Pushing past the boundaries

We’ve all heard phrases like “think out of the box” and “taking it to the next level” but actually achieving this task can be Herculean. There’s nothing like someone demanding creativity on the spot to make your creative juices pucker up. But I hate to admit that as writers, we have to keep pushing against our boundaries so our readers will keep turning the pages.

I was downloading handouts from a past conference I attended and came across a workshop I’d attended about finding the essence of a character and different ways to do that. It’s basic GMC – what do they want, why do they want it and why can’t they have it? The trick is figuring out how to answer these questions and make them more than superficial. Motivation is the key.

The word why caught my eye because it’s a tool I use in my job – the five whys. We use it to get to the heart of a problem, rather than stopping with the easy answers many people think of right away. Usually those answers aren’t the real reason something happens, they’re just the ones that are most obvious.

The workshop also put a great phrase in my head – make it worse. Everything we endure in life gives us a level of strength. This works the same for our characters, so when you can, make it worse for them in every conceivable way.

So I started playing with the five whys, and thinking about how I could make it worse, as I was rebuilding a character, trying to get her to the next level. For instance, my heroine is a psychic with daddy issues. Betrayal and distrust played a big part of her GMC.

But why?

Her basic goal was to be believed – she’s a psychic; that comes with a certain amount of skepticism. Her motivation was tied to that skepticism.


Her mother and grandmother, two key figures in her life, died when she was young and she was left with her father who never believed in her gifts. When he started to parlay her gifts into a money  making business, she went along.


She wanted her father’s approval, she would do anything for that approval. Why? It’s a very basic need to be believed but she ties approval with love and a parent’s love should be unconditional.

Later it’s revealed he’s using her and lying to people about psychic readings. An investigation into fraud puts her father on trial. And all of that was good motivation for her to distrust, but I needed another level and I found it with the last why which I won’t reveal because…hey…why would you buy the book if you know all the secrets?

This really changed her, of course and it changed how she interacted with the hero – a cop involved in the original investigation and trial of her father. It had a great side effect as well, as it ratcheted up the conflict between the hero and heroine.

I’m a big believer in texture – using the senses to build the world for your reader. I want to use all five senses in a scene but like most, I find myself focused on sight and sound. But I’m currently writing a hero who is visually impaired. What he knows about the world around him is mostly from memory and I use that but his new world is completely new. And he only knows the heroine after he loses his sight so he can only get to know her using sound, smell, touch and taste. It makes writing a scene from his POV a challenge since I rely mainly on sight to describe the world. I find you can use this same technique – removing one of the senses – for any character. This refocuses the POV and changes what is used to build your scene.

I hope you’ll give these a try and if you do, let me know how it works for you.

Happy writing!!


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