We all have mentors who have influenced judgments and ideas we have about other people or things (spouse, boss, self, etc.). Since Mother’s Day is fast approaching let’s talk about our mothers, who are our first mentors.
I once took a seminar with the author Walter Mosely, and he said that when you are born, “Your mama is god.” When writing, it is always useful to use yourself as a benchmark for developing characters. Write a list of your mother’s best attributes. How do your feelings about your own mother influence your choices and shape how you feel about yourself? Once you have answered this question in your own life (and there will be different answers for different times in your life), identify your hero or heroine’s mother, and ask the same question of your character.
In North By Northwest, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) has clearly spent his life trying to please his mother. This insight into the character makes us much more sympathetic to an arrogant advertising executive who seems to think only of himself. We can see that he takes after her in the sense that he believes in his own vision enough to do what’s necessary to survive.
In Back To The Future, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is negatively inspired by his mother’s bitterness and disappointment as to how her life turned out, and in some way this gives him the courage to become a man and change his own future. Here the gift is a seemingly negative one, which produces positive results.
As your character, write a list of their mother’s good qualities in your character’s first person voice. For example my mother throws a great party.
Ask the character in your voice, how do they define themselves in terms of their mothers? And then answer again in the character’s voice. For example, my mother throws a great party but I am horribly shy.
Answering this question for your villain or obstacle as well as your hero and heroine will create real depth and subtext.
As my mother used to say…