Life After NaNoWriMo, Day 4: Discover Your Character’s Friends

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Dear writers and storytellers,

Here, as promised, is the fourth of five excerpts from my popular book Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget. I am offering one excerpt free each day this week on my blog. Each includes practical tips and exercises for digging more deeply into the inner lives of your characters — helping you to make your characters and their stories unforgettable. I offer the fourth of the five excerpts below.

And now, on to your free tip for the day:

DISCOVER YOUR CHARACTER’S FRIENDS

by Stant Litore

You can tell a lot about someone not just by who their friends are, but by why they are friends. If your protagonist has a confidant, what key moment originally established their bond?

There is a great example of this in the Nick Cage and Tea Leoni movie The Family Man. Nick Cage’s character has a long-time buddy that he goes out to have beers with, goes bowling with, a “one of the guys,” working-class character. At first, watching the movie, you assume the relationship between these two men – both of them dads and husbands in a small suburb – is relatively superficial. After all, you don’t see them talking about their feelings on the screen; they joke around; they are just buddies.

But then comes a brief, pivotal scene in which a neighbor’s wife is flirting with Nick Cage’s character, and he flirts back and gets her phone number. He then brags about it lightly to his friend. His friend doesn’t give him the high-five response he clearly expects; instead, his friend suddenly turns serious. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” he says. And he starts to get angry. “Do you remember what you told me when I was thinking of cheating? You said, ‘Don’t give up the best thing in your life just because you’re a little unsure who you are.’”

That is such a powerful line of dialogue! And it only takes a moment on the screen to deliver it. So much backstory is contained in that one line! Suddenly, the way we look at these two characters and their friendship is entirely different. They aren’t “just buddies.” Nick Cage’s character stood by his friend and was there for him, challenging him at a really critical moment in the past, and now his friend is returning their favor. Their friendship may not be something they talk about often, but it is ocean-deep and has a floor of solid rock.

Ask yourself: What was the pivotal moment in the past that shaped your character’s bonds with a friend, and importantly, how can you reveal that moment at a key point that surprises the reader and moves your plot forward?

EXERCISE 20

Write three brief scenes; in each, your character attempts to a second person about the friendship he or she has with an old friend. This is an opportunity to see if you can uncover fresh perspectives on the friendship. In the three scenes, the second person who is listening is:

  1. A child on a playground.
  2. The friend. At the friend’s deathbed.
  3. Your character’s ex-lover.

Read more in Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget — and watch this blog for tomorrow’s tip!

Stant Litore

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