplining unless my mother and cousin dragged me along with them. No, I don't balk at all forms of peer pressure, but these two people can get me to try things that I'm naturally too fearful to try. I mean, think about it . . . if my mom is brave enough to try it, what's my problem? If my baby cousin is brave enough (and I want her to admire me) then it might be worth the risk.
Here's another real life example:
Remember, I'm afraid of heights. While at a water park with my husband, children and my cousin, I decided to go on a waterslide. There were actually 4 slides all using the same line. At the very top you could select which slide to go down.
One slide looked tame. The second slide looked twisty, but safe. The third slide looked daring. The fourth slide looked like a death trap.
My cousin entered the line with me.
At the top of the stairs I noticed that the first two slides were closed. Now I had to choose between daring or death drap. I also learned that the line determined which slide you would be put on. My cousin was ahead of me and she was placed on the daring slide. That left me stuck. I either had to go down the death trap and risk what I imagined would end in paralysis, or go back down the stairs against the crowd and look like a chicken to my cousin (and everyone there).
I would never have gone down that slide in a million years. It was almost a straight shot down and seemed to defy gravity. I would never have done it had I not been in that situation.
Sure enough, I let myself be directed onto that death trap slide. If I'm honest, it's still an out-of body memory that I cannot believe actually occurred. I arrived at the bottom unscathed. No one was even watching. My cousin had returned to the lazy river without me and the only one to witness my bravery was my inner self. Unfortunately, she still had her hands over her eyes.
You get the idea. Good characters need "never" and "unless" statements. They show readers the depth of personality, expose inner conflicts and add an element of realism your readers will appreciate.
Hop back here every Monday in February for much shorter posts featuring one of my character's "never" and "unless" statements. If you're a fan of my writing, don't miss it.