This blog was featured on 07/24/2017
Use a Monkey Wrench

Christina Baker Kline is sharing brief capsule pieces exclusively with the She Writes community. Each piece is part of the larger series she's sharing with us. This is her third piece. See the rest of the series here.

When I'm developing a new character I often throw a monkey wrench into the works to create internal tension. I give this person a trait (an obsession, a habit, a fixation, a physical peculiarity or mannerism) that seems to cut against the grain of his or her personality. These contradictions usually add depth and dimension, stimulating me to think about my character in new ways.

Here's an example. In my novel Orphan Train there's a 17-year-old tattooed, pierced, tough kid named Molly who's in trouble for stealing. But she steals books. She loves to read; libraries became a refuge when her home life was in chaos. And her love of reading gave me access to a more interesting inner life for her.

I don't mean, necessarily, that this kind of contradiction makes it harder for characters to get what they want, only that by working against type I can deepen and expand who they are. I find, especially at the beginning, that the more complexity I add, the more my characters surprise and intrigue me and the more I have to say about them.

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