Goals, Motivations, and Action

I’m using Janice Hardy’s wonderful Editorial Map for revising the first draft of book four, found in her equally wonderful book Revising Your Novel. But I got hung up on a few things.

The map asks specific questions for each scene or chapter. By answering, you see where you’ve gone astray. After mapping out the whole draft, you have a snapshot of where the story needs work.

One question has you list out the goals and motivations for each scene, and one question asks what the point of view character is doing in the scene.

How are they different? Isn’t what the character does, her goal?

So I did what I always do when I have a writing question. Went out to dinner with my friend, author and editor Susan Schreyer. (It’s our excuse to eat out.)

What I realized while talking to her is that the ‘goal’ question relates to the over-reaching goals and motivation. The internal goal, so to speak, which ties to the theme or premise. What the character is doing relates more to the physical, immediate goals and motivations attached to a specific scene.

Of course I knew that.

Right, Susan?

I then talked to Susan about a couple of scenes I found that didn’t have any goal or motivation, whether out there in the ozone or right in the character’s lap. I knew the scene had a purpose but it wasn’t quite fleshed out enough to make that purpose clear.

Susan, of course, had a great suggestion. She said to go back to the previous scene and see what the decision was. This doesn’t mean a physical decision made by the character like deciding to get tea instead of coffee. It means the conclusion of the scene.

Not to confuse that conclusion with the ‘sequel’ which should follow each scene. In other words, the scene is me finding an earwig in my hair, and the sequel is lots of yelling and thrashing about. You can’t have a scene without a sequel. Think ‘action/reaction’. The decision is what the character does after the sequel. Like washing hair for three hours.

That decision should always tie to the next scene. The decision causes the next step in the plot or the character arc to happen.

And in the scenes I struggled with, I realized they didn’t tie to the previous scene or decision. They were just kind of hanging out there on their own. No place in the story arc.

It’s going to be a fairly simple thing to revise them to find their place in the story. Right at the moment, I love this revision process. We’ll see if I feel the same later.

And I already knew that about scene/sequel/decision.

Right, Susan?


Dahlias (aka earwig flowers) from By Dinkum – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21343403

When You Write Slow

Someone once told me that my books start out like an easy ramble through the woods and you don’t realize you’ve been sucked in until it’s too late.

tree on Mt Pilchuck

How long did it take this tree to get like this?

I liked that even though I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering if it was a nice way of saying I better work on pacing. Well, okay,  I still wonder that.

It takes me a while to write a book. I firmly believe that if I outlined in a traditional manner, I could publish books much faster. But that type of outlining has never worked for me. I prefer to amble along daydreaming the story.

On the positive side that means I usually don’t have a lot of revising to do at the end (unless my editor asks me the ONE question I never thought of that impacts the whole story…thanks, Susan Schreyer). It also means I’ve given characters plenty of time to show me who they are and how they fit in the landscape.

Mt Baring

Mountains – my favorite story landscape

But on the not-so-positive side, it means two things in particular for the story I’m writing now.

I’m working on the ending currently. And one of the characters finally decided it was time to tell me about family relationships. Really? You wait until NOW to tell me? Yes, okay, that makes sense as I think about it. Yes, okay, it ties perfectly to the theme of family angst in my stories. But still, NOW?

I started Sunshine On My Shoulders almost three years ago. At that time certain things were going on with the Sunshine mine in Wallace, Idaho. Now that I’m almost done, those things have changed so the story is now out of date. Some of the plot moments can be left because this is, after all, fiction. But as I revise, I’m going to have to bring several things up to date or the book will be ‘old’ before it’s ‘new’.

Does all that make me feel pressured to write faster? Not really. I enjoy the slow ramble through the woods. I love the process of the story unfolding in its own time.

I saw an article recently that questioned whether slow writers could survive in this day and age of everything delivered instantly and the vital need to stay in the public eye or be forgotten. I didn’t read the article. Why? Because the purpose of writing isn’t to quickly shove product into humanity’s hands. It’s to tell a story. And any story, in any writer’s hands, will reveal itself in its own time.

My stories just happen to be a bit shy.

taken by Art

There’s a story out there…

Relationships Between Characters and Readers

A recent course assignment dealt with the relationship between characters and readers. The instructor said a character doesn’t have to be the reader’s friend, or even be someone the reader likes. The premise was that women fear writing characters that aren’t nice. I’m sure there are women writers like that; it’s a topic for another post.

The instructor’s opening statement about being friends with the reader, though, led to a good discussion with my friend, author Susan Schreyer.

If I don’t like the protagonist in a book I rarely finish. But what does it mean to ‘like’ the character? Is that character seen as a friend? Or is the character someone you relate to? And how important is that to a story?

In The Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, the protagonist is not someone I liked at all. But I kept reading. Why? Well, because he got a ghost off eBay. Seriously, because the author did an excellent job of slipping in tidbits of character that made me hope the guy would be redeemed. The guy was a ‘real’ character with lots of flaws. Believable in other words.

Susan feels there’s a blurring of lines between liking a character and being able to relate to one. She thinks being able to relate is more important, and also easier to achieve in writing. The more traits a character has that are shared with a reader, the more the reader can relate. We also talked about the balance of a character having traits one can relate to with traits one can’t. That balance allows the reader’s opinion to be manipulated.

For example, in Susan’s current work in progress, the next installment in her Thea Campbell series, Thea is being manipulated by one of the characters. If Susan can swing the reader between liking and not liking this character, then the reader will end up feeling just as manipulated by the character as the protagonist is. That draws the reader into the story on a deeper, more emotional level.

Which is exactly why I continued reading The Heart-Shaped Box. I swung between disliking the guy to seeing a glimmer of hope. The author manipulated me, the reader, into sticking with the story by using that mix of likable and non-likeable character traits.

‘Being liked, or being a friend, to the reader feels less important than choosing character traits that propel the character through the story and sets them up with reasons to make the choices they make.’ – Susan

A writer’s responsibility is to create a compelling story. Which, of course, is done through compelling, believable characters. But do you set out to create a character that’s going to be liked? No. If a writer is more concerned about making sure the reader likes a character, then the writer isn’t being true to the story. Or to the character.

Whether a reader sticks with the story, in the end, will be more about how their emotions are manipulated by the story and the characters, than if they feel that character is a friend. And even more so by character traits the reader can relate to, even if there are traits they don’t like.

It all boils down to writing multi-layered, believable characters.