We all know our characters actions need to be guided by some sort of motivation. A character that simply reacts gets frustrating, and characters that have no logical consistency are usually unbelievable. So here’s the question for your character. Why would they cross a road?
My 5 suggestions:
1. Greed – They realised that by crossing the road there was something in it for them. Either something waiting for them or something to be gained. Either way, greed is a powerful motivator and most characters would cross a road for it (some would cross deserts, mountains, or outer space for it).
2. Love – Isn’t that sweet? Their true love is on the other side or they will prove their love by crossing. Doesn’t matter, either way, love is a powerful motivator.
3. Loss – Someone who has lost their way or lost a love one may cross the road just wondering whether the other side offers them anything to take away the pain. Or they may have made a promise to someone who is now gone and crossing the road will help them keep it.
4. Curiosity – Not such a good motivator because usually it is used when there is no good reason for characters to act in a certain way and so they ‘just want to see’ something. Still, if you’ve established your character as someone who likes to stick their nose into other people’s business you can probably make curiosity work.
5. The next logical step – If your character is on route somewhere then crossing the road might simply be the next logical step on their journey.
The point being here that characters need a reason to do things and as long as you, the writer, are clear about why they are doing something and it makes sense to the audience, everyone will end up happy. We usually don’t wonder why our characters cross roads but the same could be said of opening a door, running up a flight of stairs, taking that trip somewhere, or any of the other decisions our characters have to make.
What is your answer? Why would your character cross the road?
Note from Cassandra: Thanks Alex for hosting me on your blog today and thanks for your guest post here on the realm. I hope everyone enjoys reading your thoughts.
In Tune with Writing
Every writer needs inspiration. We can envision a great story, but if we’re not inspired as we write, it falls into the neglected pile of incomplete projects. How do we maintain motivation for our characters and scenes?
It’s no secret I’m a music lover. Music moves me on every level. It uplifts me when I feel down or depressed. Music channels my anger when rage threatens to get the better of me. Since music affects my mood, I decided to use that to my advantage when writing.
Every scene possesses a mood. An action scene contains tension. A tragic scene boasts angst. A love scene… well, that one’s obvious! But regardless of the moment, there’s atmosphere and mood in every scene we create.
This is where music comes into play. A soundtrack sets the tone in movie; the tempo dictates the pace and flow of emotion. It can do the same for our writing. I always listen to music when writing, selecting the best composition for each scene.
When I need to amp up the tension or focus on an action heavy scene, I select something heavy and fast. The rapid tempo conveys a sense of urgency and helps me to focus on a dire situation. The music magnifies the moment. I pour the resulting energy into my words, letting the rhythm carry the story. As an added bonus, I write faster as well.
For emotionally charged scenes and intense character interactions, I select music that fits the mood. It can be slow or fast, but it must stir the emotions. The feelings provoked by the music help me channel a character’s frustration, despair, or jubilation into coherent phrases and words. I connect on a more personal level with my characters, adding depth to their personalities.
Music allows me to feel what I am writing. It places me in the scene and inside my characters’ heads. If you’re seeking inspiration or connection with your work, try music. It helps me stay in tune with my writing!
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Note from Cassandra: By the way, if you don’t know, Alex’s first book is going to be released in October. Check out the details and the trailer here.
Alice recently tried to do six impossible things before breakfast and no one accused her of being too pessimistic in labelling them impossible.
Impossible seems to be a big no-no at the moment. It seems by pointing out that something is impossible you are being overly negative.
It may not seem like a nice thing to do but sometimes pointing out the highly improbably nature of certain outcomes can be a kindness. Of course it can also be tactless, mean, cruel and spiteful. I guess it all comes down to motivation behind the statement and the delivery.
But whether or not you like the word impossible, do your characters? Are they the negative type who likes to think that doors are closing everywhere around them when in point of fact they have millions of unrealised opportunities? Or are they optimistic to the point of insanity? Somewhere inbetween perhaps?
When people discuss character they talk about motivation and they talk about appearance and goals and all of these other sorts of things but the idea of them being an optomist or pessimist doesn’t seem to come up. The basic underlying personality that should motivate most of what they do.
I’ve actually been trying to figure this out for a character from one of my WIP’s that I’ve been playing with lately. The character is inconsistent at the best of times but I’m starting to see an underlying logic in her actions. She’s ridiculously optimistic. Her erratic actions and seemingly illogical behaviour actually come down to the fact that she genuinely believes that things will work out okay so you might as well jump. Now that I know where she’s coming from I can probably clear up some of her more bewildering actions and make it all kind of work out okay.
How about your characters? Optimists or pessimists?
I’m going to preface this post by pointing out that I really dislike animal movies. That is, movies where the main character is an animal that is befriended by a human and does a range of cutesy/mischievous things before ultimately solving some massive problem and healing all the wrongs in their friendly human’s life while giving us some moral message. There are a lot of these movies out there and they are well loved movies but they’ve never grabbed me as an audience member. Mostly because cute didn’t cut it for me as a replacement for story or character development even when I was a child and the overly moralistic message of so many of these movies seemed really condescending.
That said, I do like animals in stories. They can serve a valuable role and if well written can even have all the attributes of a full fledged character. There is a difference between a movie with an animal in it and an animal movie. Same with books.
When I consider using an animal in a story I usually think about the following:
1. Is the animal’s presence actually adding anything to the story? A means of transport, companionship, comfort, finding something, revealing something, etc.
2. Could a human character serve the same purpose better?
3. Is the animal actually acting in the way an animal would or are they simply a human character dressed up like an animal?
4. If the animal is magical and can talk, are they still acting in the way an animal would or is there some cross over between the animal characteristics and human characteristics? And is there any point behind this cross over?
5. Is the animal becoming simply a cute distraction from the plot?
Inserting an animal as a character for me is like inserting any other character. They need to have a purpose and serve some sort of function in the plot. They need to relate to the other characters and if possible those relationships should grow and change as the story progresses.
What are your thoughts on animals as characters? Or animal movies for that matter.
Okay – before you jump on the attack I am going to counter this soonish by explaining why writing a novel is not like baking a cake.
There are many reasons why writing a novel is in fact like baking a cake:
1. There are certain ingredients that must be present or it will not work. You can argue that there are eggless/flourless and everything-else-less cakes out there and some of these are very, very good. However, for the most part, leaving out critical ingredients in a cake or a novel will just get you into trouble and have your taster (reader) wondering what went wrong.
2. The better you plan it out before beginning, the better the process goes. This is true for me, I know.When baking a cake I do a lot of pre-organisation and pull all the ingredients out and line them up on the bench. I even measure most of it out into various cups and bowls and have it all just sitting and waiting to be added. Far too many times I’ve entered the cooking process and go to the cupboard to get out the… Forgot to buy it. Now I have to go to the shop and get some more, meanwhile the oven is heating, and I forgot the shop is already shut. Plus, I know what sort of cake I’m making if I plan it out. I don’t get mid-way through and think I’d like to add some apple but then I’ll have to add more flour because the apple will make it too moist and I’ll probably add too much flour and then I’ll have to add a dash more milk. This all relates to novel writing in that I can plan out my characters, their motivations and goals out before the story so I won’t get too many surprises during the writing. I can make sure I’ve researched any vital plot points and have that research at the ready. I also know what sort of story I want it to be. So I’m not getting midway through and thinking, wouldn’t this be better if I just went back and rewrote the whole thing (though sometimes the plan fails and despite all the careful thought we do have to go back, and back again).
3. It takes time. Okay, cake time to novel time are really not comparable but they both take time and rushing the process makes for a bad cake/novel. It takes as much time as it takes.
4. The right tools help get the job done faster and better. In cakes this means whisks, pans, bowls and ovens that actually heat evenly and consistently. With writing this means at least a basic understanding of language and probably a word processing program of some sort that includes some basic editing assistance (such as spell check). The writer’s tool kit also includes their knowledge of the genre and plot conventions and all the other things you need to write the story.
5. The proof is in the pudding. The taster of the cake can tell you if the cake is good. The reader of the story will tell you if the novel is good. Yes, you can pre-taste (read and evaluate yourself) but you are probably not the best judge. Like with cooking you will either be too harsh (I’m a terrible cook) or far too generous in your evaluation (its awesome and only burnt on two sides…).
There you have it. Five reasons why writing a novel is like baking a cake.
I’m not using it and I haven’t referred to it – but a plan exists. Surely that counts for something.
In case you are wondering what I am talking about, it is the old to plan or not to plan argument in writing. As always, I outline, know where I want to go, and then dutifully ignore any of it and write whatever anyway. From the number of unfinished projects I have stacking up, this may not be the most effective method, but it works for me. I don’t want to lock myself in if I’m not feeling the characters lead me in a certain direction. And I don’t want to be endlessly worried that they haven’t progressed as neatly from point a to point b as I would have liked.
I love to write. I love words. If I can eventually tidy them up enough to make a story, great. If not, I’ll have enjoyed the writing anyway and maybe at some future time I’ll return to the story and figure it all out.
That’s kind of what’s happened at the moment.
I came across a fairly old story (in fact I don’t remember when I started it). I didn’t even have it on my computer any more. I only had the paper copy I printed out. It wasn’t finished and as I was reading it I realised I really wanted to know where this story ended. Only I didn’t remember.
Fortunately I also printed out the plan and included it in the file.
Unfortunately having just read the first act of the story, I realised why I abandoned it. The plan didn’t make any sense. There were entire sub-plots that were clearly leading to X but just didn’t appear in the plan at all. The main character was clearly not motivated by D but by P and those two characters over there were as likely to be conspiring as a spider with a fly. I’d had a plan but the way I’d written that first act just made the plan entirely irrelevant. The story was better than the original plan and the characters a great deal more interesting but it made the second act almost impossible to write without an entire overhaul of the over all goal of the story.
So now I need to figure out where the story should be going and how I’m going to get it there and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it written. I’m not going to commit myself to it but I have a strong feeling that I’m going to spend quite a number of sleepless nights thinking about it in the near future.
Okay, maybe forever is a slight exaggeration but you really do have to be able to deal with having your characters in your head for a long time.
You spend so much time making them real, getting to know them, putting the through hardships and helping them overcome difficulties. You watch them grow – you help them to grow. You direct them and guide them and shape them at every turn.
Elspeth had an excellent post last week on characters when she shared her 10 Tips for Non-Perfection. It was her list to help the writers out there not view their characters through rose tinted glasses and it is a great list – well worth the read.
As a writer I’m truly cruel to my characters – particularly in drafting stages. Mostly because I want to see how my character reacts under every kind of pressure I can throw at them. In the end I usually pick the crisis that has the most interesting reaction and go with it, but when I’m still developing the character I can be really nasty to them.
But when all of that is said and done, underneath, I still really love my characters and can feel pretty caught up in their lives at times. One particular WIP that I’m still thinking about revising continues to stump me mostly because in the face of the massive danger being faced, nobody dies. Well, one character does, but we didn’t really like them and other than a brief mention in act one they really failed to have an impact.
I didn’t even intentionally write it that way.
It just turned out that after I’d finished the various minor skirmishes that were going on in the huge and dusty battle, every named character (villain or hero) tragically survived. It was a cold blooded conversation with a friend when I sat down with the draft and started systematically listing each character’s attributes and why they should die/live. I still haven’t actually rewritten it.
How do you and your characters get along?
You hear the advice all the time. If something isn’t moving your plot forward it shouldn’t be in your story. Given the current goal oriented generation where anything that isn’t immediate becomes dull, this is pretty good advice. Your description of that sunset may be absolutely flawless but if your reader can’t see the point of it (because just being a beautiful piece of writing is insufficient) then it has to go.
I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand, I hate wading through endless reams of description of settings that in the end don’t make the tiniest bit of difference to the story. Even a fight sequence that has gone on too long begins to irk me and I just want to cut to the chase. So who won and what happens next? I am very much a product of the modern world in that I like there to be a point. At the same time, sometimes I really enjoy just well written work. That witty dialogue or really interesting aside. It may have nothing to do with the main plot and only be very thinly related to character development but if it is written just right, it can suck me right into the story.
That said, how do we move the plot forward?
Plot generally involves a character (or group or characters) getting from point A to point B while X, Y and Z try to stop them. That would be the motivation for the characters and the conflict they will face. If the plot becomes too direct you would have a story in about five lines and it would be incredibly boring.
Farm boy loses family.
Farm boy trains to fight.
Farm boy faces bad guy and loses.
Farm boy takes time out to learn some valuable lesson.
Farm boy defeats bad guy.
This would be the basic plot of both Star Wars and Eragon and probably many other fantasy – space opera kind of things. Don’t get me wrong, this plot works very effectively (or can), but when you boil the story down this much it gets a bit dull.
I guess the question you have to ask yourself is why does line A (farm boy losing family) lead to line B. Lots of people lose family members without suddenly enlisting to learn some ancient fighting method and going on a quest for revenge and to other throw an evil empire. What about your character makes them take that step and how do they reach that decision? How do you help your reader believe it?
The plot moves forward when you know where you are and where you want to go and you know why your characters are taking those steps. I’ve had many would be stories stagnate because I didn’t know clearly where I was planning to go next and I wasn’t really sure why my characters were doing something anyway. Once you can answer these questions the plot should move forward though it is adding all the small details and weaving those interesting sub-plots that will make it interesting.
Your thoughts on moving a plot forward?
There are times when I want to write, have the time to write, and I just can’t get into it. At these times there are a whole bunch of things I do to try to focus on writing but one of the most effective is music. Here are my top 5 songs to get me into a writing mood.
1. Flying Without Wings: Westlife
Why does this song work? It begins with one of the best lines ever – even if the song itself is not that great. “Everybody’s looking for that something. One thing that makes it all complete.” With just that opening I suddenly think about what my characters are looking for and how to get them to where they want to be and instantly I feel the need to write. This makes it one of my favourite writing prompts.
2. The Fear: Lily Allen
Firstly, I just love this song. It is so boppy and lyrical and yet listening to the lyrics there is quite a bit of depth to this song and the issues it raises are quite serious. This song reminds me to look into the inner parts of my characters and to find their true motivation.
3. Words: Kate Miller-Hiedke
This song moves really quite quickly and helps me pick up my pace. It jolts me to action. At the same time it makes me think about the transitions we go through and how our characters can change and development over time. It also reminds me about the highs and lows.
4. Grace Kelly: Mika
Asks the question really of how face will a character go to reach their desire and is it worth it in the end? Plus this song always makes me smile.
5. The Rose: Not sure who sings the version I like
Sad and sweet and hopeful and yet slightly lost. I find this song puts me in a very thoughtful frame of mind and that always helps get me writing.
I guess for a song to be good for my writing it has to inspire some emotion and usually it leaves me with a question. It can’t be too loud or boisterous because that makes me not want to sit still so tragically Prisoner of Society misses the list here because while it is an amazing song it doesn’t make me want to write. It also helps if I don’t associate the song with a particular movie because that then distracts me and makes me want to watch the movie.
What are your favourite songs for writing?