Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Learning all the time

The interesting thing about actively working on one novel-in-progress and having another in the back of my mind is that as I get help on the active one, I sometimes think of things that will help the inactive one. I can't really give a specific example. It's more of a cumulative process. Sure, sometimes I'll remember something a character said or did and the thought will pop into my head: Oh, I see why that's weak. I'll have to change that. But more often I'll remember the thought process that went into having a character say or do something, and realize that the process itself is lacking.

My other novel-in-progress (maybe I should start using NIP instead of WIP? *laff*) is kind of a self-discovery/coming-of-age story. One of the main characters is 18 when the story starts and is 24 or 25 when it ends. This is Street Glass. I got most of Neal's motivations and goals figured out, but when I put most of the first draft up for critiquing, people had a lot of trouble with Sandy who came off as just too nice of a guy without a good reason for wanting to pull Neal out of a dead-end life.

I put a bit of an edge to Sandy's personality and gave him a temper. Then I gave him a personal reason for wanting to help Neal (in the form of a cousin whose death Sandy felt was his fault). Both of those changes helped but still didn't feel like enough to readers.

That had me perplexed and even annoyed for quite a while. Annoyed because it was all so clear in my head and I couldn't understand why I wasn't conveying it to readers.

Now though, I can see the problems I had with Sandy were because I don't know him as well as I need to. Neal has always been easier for me to get emotions and thoughts across to readers. The thing is, I've written many scenes with Neal just for myself, because I like him so much I wanted to watch him react in scenes that are not intended to make it into the novel.

I did that a little with Sandy but decided I had him all figured out so didn't need to find anything else out about him. Oh, youth and inexperience!

Ironically, it's the same problem I currently have with Devorah in Night Shift. I like her well enough but have never felt I know what makes her tick. Kaz became much more interesting; bits of his backstory kept popping out at unexpected moments, pulling me right into his character. Devorah, well, not so much. Again I like her (quite a bit) and it didn't seem like I needed any more motivation for her.

Surprise! Then I got well-meaning advice like "pretend Oprah is interviewing your character". Sure, in general I can see how that could help. But I have no idea what Oprah would ask my character! Any real-life interviewer is a distinct personality that I can't just pretend to be. Generic, static lists of questions don't help me either because they're not tailored to my character.

So I got myself into the Plot Busters group at Scribophile where the purpose is to fix plots gone awry by looking at specific elements of character and plot (as well as story, which is different than plot).

What are some things you've gotten stuck on? Do characters give you more trouble than plot? Can you "pants" a story, or do you need to plot the whole way? I can't "pants" anything coherent. Do character interviews work for you? Do you use plot templates? This inquiring mind wants to know :)

No comments:

Post a Comment