Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Where's my motivation?

 Last week I was reading a book. An adult book (for a change!) by an author I know and love. It was a good book, intriguing with an interesting premise but about a third of the way through I got annoyed. The more I read the more annoyed I became until I was reading the book in a fairly angry manner. Cue grinding of teeth and agitated page turning.

 The reason?


 In my opinion the motivation for the main character to behave in a certain way was not reasonable. As the book continued and the protagonist carried on using this rather flimsy reason for their increasingly strange behaviour I lost my belief, my sympathy and my patience.
 I did finish the book, instead of throwing it out the window, because it was in part a mystery and I wanted to know what happened. But I was not happy.

 I felt let down.

 It seemed to me that the author needed a reason for their protagonist to behave in a fairly stupid, dangerous way in order to furnish the plot but the motivation she'd settled on was not good enough. No one would behave in such a way for such a reason. It was ludicrous. Ludicrous!

 While grumbling under my breath the writer part of my brain switched on and I started thinking about my own work. Were my characters properly motivated? Or was I simply pushing them into certain behaviour I needed for my plot?

 Luckily at this point I had some input from an editor who flagged up a particular character in my m.s. I looked up my notes and saw that I had written nothing about this person despite their relative importance to the story. Instead I'd simply slipped them into a standard role without even knowing in my own head who they really were and why they would behave like that. This was bad.

 I went away and thought about it. About all my characters in fact and I started imagining little cut scenes for them from their past. They became very quickly more well rounded because I understood them more. I worked out their relationships with each other, the dramas that had shaped them. Of course I don't need to put all this backstory into my m.s but I need to know it because plot comes from character.

 I now feel that my story will become stronger and richer with this added knowledge, the characters will live and breathe and behave the way they're supposed to, NOT just because it's the way I want them to. This also resulted in a few eureka moments, created by my new understanding, so much so that I'm quite excited about sitting down to my next draft.

 Of course then I started wondering why I hadn't just done the character analysis before I started writing, so that all that deeper understanding was already present in my first draft.  But on reflection I think the understanding in many ways COMES from writing the first and second drafts.

Anyway, it was a useful lesson to me. Readers will not accept flimsy reasons. They need to feel the motivation for behaviour is reasonable, compelling even. Otherwise they can get quite cross and lose belief in your whole book and that as I have seen first hand is not the response we want.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Stock Taking

So here we are. New Year. January 2014.  A good time to take stock of things, to consider what we learned in the past year and how that can help us in the new one.

 I'm going to go back a bit further though, just to remind myself of a few important truths.

Four Years Ago...

I was in pain every day. Practically housebound and surviving on an ever increasing amount of painkillers. A disc in my lower back had prolapsed and was pressing on my nerve causing every movement to be agony. After two years of living like this, with ever worsening episodes of pain I was losing the will to live. Depressed, worried and miserable, only my family and friends kept me sane. Them and the little notebook in which I was writing a silly story for my son.
I remember clearly thinking that if only the pain would go away I'd never ask for anything again. I would appreciate every pain free second of my life. Do all the things I wanted to. Be happy all the time as long as the pain would just go away...

The pain did go away. Finally. After an operation on my spine to remove the offending piece of disc. The relief was almost instantaneous but having been weakened for so long it took me about six months to fully recover.

Three Years Ago...

I was fit and healthy. I was happy. I started writing in earnest. I joined scbwi. I went to events. I met new people. I started planning a trip across America with my family.

Two Years Ago...

I started a crit group and met some lovely writers who helped me with my work.
I got lucky with my first book. people liked it. Agents liked it. I even met one who gave me detailed notes on how to improve it.
I went on my amazing month long trip and saw the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone and Florida and New York. I went white water rafting and trekking and all the things I thought I might never do again.

Then the agent turned my revised book down. It was a huge blow but I learned a great deal from that experience so I brushed myself down and carried on writing. Somehow though I could feel a desperation leaking into my life. And I had all this angst inside me. I was angry that I'd wasted so much of my life NOT writing.  It seemed hugely important that I got an agent and a book deal as fast as I could. ...
And I  forgot how very lucky I was.

One Year Ago...

 I was still writing, still going to events, still meeting with my crit group but the angst was easing. The desperation was gone. I was calm. It was a wonderful feeling. And before I got to the end of my third book I was overwhelmed with an urge to begin my fourth.
And this book has been a true pleasure to write. A joy from start to finish. It pretty much just flowed from my head onto the screen with the minimum of fuss. It made me wonder if I'd been too busy forcing my stories onto the page in my headlong rush to publication and that was why they'd been so much more difficult to write.
 Perhaps it was a mixture of relaxing into my writing AND the experience I'd gained over the previous years? I now knew so much more about the mechanics of plot and character, I understood how to plan and layer my story and my brain was doing all that WHILE I was enjoying the process of writing.
Perhaps I just got lucky. Either way  I finished the second draft at the end of the 2013.


 I don't know what this year will bring. I could hope for agents and book deals but they may still be very far away and that's fine.
 I may have to  spend this year reading (and writing) about everyone else's success stories while I'm once again facing rejections and failure.
 What is most important to me  though, is that I don't let those things bring me down. That I don't forget again how very lucky I really am simply to be living my life every day without pain. How fortunate I am even to be able to spend time doing what I love. And how blessed I feel to have met so many wonderful people in the process.