Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NaNo Day 9, Goals and Motivation Revisited

Deborah Wright's ProfileCurrent Project: NaNoWriMo 2009
Status: 7816 / 50,000 words

I've been blogging daily about my NaNoWriMo experience in my personal blog. Yesterday's post (NaNo Day 8, On Which I Hatch A Cunning Plan) was about trying to figure out why, at 7427 words, I suddenly experienced the dreaded "now what?" syndrome. While the post was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, the topic was serious. (And I wasn't lying about the directed dreaming--I really did that.)

You see, I'd been chugging along writing scenes, getting to know my characters beyond descriptions on a worksheet, thinking we were all having fun, when wham! I came to a wall. A blank wall, at that. What the heck was wrong? I'd worked on plot (boy, had I worked on plot!). So why couldn't I figure out what came next?

Over the course of the day--spent mostly away from the computer--I came to realize that while my characters had strong personalities, their goals were weak and their motivations, tepid. I'd made the fatal mistake of confusing the huge world building of the story (i.e. the setting/framework for the story) with the, actual, you know, story of the story. Confused? Yeah, me too.

The "world" of my story is huge. It's set in the "multiverse" (an infinite number of alternate universes) -- and you can't get much bigger than that. But the story itself, I think, needs to be more intimate, at least, the story that I want to tell does. The problem is, I made it too small. Small enough to be resolved in a chapter, maybe two chapters if I dragged things out. Thus, the wall I hit.

Part of the problem is my inexperience. I know that I'm still learning and until I actually complete a book, I'll continue to grope my way along. I understand that, tough as it is for me to admit ("I've been voraciously reading books all my life. You'd think I'd just know how to put one together!"). But another part of the problem is my personality. I dislike conflict in real life and I go out of my way to avoid it when possible. I like the characters I've created and I've discovered a blind spot I didn't know I had. I have a tough time making their lives difficult. Who knew?

My advice to myself? Get over it!

What I did on NaNo Day 9 was go back to the character drawing board and really examine character goals and motivation. I'm not quite done with that. I'd say I've raised the motivation temperature from tepid to warm and put a little pudding into the jello of their goals (ew! I really need to come up with a better visual for that!). Still, it was a realization worth having and changes worth making.

What about you? Do you (or did you) ever find yourself making things too easy on your characters? How did you get over it/solve that problem? A newbie (really!) wants to know.


Elisabeth Naughton said...

Debbie, I know lots of writers who sold a book having never completed a full manuscript before. That's not to say they never wrote - they wrote like you...thousands and thousands of words, new stories, different ideas, but things that never gelled all the way because they were learning as they went. I, personally, think the act of writing is way more important that finishing a book. Anyone can finish a book - it's easy to write a crappy book that is missing all the things a good book must have. It's the dedicated writer who analyzes their work along the way and says, "Yeah, this isn't working" and either goes back and revises because they see the story has potential or moves on to something different because they've made a step forward in their writing and can see that the previous story doesn't have potential.

As for conflict...I've never had a problem coming up with enough conflict so I probably won't be much help. (In fact, looking at the current wip, I probably have too much conflict, but that's a topic for another day). But one thing that's always suck with me is the fact conflict is what makes readers turn pages. They want to know how a character is going to succeed/win/find true love/survive and without conflict, who cares? My favorite books to read are the ones where there's conflict right up until the last page, even after a suspense plot is resolved and a killer is caught. I realized a long time ago that I lost interest in some authors because they let the conflict drop at the climax, and the last few chapters then became boring. That's something I keep in mind now as I'm writing. Conflict in every chapter, in every scene, right up until the end.

Way to go on your word count! You are doing awesome!

Paty Jager said...

Congrats on the words and the knowledge you're gaining!

I'm like you, Debbie. I don't like conflict. I've always walked away when things got too confrontational.

So I tend to have to work harder to make things bad happen to my characters. And it's usually through outside forces. I give them baggage to haul around, but it's easier for me to throw in a bad guy or two or a natural disaster to cause them strife than to actually have them squabble. I'm of the mind set two people battling an outside force is better than them battling each other. Which may not make for as good reading as a more internally driven conflict, but it's my way of throwing the bad stuff in.

Good luck! And as Eli says, it's all about writing. Getting down the words,learning what works for you and then hitting your stride when you get it half way figured out. You'll make it!

Anonymous said...

Debbie, this is an awesome blog post. I anxiously await all the comments because I have such a hard time with conflict too. I hate it. I don't want to make my characters suffer because I hate suffering. This is where I get blocked, too.

I feel like you and I are on the same page right now. We have awesome ideas for a story, fun/interesting, strong characters, but how do we drag them through hell and bring them out the other side? UGH! So, thanks for your post today.

Eli-- Do yo find it easier to put in conflict because you write suspense? I mean, your characters are always full of inner conflict, so I suspect no. You're just a natural at torturing your characters. LOL That sounds bad, but it's awesome!! :)

I want to know how to write conflict that's intriguing enough to hold the reader's attention into a contemporary romantic comedy. That's where I'm struggling. I can write funny, but conflict is killing me!

Again, great post Debbie.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL, Piper. I guess I'm just one majorly conflicted girl. ;)

I'm not sure why it's easier for me to write conflict. But no, I don't think it has to do so much with suspense because most of the conflict in my books is inner conflict, not external. Yeah, my characters may be running for their lives and this or that, but the real conflict is what's going on inside and between the two, not what's happening around them. Usually they work together on what's happening around them.

As for romantic comedy...Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes great conflict. If you haven't read her RCs, you should, just to get an idea how other authors do it. In a RC, where there isn't as much external conflict (flying bullets, chasing bad guys, running...) I think you HAVE to have a handle on internal conflict to make it work.

I will agree it's not fun to torture characters. It's emotionally draining for me. I just got to a big reveal in my wip, and the external conflict is just now hitting the main characters (3/4 of the way through). Up until this moment, the internal conflict is what's propelled the story forward. And after writing this emotionally draining (conflict!) scene, I'm wiped out. But, I know the deeper I probe into my characters hopes and dreams and fears, it will only make the story richer. That's what I think you have to do to make a book memorable.

Dig deep and then torture, torture, torture!!!!

Genene Valleau said...

LOL, Debbie! I don't like conflict either and I struggled with this for years in my books. My feeling was can we go straight to happily ever after?

You realized it much sooner than I did: without conflict, it's all over in a chapter or two.

It might be helpful to switch terms also. Instead of conflict, think of it as character growth. If a character doesn't face tests and obstacles, how do they grow?

A couple ideas I've picked up from other writers and, of course, mutated to suit my own purposes are to:

--Pick two characters with conflicting careers but strong motivations for what they do. For instance, a hunter whose rural family would have starved without the wild game his father brought home and a staunch advocate for animal rights who witnessed the slaughter of innocent animals and couldn't do anything about it at the time.

--Make the character's greatest strength also be their biggest weakness. A very generous heroine (or hero) trusts the wrong person and finds herself/himself in a life-threatening situation when they go to a dangerous neighborhood to do rescue someone. Again, the motivation for going there has to be strong enough or noble enough to outweigh the "stupid" factor.

Piper, good question about the romantic comedy. I was able to keep the conflict going for a 35,000-word novella. However, before I cut that story length, it was starting to slide into the more dramatic style I usually write.

As Eli mentioned, there's also a danger of hitting the climax and sliding into boring. I've learned to end a book quickly after the climax so the end doesn't get boring. That means my black moments tend to come very close to the end of the story. Just enough text afterward to be sure everything is wrapped up and write The End.

Hope this helps. My apologies that I don't remember which authors made these suggestions or I'd give them credit. You are writing and analyzing and making adjustments. That's huge progress! Hooray for you!

Alice Sharpe said...

Debbie -- everyone has offered you good advice and said it all so well.

And, btw, I totally agree that writing is learning, and that's what you're doing. There are a lot of literary critics out there who are exceptionally well read and can't write a lick -- knowing what to do, appreciating it done well, and actually knowing how to do it are different things.

I don't mind torturing characters. It's PG (personal growth!) and they're asking for it if they wander into my book. I do not like spatting and squabbling and a little witty repartee goes a long way at this point in my life. I like conflict that grows from real places. Sometimes most of it's external, and sometimes it's internal but I think, especially when it's internal, it needs to really come from a place of truth.

I often drop the ball (of conflict) and make happy too soon, because like you and so many others, I want everyone to be reasonable and content. Then I am up against the wall just as you found yourself. That's when I know to reread the scene and up the stakes. This was really clear to me a few years ago when I wrote a romance called The Baby Season. The h/h had a fight, she stomped off to the barn, he came to find her, he apologized, they smiled and whumph!!!! it was over. It took me entirely too long to realize what I'd done, but eventually I did. Back to the barn where they ratcheted up their conflict and gave me a place to go from there. Since then, I have found myself in the barn time and time again, looked backward, found the place I took the easy way and fixed it.

I always think about external and internal conflict as I first plot and write it into the synopsis. And again, I'm not talking some petty differences that an honest discussion could resolve. I try to make the conflicts multifaceted and VERY, VERY important to the person who feels that way and through their POV to the reader.

As an aside, I will mention I play computer games. Many are ones I download for an hour for free and then buy if they've captured my imagination and I want to play the rest of the game. There are games I dislike from the get go for one reason or another, but there are a few I like. They look good, they play well, they're satisfying. But there's an additional requirement before I plunk down money and that's -- does the game engage my need to reach the end. Is the story strong enough? Is it not so easy I get bored? Is it not repetitive to the point of distraction? I.e., is it interesting, is the story strong, do I have to see how it all ends? That's the one I buy. And a book is no different, it's that same need to know that keeps a reader reading.

Don't be too hard on yourself. We all occasionally do exactly what you did, see it and fix it and here you are, seeing it and fixing it. If that's not success, what is?

Deborah Wright said...

Such great comments and great advice, you guys! And thanks for the encouragement!

Eli, your take on finishing a book is interesting and something I'll think long and hard about. I do agree that writing and analyzing is important. I've certainly written more this week than I have in a long time. And I've learned far more than I have in a long time, too. I know--it goes back to that all important "writers write." My silent addition to that phrase is "and that's how I'll learn!" And I love your advice: "Dig deep and then torture, torture, torture!!!! :-)

Paty, I agree -- "squabbling" to me always feels like made up conflict and I can see the attraction of adding a villain for conflict. Good food for thought!

Piper, it's nice to know I'm not alone! Yeah, sounds like we're on the same page all right. My h/h were far too in agreement and attraction for one another. I got to the point where I thought, 'huh, I might as well just have him hand over the object she wants, they can kiss (fade to black) and I can write The End. Too bad it isn't even long enough for a short story!' :-)

Ah Genene, lots of good advice -- thanks! And I, too, have read books where I thought the author should have wrapped things up quicker after the climax. I always wonder if that stems from her (or him) having read too many stories where the end came too quickly, if you know what I mean. Still, I'd rather be left wanting more than end up bored!

Alice, thanks. Your perspective is always so grounded! Whenever I read your posts/comments, I come away feeling like I can do this. You're great at reminding me that this is a journey and I'm the only one I need compare myself to. (hope that made sense!)