5 Motivations For Your Character to Cross the Road

September 17, 2010 at 5:25 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

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?

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Guest Post from Carol Kilgore

September 15, 2010 at 5:40 am (September Blog Tour) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Note from Cassandra: Thanks Carol for hosting me on your blog today and for your excellent post here. I hope everyone enjoys reading your words of wisdom.

POP GOES THE WEASEL

First of all, I want to thank Cassandra for offering me this opportunity to be a guest on her fantastic blog. I always learn from her posts. Today I’m a virgin – this is my first ever time to write a post for someone else’s blog. It’s a little frightening. So here we go, sink or swim.

“Pop Goes the Weasel” is a song most of us learned before we could string more than two words together – as soon as we could master the crank on the side of the Jack-in-the-Box. We watched Mommy turn it, Daddy, big sister. We knew what was coming.

The clown popped out, and we jumped and squealed. We couldn’t wait for them to push the clown back in and make it jump out. “Again! Again!”

Then it was our turn. We turned it fast, we turned it slow, we mixed it up. Again and again.

When we were two, this was thinking outside the box.

We passed the Terrific Terrible Twos a long time ago. Now most of you reading this are writers.

Today, thinking outside the box means something a little different from Mr. Jack. We still have the familiar set-up, but the outcome is . . . outside the box. Now when we turn the crank, maybe the box explodes. Or the clown is a girly fish dressed in sequins with a pink feather boa around her neck and wearing bright red lipstick. Or we have to put the box together like a puzzle to hear the song. Or we start with the clown outside, turn the crank, and he returns to the box.

The same with our writing. Thinking outside the box applies to every aspect of a novel – character, conflict, dialogue, setting, tone, point of view, plot, theme, and so on.

Instead of your protagonist being a firefighter, maybe he’s a special hot-spot firefighter who gets called out on wildfires. Or maybe he’s a dragon and a rookie in the Dragonopolis Fire Department who always needs to be careful not to start fires of his own when he sneezes or laughs or becomes angry.

Thinking outside the box takes many forms. That’s the beauty. The possibilities are endless.

What’s your favorite way to think outside the box?

~

Carol Kilgore is a Texas writer living in San Antonio. She writes mystery and suspense with a little romance to tingle your tootsies. Her blog, Under the Tiki Hut, is a positive spot for readers and writers to meet, relax, and exchange ideas and dreams.

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Photo Story – Blog Fest

August 6, 2010 at 6:08 am (fiction) (, , , , , , , , )

Today Melissa from the Undeveloped Story is hosting a blogfest. The idea:

I can remember being told this many times in my life: “Every photo has a great  story behind it.” And they’re right. So, for this fest, I want you to find a photo, any photo, and make up a short story (or poem for all the poets out there) about it. It doesn’t have to be very long. Make it as long as you want, just as long as you tell your story. I know that many of you have other writing projects to do, so I don’t want this to take up too much of your time. Just write however much you want to. The length is up to you this time!

I decided given I have just recently taken a million photos, surely one of them could inspire me to write a short story. So here we go – the photo I chose is one I took in the British Museum – I think I was in the section on Enlightenment at the time but I went through so many exhibits it is hard to remember. Anyway, this photo just continues my thing of taking photos of feet and shoes.

However after staring at said photo for a long time and having a lot on my mind I’ve come up with many ideas and rejected them so I think maybe my part of this blog fest will be every photo inspires a thousand rejections.

Rejected – any notion of weaving greek and or roman gods into a modern setting (mostly because it’s been done and because I wasn’t really in the mood to get historical).

Rejected  – statues coming to life either as discovery or as horror (mostly because its been done. In point of fact, I’ve done it before in a short story).

Rejected – a fallen civilisation being rediscovered with far reaching impact (mostly because this isn’t the start of a short story, but an entire work).

Rejected – a story told from the perspective of an abused platform (mostly because I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to figure out what an abused platform’s voice would sound like).

And on it went.

There is my photo. What would you have done with it?

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Dated

July 24, 2010 at 3:32 am (Setting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Reading over some of my favourite childhood stories I realised that a lot of them have dated themselves terribly. I also note this when watching Buffy or other television shows that I loved in highschool. Just every now and then a line comes out and you just wince – wow! That’s dated.

I didn’t need to worry about this so much when writing Death’s Daughter because I set it in an entirely fantasy world that doesn’t directly link to any of Earth’s time periods. There were no references to current events or trends or anything else that would make it feel old within a few years and that was one less thing for me to worry about. Not so much with my current WIP.

Once again I’ve set it entirely in a fantasy world but this time there is a cross over element and one of my characters does come from modern Earth. How modern? Well, he is insisting on carrying his phone everywhere even though he hasn’t a chance at getting reception because the thought of leaving his phone behind is all but paralysing. What is this going to do for the story in terms of it getting dated?

Given the story and the fact that none of the other characters have current Earth knowledge I’m not throwing one-liners in referencing current events although he does occasionally reference television shows and notable characters. I’m resisting the urge to label his phone as any particular type because that would certainly date the story fairly quickly. His clothes are pretty basic and would fit most of the last twenty – thirty years and hopefully fashion isn’t going to completely change in the next ten.

What I’ve realised is that having any connection to the real world is adding a whole other set of problems to writing that I didn’t have to deal with previously and I’m walking a fine line between leaving it fairly non-specific as to when he was living on Earth in order to prevent the story being dated and just not giving the reader enough details to hold on to the story.

So I am seeking advice from those of you who have considered this previously. Do you worry about your stories getting dated and how do you deal with this?

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Moving the Plot

July 23, 2010 at 5:43 am (fantasy, Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

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.

The End.

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?

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Writer’s Fatigue

July 9, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Suffering from writer’s fatigue?

You know the sensation. Your fingers are sore, your eyes are stinging, and your shoulders feel like they’ve been locked in place. You have just spent the last three hours sitting and typing, desperately trying to convert the ideas in your head into something coherent, and you know, given another hour or two, you might actually have something brilliant in front of you, but you can’t make it. This is writer’s fatigue. (It applies even if you hand write, only it is your neck that is going to be killing you.)

I used to hit this wall, a lot. It isn’t that I don’t have ideas, it is just that the physical act of trying to write is going to cause me pain. When I stand up, if I stand up, I will probably fall right into bed and have a terrible nights sleep and wake with a neck cramp. It wasn’t until I set myself a strict deadline of a month to write the first draft of a novel that I really worked on getting through writer’s fatigue.

Some simple solutions to increase your staying power with writing:

1. Stand up.

Obvious really. Every half and hour, or scene, or page, or whatever unit of time you set, stand up and pace around the room. I use the time to look out the window, refill my water, or chase the cat away from whatever she is tearing up. Doing this I can spend nearly all day writing and I determine when I take my breaks.

2. Before you write do some sort of gentle exercise.

I like yoga, because it stretches out all the cramps from the previous day and gets my circulation moving, while not causing me to sweat too much. Also I can do it at home. However any relaxing, physical activity, will get your body ready for the day, and work out any of the stress from the previous day.

3. Change what you are writing.

This is odd, but sometimes it isn’t that you are writing, it is that you are writing the same thing that is the problem. When my brain starts feeling stressed and the tension in my shoulders increases, I send a message to a friend, or write a quick short story, or something else, and I can feel myself relaxing as I move away from something my brain is urging me to finish. After you feel relaxed again, return to what you were working on with fresh eyes.

4. Eat.

This is probably bad, but have food with you when you are writing. A lot of the time, the problem is you are burning through fuel because your brain is working really hard, but because there is limited physical movement you don’t get the right signals to tell you to eat. Obviously healthy fruit or nuts are best, or a sandwich. Personally, I go for straight sugar, but eating is essential for getting away from writer’s fatigue.

5. Have a friend drop in.

Usually we like to be left alone while writing, and it is essential that we can focus. Have someone who will drop in on you in a few hours, just to make sure you have taken a short break. They can talk with you, even if the talking is about the writing, and you can recap what you have done, all the while you are rejuvenating and getting ready to write some more.

6. When all else fails, set an alarm.

Set yourself a limit. Know that at this time you are going to… do whatever it is you do. Set an alarm and stick to only hitting the extend on that alarm once. That gives you a ten minute grace period to finish that all important sentence, save your work and leave.

From my own personal experience, I know that when writer’s fatigue is coming on, everything I write needs to be rewritten the next day when I am feeling fresh. Dealing with writer’s fatigue, taking breaks and eating, ensure that there are less errors, and the writing feels more energised.
Leave your own comments on how you deal with writer’s fatigue.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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The What If Factor

July 6, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

This is actually a combination of “what if” followed by “what then”.

When trying to help people write creatively, handing them a piece of paper is about as helpful as handing an illiterate person a dictionary and expecting that they can suddenly put everything together. Mostly, all you get from the exercise is a whole lot of book fodder on how to describe a blank expression.

A simple exercise that can be done as a group or individually to get everything started is a round of “what if”. Keep in mind if you are doing this individually, it helps if you have a split personality, or at the very least, you need to not be adverse to talking to yourself.

Essentially, it starts with one person saying “What if…”. Their “what if” could be anything, but should start relatively non-specifically. “What if there was a guy wearing jeans, waiting for a bus?” “What if there was an asteroid heading for Earth?” “What if there was a cat sitting on the porch?” Doesn’t matter where you start.

The next person agrees and then expands. “Yeah, there was a guy. Only he was wearing cargo’s, not jeans, and he had baseball cap on backwards. Oh, and the bus was going to take him to…” You get the point.

You keep going until you have the whole scene. The guy, what he is wearing, where he is going, what he is doing while he is waiting, etc. Then comes the “what then” part.

What happens next?

Eventually, what you have is an outline for a possible story, complete with characters, settings and plot points (how detailed these are depend on who you do it with). Using the discussion as the stimulus, each person can then sit down and write their own version of the story (changing whatever elements they feel are critical). What is important, is that everybody has a starting point, and can follow along with the general pattern until they are ready to move off and onto their own route. It gives them something to begin with and a bit of confidence to write.

Trying to inspire creative writing; play a game of “what if” and see what happens.

Let me know how you have inspired people to write creatively.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Why Writing An MS Is Like Being In A Relationship

July 3, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Originally this was an offhand comment I made on twitter. Just a random thought generated by my sleep deprived mind at seven in the morning. Then I started thinking (always a bad idea) and I started to realise how true it was.

My reasons why writing an MS are like being in a relationship are many and varied. And like any good relationship, there is a definite cycle to it all. In the beginning:

  • You get to know your characters, plot and settings. It is all fun and fresh and it feels like everything is possible. There is so much new territory to explore.
  • You start to spend hours alone together, just one-on-one. You and your manuscript notes. You pore over every bit of it, until you think you know every nuance.
  • You become addicted. When you aren’t with your MS, you’re thinking about it. You visualise it in your mind, it dominates your conversations, it is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.

As the relationship progresses:

  • You start to realise that there is a hidden underside to your MS. The characters hadn’t revealed themselves fully. A plot twist deceived you by making you think it would work. Suddenly the setting that seemed so right is just wrong.
  • You begin to argue with your MS. Things don’t just naturally flow into place. Suddenly every decisions leads to three other decisions unravelling.
  • You still spend every moment you can thinking about your MS, but now the thoughts are frequently harried as you wonder how to make it work.

If the relationship is working:

  • Finally, you come to an agreement with your MS, it may not be your perfect vision that you began with, but you see the light at the end and you move forward.
  • All the hours and tears and tantrums start to feel worth it. You eagerly spend more time smoothing over the rough edges and healing the wounds that opened up.
  • You go through a period of rediscovery where you begin to understand what the MS actually is, not what you thought it should be.

If the relationship has failed:

  • You start finding yourself working on other projects – only an hour or two at first, and then you make excuses to spend more and more time away.
  • You want it to change – make it change – and then find the changes unsatisfying. The MS begins to feel resentful and you begin to tire of its tantrums and difficulties.
  • You find yourself rehearsing the ‘it’s not me, it’s you speech’, and give yourself reasons to dump the entire project because it is looking more and more like it is over.
  • Ultimately, you will either begin the whole thing over, or tear it apart and save what characters and lines you can. The rest will end up on a shelf or in a folder, waiting for you to realise how good it could have been.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Fiction Vs Reality

June 30, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Of the two, I much prefer fiction. Mostly because in fiction you can be reasonably assured of getting an ending (whether it is happy or not depends on the genre and author really), and you can be reasonably assured of a basic underlying logic to the entire thing.

Reality, unfortunately is not like that.

Recently I was very harsh in my criticism of comedies where events just seem to randomly pile, one after the other, onto the heap in any old fashion. This doesn’t suit my view on how a story ought to be told. However, it does kind of follow the natural order of events in the real world.

Maybe we could say there is some underlying logic to most of the things that happen. As in, if you speed, you will get a ticket, etc. However, sometimes things just happen. They are random and unpredictable (though random kind of has to be unpredictable) and they don’t really connect logically to any decision or process that was set upon by anyone.

In fiction, if you wander out into the forest, you are going to get lost. You are then going to be accosted by a little old lady, a wolf, or a band of cannibals, and several of your friends are probably going to die horribly. Unless you are the unfortunate one selected to be the friend, in which case, you are going to have a really interesting death sequence and set your friend upon a course of vengeance or flight. There are only a limited number of possibilities in the average fiction.

In reality, nothing may happen. You wander into the forest, you wander out. You might break your leg, or fall down something steep. You might get chased by a pack of wild dogs and end up in a tree. You might simply take some interesting photos. Possibly you could disappear for a ten year period then mysteriously turn up on the other side of the world -but this seems less likely.

Reality – unpredictable – illogical.

Stick with fiction.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Continuity Errors

June 28, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Have you ever watched a movie where something is happening on a Monday and then the next day is Saturday and everyone is on their weekend? Not because time has passed that you haven’t been shown, but because they have literally jumped to Saturday without any events occurring in between, on or off screen.

Have you ever seen a character wearing one thing and then the next minute they are wearing something different? Or more importantly, they are eating something and it magically reappears, whole and untouched upon their plate in the next minute.

Continuity errors really jump out at me in films because you have to wonder with the number of screenings they do why nobody picked up on it. Of course, now that I’m writing regularly and finishing my own work, the answer has become quite apparent.

Too many details.

My brain is racing around trying to keep up with the main plot and sometimes small details slip by me without a second thought. Even on the third or fourth reading I don’t notice. Sometimes even friends read the story and don’t notice the error. Yet there it is in black and white, just waiting to be discovered and mocked.

I’m a lot nicer in my critique of stories since I’ve been writing.

The biggest problem I have had recently is in weather and the time of day. I particularly had this problem in my second MS (though I had numerous other problems with this MS, including a psychotic protagonist who refused to work as per the plan). The story takes place over six days and is divided into six parts with approximately seven chapters per part.

It all seems wonderfully structured and organised until you realise that chapter three of part one has a character watching a sunset and then in chapter five there is another sunset. Not the same sunset in a different location. Hours have passed and the sun is definitely setting again.

Part three is equally inept with a storm brewing, that never approaches. Not disappears or goes around. There is a storm brewing, everyone is worried about it and then it literally never gets mentioned again. Gone. Unimportant. Except for the reader who flicks back wondering if they missed something.

I also had a problem with directions. If you walk north from this building you end up at that one. Except when you don’t. Except when they head off north and exit the city from the same location, not passing the building they used to arrive at when heading in the same direction.

How to solve all these problems? I would say how to avoid them in the first place, except I know that is not going to happen, so now I’m just going to work on how to identify these problems and fix them.

1. Sometimes stories jump around or are not told in a linear fashion. After you’ve written the first draft, create a timeline of events and make sure that if something hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t mentioned.

2. Around the outside of your timeline, you might want to list any external phenomenon that are mentioned. Storms, tides, wars, grazing animals, etc. Anything that might give the reader a moment of confusion if it changes or disappears illogically.

3. Draw maps. I hate maps, I won’t look at them in books. If I can’t get a feel for the place from the writing, I certainly don’t want to try and decipher someone’s artistic rendering of it. However, for the sake of organising a place in my head, some sort of visual representation of the main areas (main city, main residences, main rooms) will help you sort out your location and spacing problems. Even in rooms, if the chair is against one wall, it can’t suddenly be under the window, etc.

4. As to fixing these problems, don’t do what I frequently do and change the story at one point without following the correction through. That just creates more problems in the long run.

Continuity errors – don’t think no one will notice.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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