Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ane Mulligan: Unforgettable - That's What You Are

What makes a character unforgettable? Why is it some live on in our hearts long after we finish the book? The answer is depth; characters that are concrete, vivid, with easily identifiable character traits.

That's all well and good, but how do we make them that way? I'm glad you asked.

Psychology 101 – Lies
From the study of psychology, we learn that most people have a Lie they believe about themselves. These Lies are embedded before the age of 5. A child that young doesn't reason the lie away, they simply believe it. It could come about from a careless remark by a frustrated mother who asks, "Can't you do anything right?" to outright abandonment or abuse. Whatever the cause, the Lie colors the child's view of self and their motivation rises out of the Lie.

So how does that translate to fiction?
The Lie the characters believe is the key to their motivation. Motivation is the key to great characters and plots. Yes, you read that right - because you can plot via character motivation.

Motivation engages us; we can relate to the character's motivation. Readers will follow characters through anything they do or any way they act if the motivation is strong enough. Based on a Lie, the motivation will be strong and believable.

There are the 8 basic Lies:
To each of the basic lies, there are shades and symptoms.
1.   I'm a disappointment.
2.   Not good enough (this is a very strong lie, often used
      for men and strong female leads)
3.   I'm not enough – or defective
4.   I'm too much to handle and will get rejected
5.   It's all my fault
6.   Helpless – powerless to fix (this leads to a fear of 
      being controlled)
7.   Unwanted/unloved
8.   I'm bad (which could possibly be used as a symptom
      or excuse for another lie)

Your characters will either fall victim to their lie or they will try to combat the lie, proving it wrong. While a person could have more than one Lie, for fictional characters, it's best to stick with one. Otherwise you dilute the power and focus of their motivation.

Playing Journalist
The first thing to do is interview your character. Play journalist, asking tough questions. You might discover their Lie during the interview. Next, write a free flowing backstory. Pantsters rock at this. Go as far back as you have to, even to prior generations, until you discover what happened to cause your character to believe a Lie and which one. Remember, we're all the product of our ancestors' worldview. We either adopt it, reject it, or tweak it to be our own.

For one manuscript I'm working on, I had to go back 4 generations to discover where my character's ancestors' worldview began. Through that great-great-great-grandmother, I found the foundation for her mother's worldview and thus, my character's Lie.

Word of caution: 95 percent or more of the backstory will never make the pages of your novel. It's what helps you to fully understand your character and what makes him or her tick.

Once you know the Lie, you can see how it would color his or her motivation, determine their reaction to events, and how they would make decisions.

In my debut novel, Chapel Springs Revival, Claire charges into situations without thinking, because deep within her, she wants to be a hero—superwoman come to save the day. And gain respect. Her lie is it’s all her fault. Yet, with all the crazy things that happen, I never have her consciously think it’s her fault. But she believes her antagonist thinks that. She believes her husband thinks it, too. That's how I get her Lie across without ever mentioning Lies.

Chapel Springs Revival

With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.

Everybody in the small town of Chapel Springs, Georgia, knows best friends Claire and Patsy. It's impossible not to, what with Claire's zany antics and Patsy's self-appointed mission to keep her friend out of trouble. And trouble abounds. Chapel Springs has grown dilapidated and the tourist trade has slackened. With their livelihoods threatened, they join forces to revitalize the town. No one could have guessed the real issue needing restoration is their marriages.

With their personal lives in as much disarray as the town, Claire and Patsy embark on a mission of mishaps and miscommunication, determined to restore warmth to Chapel Springs —and their lives. That is if they can convince their husbands and the town council, led by two curmudgeons who would prefer to see Chapel Springs left in the fifties and closed to traffic.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, bestselling novelist ANE MULLIGAN has worn many: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that's a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction website, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for visiting Write Right, Ane. Great, informative post!

    1. Thanks for having me, Delia. I love to share what I've learned.

    2. Thank you for having me, Delia. It's a subject I'm passionate about.

    3. LOL - Now they're both up, Ane. I apologize...my internet is spotty where I'm staying right now, and I don't get the comments approved as quickly as I'd like.

  3. Enjoyed reading Ane's coments I loved her book Chapel Springs Revival

    1. Thanks, Ann! I left a comment yesterday but I don't see it. Maybe it wasn't profound. LOL

  4. When I got a reminder about this post by one of my favorite writer friends (Ane) on the blog of another favorite writer friend (Delia), I knew this was one I had to check out even tho I am only 80 % done with my story due April 1st! I am so glad I did because I was having trouble with my character and this reminded me to go back to her lie to get into her character more! Thanks again, Ane! and Delia! Ane, I also ordered your book a couple weeks ago and really enjoy what I have read so far. Hope to finish it after April 1st--just realized my deadline is April Fool's Day. Wonder what that means!?

  5. I enjoyed the article and will purchase the book.