Character Jigsaw Pieces

April 11, 2016 hollie8985 Writing A JigsawWriting Adventures

I have been sick for the last month or so, my concentration lasting no more than about 10 minutes here and there and not helped by the concoction of medications my doctor likes to give me.

It has given me the time to sit back and think about my manuscript in small sections, what is needed and what isn’t. If each scene moves the story forward and what simply pushes it sideways and if that is a good or a bad thing.

Gathering all my jigsaw pieces together I realised I had more than I needed. Or more than I needed to tell the reader anyway, the problem being what pieces do you share and which do you keep aside?

I was lucky enough win a copy of Backstory, Motivation and Conflict by the wonderful Jodi Henley and it has been the perfect thing to help me sort out which jigsaw pieces I need and which can be left aside for later or just kept for author knowledge.

I’ve always believed that an author needs to know more about her characters and world than the reader does to make them complete. What Jodi has helped me work out is, not only what information to give to my readers. But also why other pieces wouldn’t work in the same way, leading my characters or story down a different path.

If you think about the beginning of the first Harry Potter book, JK Rowling goes to great length to show the ordinary lives of the Dursley’s. Before three very unordinary people arrive and leave a baby on their doorstep. As readers, we don’t need to know much of what happens then until the zoo visit and Harry’s letter arriving from Hogwarts, the few little bits of information that are useful from Harry’s youth are sprinkled throughout the story. If there hadn’t been such that huge section right at the very start of the series, then Harry’s “they hate me, I can’t go home in the holidays” would’nt have worked. Most families taking in the child of sibling would cling to the child as the last reminder of a lost loved one. Rowling had to give reason’s why that wasn’t the case, why Harry was at best tolerated in their home. Coming from a world they both hate and fear.

Having a natural ability to cast magic and a live-in bully Harry would have experienced lots of unexplainable things, I imagine Ms. Rowling can tell as many childhood stories of Harry’s exploits as any parent can their own child. It’s those stories that make Harry a complete person in JK’s mind, which comes across in her writing. When a character feels flat in a book it is often because the author has only developed what you as a reader know. Which, as with people you meet in the street, is only the surface. The real person is buried under years of development and learning and very often, not all of it good.

Perhaps there is really two jigsaws to any book, the author one, and a condensed, brighter, mounted and framed reader jigsaw. A blog for another day.

Now I know which pieces I need, it’s time to go back and make sure they’re all in the right places. I have considered doing a rewrite, but I don’t think that is needed, I have a lot that can be taken out, giving room for more internal thoughts and conflicts.

It’s still going to be slow going for a while, the infection has left me with dizzy spells, but I plan to get back to writing this week, even if I only manage a little at a time.

Backstory motivation & conflictcharacter developmentHarry PotterJK RowlingJodi HenleyMagicwritingwriting jigsaw


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