Saturday, November 5, 2011

what do you want and why do you want it?

Multitasking here; writing a blog post and working on my plot at the same time. You’ve probably heard it before—your Main Character needs to have a strong goal in order for the story to work and for readers to care about him. Case in point: the reason I have plot holes in my outline is because Neal does not have a strong enough goal that would drive the plot.

Don’t ask me why it took nearly three years to figure that out, but at least I realized it before cobbling together a shoddy plot then sending the manuscript out J

How do I find out what he wants? Why does he want it? One night, after having given up on the notion of sleep, I interviewed Neal to try to find out. He told me that beneath his hatred of his mother for abandoning him, he wants to know why a mother would leave her ten-year-old child to the clutches of a street gang.

With that as his original goal (the secondary goal being making a better life for himself), and seeing that Sandy has so many more resources than he ever did, he could become obsessed with finding out what happened to her. This of course leads to all sorts of questions I’ve barely started to realize—would the band’s “people” be able to find any trace of her? If not, how does the plot advance? My muse shakes her head at me:

“Come on, it’s obvious. By the time Neal moves in with the band, Lola’s been involved in Tony’s illegal activities for eight years. She doesn’t want any attention. So Tony would have to step in, leaving Neal with an ever-shifting series of tantalizing clues that may or may not be real.”

Well fine, I say, but how do you expect to pull that off? She just gives me that enigmatic smile. Maybe her name is really Mona Lisa.

So what I pull from this is to question your characters’ motives often. I thought that it was enough to show readers what an awful life Neal was stuck in. I forgot one of Art Edwards' valuable lessons—make your major characters more than you think they should be. Give them truly powerful motivations and they will drive your story. Art calls it “overshooting the runway”. He’s not only great for ways to bring a rock lit novel to life, he’s a straight-to-the-point, excellent general writing teacher. Best money I ever spent was for his class in Basement Writing Workshop!

I also want to say that this new goal of Neal’s makes me a little uncomfortable, because it changes the way he’s always been. However, changes are necessary to make the story better. It’s okay to need time to adjust yourself to character changes, but it’s really important to accept that sometimes big changes need to happen. Don’t let your attachment to anything keep your story from becoming the best it can be. Michelangelo saw the form of a finished sculpture while the marble was still uncut, but for most writers, it usually takes more work J


  1. Awesome! Also, yay character interview!

    Loved the post. Any chance of showing us that (or another) character interview?


  2. Thanks, Joe :)

    Hmm, posting that interview might be revealing trade secrets! I do have excerpted character interviews on a separate page, but they need some updating.

    The problem with talking to Neal is that I tend to get different answers overlapping each other, because he changed so much as time passed.

    I'll update the existing interview page, and put the interview you asked about in an upcoming post. How's that?