No Motivation

Life has been busy lately.  Almost all fun stuff.  My writers club had its last meeting of the year–our annual holiday carry-in–last Wednesday.  Dawn and David went all out to decorate their beautiful house for Christmas, and trees and holiday decorations brightened every room.  The food was wonderful.  It always is.  We gossiped and laughed, and since we’re writers, ended up talking shop here and there.

We won’t have another meeting until January 9.  And for some reason, that makes me feel like I don’t have to be a “good” writer and pound out so many words a day, like I usually do.  The pressure’s off, which is silly.  I still have 15,000 words to write on my fourth Jazzi mystery.  But no matter how hard I try, when I don’t feel accountable to Scribes for making progress, I revert to being a kid on summer break.  And I don’t even feel that guilty about it:)

I intend to still write, still work on book four, but I’ll write at a more leisurely pace.  I’ll enjoy the perks of the season more than usual.  We had friends over for supper on Friday night and I made Cheryl’s favorite dessert–bread pudding with rum sauce.  Next Friday, we’re having another friend come for supper.  She loves smoked meat, so I’m making smoked Cornish hens.  And Tuesday night, I’m going to a Christmas program with Sia.  I’m in the mood to play more than work, ready to make jolly.

I still have writerly duties to do.  Lyrical Press scheduled the book cover reveal for The Body in the Wetlands for December 22nd.  I need to go to Canva.com to design Facebook and twitter headers for the second book.  I need to find some excerpts I can share once in a while.  Today, I want to polish the Jazzi and Ansel Christmas story I’m going to post on my webpage this coming week.  BUT, I can work for a while, play for a while, because I won’t be reporting what I’m up to at Scribes.  I don’t have to be a responsible author again until January 9th:)

Happy writing to all of you, but I hope you get some play time, too!

 

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Trash Talking My Method

I have to knuckle down in September, get serious, and start work on a new novel. My break between books is over. I know it was a privilege that many writers don’t get. They barely have time to meet deadlines, so I’m grateful I had a pocket in time to play with different elements of putting words on pages.

When I wrote Witch Gone Bad, I learned that if I don’t know my characters well enough, the story stays flat, even if the part they play in it is small. I thought I could whip out a short scene a day, no problem, because I knew each part of the story and who’d tell it. No such luck. The characters just walked on stage, did their thing, and took a bow. Boring. The plot worked. The story didn’t. No emotional impact. It took three passes before I liked each part. If characters don’t breathe, neither does your story.

One of my friends, who did theater for years, has characters spring from her head, whole and fully formed. All of her training to find what really drives characters so that she could bring them to life on stage transferred to her writing. My characters aren’t that forthcoming. Mine make me work to know them, like meeting someone new for the first time. I learn a little more about them the longer I spend with them. In a novel, that means my first draft will never have the depth, the emotion, that I need.
I have to add that on my second or third pass through the manuscript.

My goal, when I start playing with the beginnings of a book, then, is to get the basics right. My theory is, if I just don’t screw up–so that I have to pitch major scenes–I’m happy. I can tinker and add to the bare bones, but if the skeleton’s wrong, I have to go back to work on the foundation. That’s why I make plot points. But it’s also why I try to nail my characters and what makes them tick.

My actress friend (Julia Donner) writes Regency romances, and when I panicked about writing a romance, her advice to me was solid. “Romances click when emotional problems and histories create a conflict, action, or a scene. A romantic story evolves from the inside out.” She uses Suzanne Simmons’ approach for characters: What do they want, Why do they want it, and What will they do to get it?
Her amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Julia-Donner/e/B00J65E8TY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1439754290&sr=1-2-ent

That works for her. Like I said, her characters are born whole. My answers to those questions tend to be too basic, like when I filled in the goal, motivation, conflict charts (I’m going to work on that), but I need more prodding. I don’t need TOO much, though. I have friends who write elaborate histories and charts to get to know their characters. I’ve tried that, but that much information overwhelms me. I get bogged down in details. That’s why I do character wheels with spokes crowded with sloppy, scribbled notes as I fill in the blanks. But the truth is, no matter what I do, I learn more and more about my characters as I write them. So, for me, I’m going to try a few more steps before I start my next book–something to keep me on track–but without drowning myself in info. I’ll share, but my method doesn’t work for my friends, so it might or might not help you.

(I’ve listed some of this information on my blog posts before, so you can skip this, if you want to:)

1st: What kind of person is ____________ ? (I like a SHORT answer, something that will stick in my head. For example, in the romance I just finished, I described Brody as brooding.)

2. Why? What made him/her that way? (Brody focuses on his failures or possible failures more than he focuses on his successes. He wants to do the right thing, the right way. He thought he had his life mapped out, had made all the right decisions, and then went through a bitter divorce. Making the right decisons, in his mind, failed him.)

3. What does he/she want? He wants to be happy.

4. Why? {Success didn’t make him happy–his marriage was too one-sided, and failure (his idea of divorce) made him more unhappy. He isn’t sure what to do next.}

5. Fill in my character wheel. (Shirley Jump–http://eating-my-words.com/–did a workshop on this, and it was wonderful. I’ve played with it to make it work for me). Here’s my version:

In the center of typing paper, draw a small circle. Fill in: name, description of character–hair/eyes/build, age, and tag word or phrase for his personality. Draw 7 spokes off the circle.
Spoke 1 = Family. Draw lines off that spoke for father, mother, brothers, sisters, any family member important to him. Give name and how they got along, any important info.
Spoke 2 = Education and training (did he like it? Why or why not? Any mentor?) What career did it lead to?
Spoke 3 = Where does he live? What vehicle does he drive? What does it say about him?
Spoke 4 = Relationships (past/current romances. When and why ended?)
Spoke 5 = 2 friends he can talk to–a reflector and ally. How do they see him?
Spoke 6 = Quirks (fears, habits, hobbies, like & dislikes)
Spoke 7 = Enemies/antagonists/opponents–why?

That’s it for character, for now. Happy writing!

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Writing: What motivates your character? Does it work?

First off, I have a summer cold, so if ideas don’t always blend together in this blog, my head’s a little fuzzy. But here goes:

I just finished reading a book that I loved, but sometimes, I had to MAKE myself keep turning the pages. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? It was, and I had mixed feelings about it. I loved every scene, every character. The villains were deliciously complicated, and sometimes, I actually felt sympathetic to them–the sign of a good writer. But sometimes, the decisions the main character made felt forced. They worked for the plot and led to tension and battles, but I kept thinking there might have been a better way to handle the situation, and that the character was smart enough to think about something less dangerous. True, the bad guy is forcing her hand, but the story felt like she was reacting to one threat after another without ever saying, “Hey, what if…..?” But then that might be just me. I usually think first, act later. My daughter read the same book and said it was her favorite in the entire series. But then my daughter has no fear. Just goes to show you. But my reaction to the story made me think.

A character’s motivations have to feel REAL. He has to want something enough that he’ll take risks to get it or achieve it. But the risks have to make sense. It’s hard for me to follow a hero who doesn’t care, who’s so blase’, he just goes through the motions to see what happens. I have just as much trouble following a hero who takes risks he doesn’t need to, someone who puts himself and his friends in trouble when there’s a better way to solve the problem. Conflicted motivations are really hard to pull off, and that’s where I ran into trouble in the book I read. People are complicated, and I like that. But when a character is so complicated that I can’t decide what he’s trying to achieve, I waffle.

The other thing that slowed me down in this book was the nonstop action. After three fight scenes back to back, I just got tired. I had to put the book down to take a break. Don’t get me wrong. These were some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever read. But there were a LOT of them. Books need tension, and that tension has to build and build and build. But sometimes, I need to catch my breath.

Did I love this book? Yes, but not as much as the last one. Will I read the next book in the series? A big yes. Did this book make me think about writing and what works for me and what doesn’t? A resounding yes, because I kept asking myself, How can each scene be so good, and I need to put the book down for a minute?

Reading other writers, really good writers, are such great learning experiences. Hope you find authors who push you to be a better writer.