Dig Down with One

In order to penetrate into the mind of your creation, you need to appoint targets you want to hit. One of the more frequent choices is the relationship of the protagonist to a supporting character. You have friends, right? You know quite a lot about your best friend. You could sit down and write easily about him.

Once you have identified the who, the next question is when to insert such work. One obvious place would be prior to meeting that character the first time. Let’s say Lisa has learned from a third party that Barbara is having a passionate affair. Lisa is cautious by nature, and she wants to warn Barbara about what she’s doing. Now put your best friend in that spot. What do you know about “Barbara” that would make you inclined to believe that she would pursue an affair? What do you know about her husband or partner? What was Barbara like before she got married? When you start writing down all of this information, you can feel the gears clicking. You know this stuff. You have merely appropriated it for your novel—the way writers steal from real life all the time.

A second placement of thoughts is after their meeting. Whatever convictions Lisa reached beforehand, they were likely thwarted by Barbara during their actual talk. People never perform the way you had schemed they would. So how does Lisa react to Barbara’s devious variations from her plan? Consider each point that Barbara so dexterously danced around. What does Lisa feel about that? How does that dancing around match with Barbara’s past history with Lisa? 

Of possible interest is how Barbara’s reactions start Lisa to thinking about her own partner. Does she affirm loyalty, or has a new light been cast on gripes she’s had for a long time but conveniently suppressed? 

This character interaction needs to progress from one stage to another. If Lisa keeps thinking about Barbara in the same way throughout the book, her feelings will start to annoy the reader, because they never move off first base. So for the next interior monologue about Barbara, consider what has happened to both characters since the last time. 

Let’s say Lisa’s boyfriend has pompously announced that he’s not into her anymore, and he leaves. Now that affair Barbara’s having appears in a different light. Will Lisa have to admit that what she told Barbara last time didn’t work out so well for her? By this time you may be able to forget your best friend. You’ve created enough thoughts, spurring enough conversations, that you have merged with your character instead.

Exercise: Whatever issue you decide to explore, break it into two components: past and present. If Tom is about to meet Henry, who has recently returned from bumming around the world, how does Tom gauge that feat in terms of what Henry was like when they were friends? Did Henry always have a footloose side? Now turn to the present: what does Tom fear will be said about himself because he went ahead and sensibly got his MBA?


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