Baking and Character Motivation

My daughter talked me into making cookies for a playdate she had yesterday and it made me think of writing. And no, I don’t mean the obvious metaphor of how a story has ingredients and they have to be mixed in the right proportions, blah, blah, blah. It reminded me of the scene in Anne of Avonlea (I think?) where Anne tries to publish her first story.

Anne gets a rejection and then confides her very dramatic disappointment to Diana Barry. Diana asks to read the manuscript and then complains because the heroine (who is appropriately fancy and hoity-toity, just like Anne likes) bakes a cake a the end. Anne is defensive, saying that the heroine (I think her name is Cordelia?) is trying to show her domestic side. Diana, trying very hard to be a good friend and NOT a critique partner, just smiles and nods. Later Diana re-writes the cake scene and there is a very funny scene where the story wins a flour competition and Anne gets very offended that her work has been used for.. gasp!… profit.

So that made me think about this book I’m reading on developing characters and how you have to create a back story for your character so that you can figure out a natural and understandable way for the character to react to things. If they react in an incongruous way, then your reader will be taken away from the narrative. And I think the important part is that it doesn’t matter if YOU think it makes sense for the character to behave in a certain way – your READER has to think so, too. If they sense that you are just making the character do things to further your plot without being respectful of the character, itself, then the reader will stop trusting you as a writer and become less invested in the character and plot. I can think of a few places in my WiP that have this issue – I know why the characters are doing whatever it is they are doing, but I’m not sure I’ve set it up thoroughly enough to convince a reader.

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2 Comments

Filed under Manuscript, Revision

2 responses to “Baking and Character Motivation

  1. blueghoul

    Ah, I like your thought train, how something as simple as baking could’ve sparked that sort of minor revelation. It makes a lot of sense. Along with what you said about it making sense to the readers–not only you. And about plot. You know what’s supposed to happen, but to have a character purely for plot, acting in sort of contradictory, unbelievable ways really does lose quite a bit of trust for a reader. Plot and characters pull at each other constantly, I think.

    Plot is sort of like a chain of events that occur in a story and the characters’re are the ones living it. If plot demands a character to do something, but it’s out of context for the character, then there’s a conflict, whether it be a change in plot or a loss in reader investment. Too much plot loses character, losing the personality and can lose readership and reader trust. Too little plot leaves the story meandering aimlessly, and it’s the characters without anything to do that can also lose the interest of an audience.

    And to solve that, setting up a backstory to kind of relate everything, to make sure that a natural rhythm is established and that there’s a logic to the actions, like you said, is something that could sort of solve the issue of that sort of contradictory-type characters. Ones that take action against their sort of reason. Backstory…it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

    • My only problem with backstory is the time it takes to create it. I have an overall image of (at least) my main character’s backstory, but I need to flesh out my other major characters and then see what happens. I really love when read a book and you can almost feel the backstory, even if the author never says anything about it.

      By the way, thank you for being my first official comment!

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