08 November 2010

When Characters Contradict Each Other...

So last week I was one of thousands at the "Get Motivated" conference in Atlanta. It was pretty cool. The speaker I was the most excited about hearing was Bill Cosby (and unfortunately, we had to leave before he spoke). But there were a lot of other speakers...Goldie Hawn, Lou Holtz, General Colin Powell, Rudy Guliani, plus a few who weren't advertised.

I saw a lot of characters and a lot of "what if" threads there. It was definitely a lesson in character study. Enough for several posts. So this will be a series that will end the week of Thanksgiving.

Anywho... first lesson: make sure your characters don't contradict each other.

So, each speaker had a specific topic to discuss with us: goals, leadership, perseverance, etc. It was advertised on the ticket. What we were not given was a program, so we had no idea who was going to speak when. It was a method to keep us guessing and in our seats, instead of leaving early for lunch and for home in order to beat the crowds. In our case, it didn't work.

The whole day seemed to go smoothly (though we had no idea how if the sessions were on time), until the final two sessions we heard.

I'm not an idiot. I know all of the speakers did not arrive at the Georgia Dome at the break of dawn and listen to all of the talks. They probably strolled in not too long before their scheduled speeches, sat in the green room on their phones/computers/hanging out with people, and then strode out to the stage to a rock star welcome when beckoned. But this made me wonder how much background each of them were given on the speeches in general:

One of the speakers, James Smith, encouraged us to turn off our televisions, our cell phones, our computers, and connect to life. He reminded us of what really matters (more on him on next week).

Then Rudy Guliani got up and did 2 things wrong: 1) He repeated a joke one of the morning speakers gave almost verbatim. But instead of enhancing the point of the joke, it just looked like poor preparation. Like he didn't know what his colleague was going to speak on.

2) After repeating that joke (asking how many people had a computer and knew how to use it) he encouraged each person to get an iphone, a kindle, a computer, etc. and stay connected to what is going on in the world, our businesses, and our governments.

What a contradiction!

Guliani's problem was his presentation. Honestly, he was so boring. He followed a fascinating speaker (with a topic I couldn't even understand- again, to be discussed next week) and had a topic I understood: leadership. But, oh my word. I couldn't wait for him to finish.

In his first moments on stage, he told an "original" joke that wasn't original and contradicted the speaker directly before him. It was like he prepared his speech, but not in the context of the entire conference. He didn't compare notes. And since he was the repeat, it made him look very ... silly.

Something I've learned the hard way is going through and checking the dialogue in my stories to make sure they are free of contradictions, not only in themselves, but in the context of the novel. It can be so easy to do... I mean, it's not like we write the entire book in one setting. It's such a simple slip, to make a decision later on in the process that contradicts an earlier one. But they are so important to catch.

If we don't, we can lose our audience.

See y'all next week!


  1. This sounds like a fun conference. I am one of the ones who will slip out or take a coffee break if I'm not interested in a speaker or topic. The unknown schedule would have driven me bonkers.

  2. Great post. I'm with Tara, not knowing who was speaking on what would have driven me crazy.

  3. Wow! What a fascinating post! I love how you tied your conference (which sounds amazing) into writing!

    I know keeping my own characters consistent is hard. I make up stuff along the way that I have to be careful of not contradicting later. What color eyes did they have? How many brothers or sisters? Did she like chicken or steak? :)

    And I agree with the others... no schedule would have driven me nuts!

  4. What a great object lesson with a great point! I think this is why we need to step back from our projects from time to time, and get input from others. Looking forward to hearing more!

  5. Still it sounds like an awesome conference! DId you see Goldie Hawn? How awesome was that? i'd love to know what you though of her speech. I'll be hanging around for this series of posts for sure!

  6. Wow, I can't believe he did that. But what a lesson you (and we all) could take from that!

  7. Hey, T.Anne!

    We actually left in the middle of her speech. She came out dancing, which was fun, and then was so ditsy it was hard to follow. We had a 90 minute drive ahead of us and it was already 5pm, so we sneaked out. :0)

  8. It sounds like fun in a way, but not having a schedule would bother me. I'm so scattered, I need a plan to keep me focused.

    Too bad you missed Bill Cosby. He is one of my favorites.

  9. Fantastic post! Contradicting characters could definitely break a good story. Sounds like a very rewarding conference :)

  10. Great point. It sounds like you had an amazing experience. I love how you connected it to writing.

  11. Great advice and I love how you explained it with the 2 speakers from your conference. Sounds like you learned a bunch!

  12. Hi Kristen -

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    They had an interesting mix of speakers. Perhaps the conference planners didn't give them enough guidance on the main themes.

    Another lesson: Big names don't always equal good speakers.

    Susan :)

  13. Wow~! Sounds like you had quite a time.
    I struggle to sit still for that much talking...yet I can sit here all day and work on my books. Now THAT'S contradiction!

  14. What a fun conference, Kristen. I think it's funny that the memory you wrote about is the bad speech. Sometimes we learn so much from other people's mistakes, don't we? But I also like the way the two contradicted each other, but were both right at the same time. We do need to own technology and connect with the world, but at the same time there is so much to experience by disconnecting from it all.

    Sorry for rambling. I loved how you shared these experiences!!

  15. Kristin! Wow, I guess that law of seven really does work! How funny that you know Sarah!! I'll have to let her know. It is an extremely small world I guess, especially on the Internet!!

  16. Seriously! I laughed when I realized our connection, Catherine! I look forward to getting to know you!

  17. So true! When I write, I kind of fly by night so there are a LOT of contradictions in my first, skeletal draft. I have to sift through them and see what the characters are trying to tell me over what I'm trying to get them to say!

    I must agree with the speaker who encouraged us to get out and connect with life. Oh my WORD how we need to do that!!!

    Happy weekend friend!

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