Before I start today’s post, I want to thank everyone for visiting Pacific NW Author yesterday. I received 43 hits, which I know in the larger scheme of things, is a drop in the bucket, but for this blog, that’s fantastic traffic.
For some reason I woke up this morning with this idea in my head for finding settings for short fiction and novels. The idea was to ask questions with the Google search engine, such as “Which US state has the most vegetarians?” “Which US state has the most Hispanics, African-Americans, etc…” And so on, by asking these types of questions you can find a setting that will bring your characters the most conflict. And you also solve the problem of conflict for your story. Many new writers especially, (I did this once myself), write stories without any real conflict.
So say you have a character that is phobic of a certain ethnic group or you have a character that despises vegetarians or progressives. Then you find the location that has the most progressives or people of the ethnic group in which your character has a phobia, and you plop your character into that locale. One built-in conflict is to send a pagan character, who dresses in Gothic clothing, reads esoteric books, into a small southern town steeped in fundamentalist Christianity. Or you can find place a teenage character obsessed with sex into a Catholic setting. Voila conflict?
You can stick a vegan in a town that thrives on ranching, and if this character advocates for animal welfare, he or she is going to run into deep trouble. Basically, you find a monster of one kind or another to pit against your character. I’m not talking physical monster, but an industry, belief system, or tight community that stares wearily at strangers. The theme of outsider is a strong universal theme that if done right transforms into a page-turning book.
The other concept I want to mention is more on the psychological/new age area and that is working with shadows and projections. As you know, if you have been following this blog, I personally have worked with Debbie Ford’s books on shadows and projections and have seen the movie “The Shadow Effect” three times.
We all have shadow selves stuffed inside us, even hidden from us, but not others who feel the frequency of these shadows. Do you ever meet someone who seems nice on the outside, but turns you off? You don’t know why exactly, but you can’t stand being around this person or you secretly want to lash out in cruelty. You pick up on this person’s frequency which is based on a belief that this person might have no awareness.
And at the same time, you might have the same belief about yourself so you project that disowned part of yourself on this person. Well, characters have shadows too. These are the places where the character fools themselves, act like they have it all together, and lie to themselves and ultimately, to others.
For instance, my character Agnes (“Agnes et Yves”), despises her mother for taking her to Paris during her childhood and then engaging in love affairs with married Parisian men. Agnes swears to herself that she will never repeat her mother’s behavior, then chases after a flamenco Don Juan, who just thinks of Agnes as a lady in another port. Later, she meets Yves, another foreign man. There is no way Agnes won’t fall for him at some point, because she still lives under her shadow.
I salt the novel with scenes in which Agnes interviews Parisian painters who are into seducing women. Agnes feels disgusted by their behavior, but this doesn’t stop her from throwing herself and her dignity at Pablo, the flamenco guitarist on tour with his troupe. And all of this makes for great comedy. Oh, Agnes, you fool for love.
Next time you need a setting for your novel, try asking questions to a search engine and see what stats and information comes up. For conflicts, turn to psychology and new age self-help books. This does not imply that you are creating new age characters, but that you are finding new avenues to unearthing their souls. If you follow this advice, you will create 3-dimensional if not, 5-dimensional characters that speak to the hearts of your readers. And don’t be afraid to sit your characters down and analyze their minds.