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 seldom read over what I’ve written immediately after I write it. Mostly because I usually hate every single word and delete it rather than giving myself the space I need to read it and see the good in it and preserve the good while carefully editing.
That said, I read a scene that I drafted the other day immediately after finishing it. Not so much because I wanted to delete it but because I had a nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong and the feeling wouldn’t let go of me until I’d read it. For once I didn’t reach for the delete key right away. Instead I started thinking through all the sensible questions. What was I trying to accomplish with this scene? What perspective was I trying to tell the story from? How did this scene fit into the overall story I was trying to write?
Then I reached for the delete key. Not because I hated what I had written but because I suddenly knew exactly what was bothering me about the scene.
The point of the scene was to introduce the character of a new player in the story and establish her relationship with an already established character. This relationship is going to be built out and has quite a history that will unfold throughout the story but at this scene just needed to establish where their relationship was and not how it got there. So the question I was left asking was why exactly this new character’s family history was being explained in extremely dull exposition, meanwhile the relationship was so played down as to be non-existent within the scene.
Two rewrites later and I think the scene is now serving its purpose. It still isn’t good. It is very much in a rough draft stage and no doubt I will have to rewrite it many more times before I’m actually happy with it, but just getting rid of all the excessive and useless information that was cluttering up the scene and making it drag has made it that much better and easier to read. It’s also helped to highlight what is actually important within the scene.
I don’t think I’m going to do this with every scene during the first draft stage. I’d probably never finish the first draft and end up in an endless cycle of rewriting, but an occasional surgical look at specific problematic scenes definitely served its purpose.
What’s your drafting process?
I promised I would go back and look at why writing and baking must indeed be two totally separate events are not anything alike. So here goes, my list of why writing a novel is not like baking a cake.
1. It takes a lot longer – unless you are the world’s slowest cook and you aren’t worried about your eggs going off. The time commitment you are making for writing a novel compared to making a cake is enormous. One is something you do on the spur of the moment because you are bored and it’s raining (or because of some event like someone’s birthday) while the other is one that should almost never be jumped into without at least a little thought.
2. If you follow the recipe for baking you will end up with a half-decent cake (hopefully). However there is no recipe or magic formula for making a brilliant novel. There are basic plot outlines and various tools and break downs of the essential elements and some genres are formulaic however if there was a step by step manual to writing a best seller, everyone would be doing it.
3. Cake mix tastes pretty good even if you don’t finish cooking it. A half-baked novel is just that – half-baked.
4. Even if you don’t like the taste of your unused cake mixture, chances are someone else will or the dog/cat/whatever will eat it. Very few people will swallow an unfinished novel.
5. Nobody stares at you strangely when you answer the question, “what are you doing?” with “baking a cake”. Unlike when you answer that question with “writing a novel”.
6. When you finish baking the cake you may criticise it but odds are you aren’t going to pull it apart and try to fix what went wrong. There is no revision process. There is accept what you have or throw it out and start over. The novel is a bit more malleable.
I still like my reasons why writing a novel is like baking a cake but I think it is important to be thorough.
Sometimes it is difficult to know.
What starts out as a simple search and destroy for typos can suddenly become a revision of a clumsy scene which can soon morph into an entire rewrite of an act of a novel. I think the problem here comes from not being able to focus on only one aspect of the writing at a time.
For me, I like to start with the big stuff and work my way down to the small. While I’ll correct typing errors as I see them and move punctuation that is truly being offensive, editing the nitty-gritty is kind of the last ditch run through, mostly because if I revise or rewrite I know I’m just going to put more errors into the text.
So I begin with the rewrites. I may stay in the rewriting stage for the rest of forever with some manuscripts. Rewrites, for me, are the massive changes. The adding characters, taking them out, changing direction entirely, cutting scenes, adding scenes, moving scenes. All of the things that give you a huge headache when it comes to checking for continuity errors and will usually have you rewriting chapter after chapter to accommodate the change you made way back in the beginning.
Then I revise. These are the more surgical changes. Adding an emphasis here, changing the wording of that exchange of dialogue there, altering a description in that chapter. Sometimes these have carry on effects but normally it is just tightening up the overall story that has already been rewritten (many times) and checked for continuity.
Then, should I have made it this far and not put the project aside, comes the editing.
Still, despite wanting to work from one layer down to the next, down to the next, I end up jumping back and forth between the three.
How does your process for revisions work?
People really are creatures of habit. When pushed out of our comfort zones we tend to act a little lost for about five minutes and then we create a whole new comfort zone and find a new pattern to fall into. Over and over again we find a rhythm and steadfastly stick to it until something actively forces us out of it.
It’s all the little things that are telling. While the big events change from day to the day, the small details tend to remain stuck in time.
For instance: What hand do you reach into the cutlery drawer with? Have you ever thought. Start checking when you go to the drawer. You’ll notice you almost always use the same hand, and not only that you will always grab the cutlery in pretty much the same order. For me, I tend to go knife and then fork, unless I’m carrying something and then I’ll be using my off-hand and go through the drawer from the other direction. Weird but true. I’ve also watched people actually swap the hand they were using to carry a plate in order to ensure that they are reaching into the cutlery drawer with the same hand. They don’t realise they’re doing it – it’s an unconscious action – but they can’t help themselves.
Everyday we do things in the exact same way. When you get into the car do you belt up first or start the car? Do you check the mirror before you start backing out or do you wait until you’ve finished reversing before you look up and realise someone has moved the mirror?
However the big thing that nobody every really seems to notice is that they almost always walk the same path. Regardless of whether it has been five minutes or five years, when walking through a space people tend to follow the same line they followed the first time. For some, that means stalking straight across the middle of the space, while others skirt in a slight arc so that they are not in the middle but still cutting it close. Others still are happy to give the middle as wide a gap as possibly and hug the edges. Whichever they do, they’ll repeat their steps almost every time until someone drops something directly in their path. Then they take the next path of least resistence.
What strange creatures we are. What strange creatures are characters must be if they are to really ring true.
What habits have you noticed in yourself?
Foreshadowing is something I haven’t really written about on the blog before but it is incredibly important when it comes to writing a cohesive story. I have to thank Hart Johnson on Confessions of a Watery Tart for reminding me why it is so important in story writing.
She actually uses a very good explanation of one of the stronger parts of the Harry Potter series in that very little just appears as it is needed. The polyjuice potion is mentioned well in advance of it ever being used and so as a reader you aren’t left thinking – this author got herself stuck and then had to magic her way out of it. Yes the mention was deliberate because you knew they were going to use it later but it still made the whole story stronger. And it was the same with many other items and events within the Harry Potter series. By being prementioned and then gently reminding the reader at certain points, by the time the event or object become critical to the story it was like it was there all along and it doesn’t feel like a quick fix.
The best way to explain why foreshadowing is important is probably to look at what happens without it. The scenario is where your hero is backed up against a wall with thirty villains closing in, all armed to the teeth with more weapons than I could name, there is a bomb about to explode, a damsel in distress hanging from a helicopter two blocks away screaming for assistance and a tidal wave is closing in. Okay, I erred on the side of melodrama when writing that scenario.
Suddenly your hero…
Anything you end this sentence with is going to sound lame unless it was previously set up. This situation is clearly impossible. There is no way your hero can get out of it and save the victim, and disarm the bomb and stop the tidal wave. Unless they are superman which leads us to the question of how did he get into this situation in the first place.
Are you suddenly going to whip out a magic make everything offensive go away potion?
However, if you had thought about this scenario and gone back earlier in your story and tweaked a few things it is quite likely that the hero’s side kick is currently trying to disarm the bomb, and sweating profusely while doing it, and the hero is in point of fact simply keeping the villains busy. But he’s doing it by projecting a hologram (using technology that was of course demonstrated far earlier in the story) and he is actually cutting the victim off the helicopter. What you’re going to do about the tidal wave is anyone’s guess unless the hero is planning to use the bomb, retrieved by the side kick, to somehow interrupt it (which seems pretty unlikely to me).
Foreshadowing: possibly making the impossible slightly more plausible.
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.