Consistent Character

One thing I talk about with writers is the importance of doing background development work on your characters. This helps ensure they behave consistently throughout your story, run by the fears, hopes, and dreams that shaped them. As the story turns, they can shift and grow, but there still needs to be some internal consistency to how they behave.

For example, a cruel character can learn kindness but it would be inconsistent for them to show it through the same actions that a sweetly generous character might. They’ll show it in their own way.

In one of our non-typical services, I’m helping a novelist client query agents and managers. We’ve created a compelling pitch with different topics and elements we can pull from to customize each query we send.

My client and I were on our usual video call last week looking over the latest batch of names in her spreadsheet when a familiar name made my stomach knot. The name was too unique. It had to be her.

My client noticed my sudden snort. “What?”

“I went to high school with her,” I said.

“Oh, great!” my client enthused. “So we have an in with her.”

“Nooooooo,” I breathed. “She was awful to me.”

“Oh, well then screw her,” my client’s chin went up. “We’ll find another.”

“No, no,” I hedged. “A lot of time has passed since then. We’ve all changed, right? She wasn’t outright cruel to me. She just wasn’t nice. Never missed a chance at a snarky barb. She assumed she was smarter than everyone – heck, maybe she was, look at her cool publishing job – but she never missed a chance to lord her intelligence over us. She was a snob.”

I looked at the agent’s photo. Sure enough, it was her. Same haircut as in high school. Same face but with maturity on it. A blouse I liked and would have worn myself. “You know what,” I went on, “reading her bio, she does seem like a good fit for your book. It’s silly to not take a chance because of old pettiness. Maybe she has changed. She has to have, right? We all have.”

“OK,” my client nodded. “If you’re comfortable with it, we’ll do it.”

I smiled, enjoying this high road.

In our going for “100 NOs” as a measure of our outreach efforts, we’ve gotten some very kindly worded rejections. Sure, the agents who decided my client’s book wasn’t for them probably all took the same cursory glance and hit send on their “no thank you” form letter. But it says something to us about the value of our efforts that those form letters were composed in kindness, clearly intending to let writers down easy. It doesn’t cost them anything to be kind, right?

After a week or so, my client texted me. “Guess what, we heard from your high school friend!” I knew it was a no. She forwarded me the email. It was a terse, bloodless single line: “I’m not interested in this.” No time, no effort, no kindness.

My client called and we laughed together. There she was; the same girl she’d been in high school. Consistent in her actions, just like a well-written character. I appreciate that. She clearly hasn’t gotten to the part of her story where she gets to shift and grow but as all stories share the same basic structure, I believe it’s coming.

About heidihornbacher

A graduate of UCLA’s screenwriting program, Heidi has written numerous features, treatments, and TV pilots for various independent producers. She’s judged for the Slamdance Film Festival screenwriting contest and co-founded the Slamdance Script Clinic. She and her husband founded PageCraft Writing in 2008 offering script coaching and writing retreats in LA and Italy. Her clients have gone on to find representation, win contests, and become working writers. Heidi has written, directed, and produced numerous commercials, music videos, and electronic press kits for various artists. She’s currently making a documentary film about British artist Paul Whitehead.
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