Today the Dirty Birds are getting into Key Story Factors in chapter five of KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Mapping Your Way to Success.
Zoe: There was one thing I got something out of in this chapter: her examples of character motives. I always struggle with what characters want, and from her example, I saw that it doesn’t have to be One Big Want, but everyone has all these little wants, and it’s easy to tie them to their motive—you just use either the word “because” or “so.” So I might try that.
Kate: I’ve never had trouble with motives, generally. I know what they want, there’s generally one big one, and a bunch of small ones that loosely influence the big one.
Zoe: I suffer from character motivation anxiety. On an intuitive level, I know their motives and what they want, but all these writing books have made me chew my nails over it.
Ana: We should start offering therapy for writers damaged by writing books.
Kate: Lol. That’s a good idea. The Substitherapist.
Ana: We will cure you of any plot phobia.
Kate: Cheaply! Because we know most writers are broke.
Zoe: Cheeply too! Cheep cheep!
I did think her little section (what was it, a page long?) about letting your protagonist get close to what they want, then taking it away again, over and over, had some merit. Though it felt like a reworded Try-Fail Cycle is what she was trying to get at, I think I liked the way she put it better.
Ana: I feel like there was some solid stuff here, but I guess I’ve just read about it all too often to be intrigued by it.
Kate: I’m always looking for clarification on stuff, so I have better ways to explain things when doing critiques.
Zoe: I think Ana pinpointed why I skimmed this chapter.
Kate: A lot of these books say the same things. Most of what I’m looking for in reading them is for a) the best way to say it/explain it or b) that one little nugget of gold that everyone else missed. There seems to be one thing in each book that I look at and go, “Oooooooh!” But most of it is the same old, same old.
Ana: That’s often how I feel too. At the beginning, reading these writing books was all new and exciting and now it’s just… you read a whole book for that one piece of advice that’s still useful to you, or that makes you look at something in a different way. I guess it’s the same for any discipline really. At the start you learn much faster and with less effort than later.
Zoe: Yes, I’m definitely experiencing (vastly) diminishing returns.
Kate: Yes. Though it’s interesting to me, on a sort of sociological level, to evaluate the belief systems these authors have. Like, Weiland seems to think that a lot of new authors have no conflict in their books, and I’m not sure I agree with that. Sure, it might not be well done conflict, but I’d like to know what she’s reading that she’s seeing so many characters wandering blindly through the plot and setting.
Ana: I don’t know. I’ve been made to read a lot of early drafts (which were considered done by their creators) that were so lacking in tension or conflict that going through them was a real chore..
Zoe: My second-ever novel (when I was a teenager) had no conflict. It was my Anne Rice novel (not that Anne Rice doesn’t have conflict, but that wasn’t what I was pulling from my reading of her stuff—it wasn’t what drew me to her books; I just wanted to write about sexy mysterious tragic people). My first novel had conflict—it was my Stephen King book.
Ana: Things just sort of happened in my early stories. Or they didn’t.
Kate: I think I copied basic plotlines from books I’d read. Walter Farley was my mentor, sort of. Lots of horse stories–but hey, I was a preteen. Let’s not talk about the crap I wrote as a teenager. But I remember writing one about a boy who made friends with a mustang and they went on to save someone or something–probably a small child, because that was the trope of the era. And he had to do that to prove to his parents that they needed to keep the horse, after the horse had done something bad after being unfairly provoked. Sound familiar? Like, every horse-related book for pre-teens ever?
Zoe: 😀 That’s how we all start. (Well, not necessarily with horses. I guess we’re glad you didn’t grow up to be Dick Francis?)
Kate: No, I went through an André Norton phase after that. Knocked the ponies right on their butts.
Ana: As a teenager I mostly wrote fanfiction about guys I liked in TV series, anime, video games whatever falling madly in love with each other. With a ton of angst. All the angst.
Kate: My daughter is writing Harry Potter fanfic now. Snape, Tom Riddle, Draco Malfoy (I think she has a thing for bad boys). I’ve been restraining myself from encouraging her to slash stuff.
Ana: (I went through a Tom Riddle / Harry Potter phase. No, I have no shame.)
Zoe: I did that too (but with musicians and actors), and that wasn’t stuff I showed my mom. (Because sex, lots of sex, and lots of guys beating each other up as a lead-in to sex. She’d have carted me off to a psychiatrist.) (I don’t even know who Tom Riddle is. :()
Kate: Zoe has homework now this week. She must read the entire Harry Potter series.
Zoe: Yeah…I’ll put that somewhere on my todo list. (I don’t have anything against Harry Potter; I just missed the zeitgeist. I tried to read it to my son when he was little, and after a chapter he said, “Don’t. It’s scary,” and I never got back to it. (He has since read all the books though.))
Kate: I’m picturing Zoe with a Dilbert tie saying, “Yes, I’ll add that to the bottom of my list and let it fail with your name on it.”
Zoe: Ha, yes. That.
Kate: Haha, just leafed through the chapter again and came across the reference to writers as sadists. There’s my morning chuckle.
Ana: It’s true. I love torturing my characters. I’m probably going to enjoy writing a ‘list of the ten worst things that could happen to your character.’
Zoe: I’m going to have a hard time stopping at ten.
Kate: Zoe’s dream job. “How can I make it worse, my pretties?” *cackles*
Zoe: Mr. Rider read the latest book yesterday, and he was very disturbed. “This came out of your head?” I think he’s sleeping with one eye open.
Kate: I love your husband. He’s a brave, brave man.
Zoe: He really is. There was a terrible thing involving delicate man parts in this one, and he’s not in a corner crying, so he’s stronger than I thought.
Kate: He needs to get a sign for your office done up: “My character is happy and we can’t have that. What should I break?”
Zoe: 😀 The great thing about characters is that behind the scenes, they are so on board with it. “Yeah, yeah, do that—that’ll be awesome.”
Kate: You have weird characters. Mine always look at me in dismay and say, “Don’t you think I’m already frustrated enough?” and I reply, “You ain’t seen frustrated.” Then I give them an episode of coitus interruptus. It’s like the biggest game of keep-away ever.
Ana: Hah, I think my characters are masochists, too. They talk to me more when I make them suffer. Sometimes I get a bit carried away. Like, I get so excited I got them between a rock and hard place that I do a little happy dance (in my head, I’m lazy) before I remember I have no idea how to get them out of there.
Kate; Knowing your characters, they like being between a rock and a hard place.
Ana: But they’ll pretend that they don’t.
Zoe: So, speaking of characters…chapter six is about characters.
Kate: Nice segue.
Zoe: I’m the segue queen this morning.