Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why does it happen?

Why? Why? Why?

I pound this point with all of the writers I work with as well as the authors that I come into contact with. Maybe it is the years I spent on the theatre (and that have apparently come back again with this recent role in Midsummer Nights Dream), but you have to have motivation for everything that happens in the story.

Now, I will give you the fact that sometimes, things happen by coincidence. We bump into people on the street we didn't expect and so forth, but when it comes to stories that we are in complete control of as authors, the readers need to expect that things don't "just happen". The characters can see it, but the readers need to know it was a planned meeting due to the motivations.

Let's examine each of the levels I am talking about here. Again, remember I am not simply talking about the motivations of the characters.

PLOT - When things happen to your characters in the story, the motivation and the reason why the event happened needs to be believable and very clear. Things need to be in place for the reader to see that something is going to come up. We might not know what it will be, but it should be clear that if you want it to be bad, we are stressed; if you want it to be a great ending, then we should get excited. I see problems here in romantic suspense all of the time. Bombs go off for absolutely no reason. Serial killers pick on the heroine for absolutely no reason. Just simply going for the color of the hair is probably not enough any more. Sure, it works for those summer scare movies, but that is about it.

CHARACTERS - This is a big one with me and most of you try to do your best with building motivations. I have two things I want to discuss here. 1) The amount of backstory; and 2)Consistency.

I have said this before, but characters do not have to have lived a troubled and abusive live just to have a reason for acting the way they do. Maybe they were raised that way. Maybe it is just in their nature. For example, I am someone that doesn't like to be late for things. I would rather be 30 minutes early than be running in right no time. It is just in my nature. I hate stress. Not that anything bad ever happened in my life, I just don't like it. For that reason, I do my best to get to places early (and yes, I get frustrated when people are no on time). Keep their back story simple, but know it in your head and plant the seeds for the reader. Show it in their action.

The second element is the consistency. Would your character REALLY act that way? If you have a heroine that is shy and not outgoing, would they really take the lead on a major business deal? Sure, she may say it to herself in private, but would she really jump up and act that way? Would she charge into a room to save the hero or would she find someone else to do it? We can see some growth throughout the story, but in the end, that change will not be that huge.

THE STORY - This is a big one for me as well. I am a big believer of theme. I want to know what I am to gain from reading this story. This does not have to be a moral of the story and it doesn't have to be blatent, but I need to get a sense of it. Too often, I read stories where authors have simply thrown together characters to see what will happen. The rock star and the librarian. The corporate magnet and the Greenpeace worker. Sure, the conflict will be interesting but I always ask WHY? Why would this work in the first place? Would they ever be drawn to each other outside of this artificial environment you created as the author?

The key is to ask yourself as you write. WHY am I doing this? Is the reason behind everything really believable?

Think on that one. I have to go and memorize lines today.


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