Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Reasons to be confused August 30, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:11 pm

I’m still trying to decide what to write next. Only just home from an evening with my mother-in-law, but I have tomorrow free to write. But which story?

Something about Luk and Gabi/ Emma’s story just keeps me stuck and confused.

I mean, two different heroines to start with! But poor Emma is just a bit too pitiful and tragic, so I’d rather write Gabi. Luk can’t decide if he’s a nice guy who just happens to be a self-made multi-millionaire, or a ruthless win at all costs Alpha. Something keeps me attached to this story, I do want to write it.

But I keep coming back to what is probably the main flaw in this story- I started off wanting to write about someone who found out she was a princess, got kidnapped, and forced into a marriage of convenience. I had no idea who the story was about, just that I wanted those things to happen. Then I created the characters to fit the plot.

I know now that is not the way to do it. Maybe the biggest lesson from my struggles with this story is the importance of having things be character driven, not plot device driven. I kidded myself I was doing that when I sat down and replanned the story in April. I started with character sheets and then wrote a synopsis of plot events. It was better than what I had before. But still not right. Because I wasn’t really starting with characters. I was starting with trying to find out more about these characters I’d come up with because I thought they would fit into the plot I’d already planned.

I’ve been thinking all along that the reason I’ve been stuck on this story and going round in circles with it is that I’m not a good enough writer yet. Maybe  that’s true. Or maybe it’s that I’m coming at the story from the wrong direction. Forcing Luk and Emma or Gabi to act like puppets, not like real people. To make the story work, they have to behave out of character. They whole story hinges on Luk making a  stupid mistake, doing something he just would not do, and Emma/Gabi responding in an equally stupid way. Bacuse that’s what the plot calls for, not what I know these people would do.

Of course, everyone does something out of character at times. Part of good writing is taking characters and putting them in situations where they have to choose to do something they wouldn’t normally do. I wish I could remember where I read the advice to think of five things the character would never do, then make sure they are put in situations where they have to, where doing that is the least bad of two bad choices.  That’s not what I did in this story though. I needed a reason for them to be pushed into a Marriage of Convenience. so I had them act out of character. That’s not the same thing as setting up a conflict within the character where they have to chose to do things they normally never would. In this story, they didn’t really choose, I just made them do it!  

So I have two options. Try one more time with this story, but make sure I’m setting up believable motivation for everything that the characters do. Or give up now, recognising I’ve learned some valuable lessons, and it’s been one helluva ride, but it’s time to stop.

No matter how hard I try, forcing characters to fit the plot will not work, plot has to flow from character.

Anyway, I need to stop over analysing everything and try just writing! Once I decide which story….


12 Responses to “Reasons to be confused”

  1. Ferdous Says:

    Hi, I just want to say that a lot of the writing books recommend ‘free flow’ writing – Dorothea Brande advocated it – where you just put pen to paper and write whatever comes to your mind, usually first thing in the morning. Perhaps you could do this with regards to “No matter how hard I try, forcing characters to fit the plot will not work, plot has to flow from character.” and maybe see where it leads!

    Totally with you, writing is hard business and often not going where you want to go!!

    Have send my MS on Sat but have realised today that monday is a bank holiday! duh! so feel down about that…fingers crossed it’s received. Good luck on deciding which story to go with. Take care


  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    I’m sure your NWS entry will get there Tuesday and that Melanie will still accept it! Fingers crossed on a lovely helpful report from your reader coming back to you soon.

    Well done on getting something in! I am feeling a total failure that I didn’t, and even worse that I took someone else’s place, but there’s not much point me putting in a partial for a story I know isn’t going to work.

    Free writing is definitely a great way to get ideas to flow. Thanks for the suggestion! Natalie Goldberg is excelent inspiration for that too- I wish I hadn’t given away my copy of her “Writing Down the Bones”.

    The biggest problem with the last story was that I decided ahead of time what I wanted to happen and forced everything to fit around that. This time I want to start with two characters with opposing beliefs and needs and see what happens!

    Part of me wants to plot it all out before I write, and part of me wants to simply know who the hero and heroine are and what the starting situation is, then just let them go for it. I think I might settle for a mixture of both, a sort of hybrid plotting/pantsing. I want to get to know the characters really really well, know what the start is and know what the end is. But I’d like to see if the characters can work out for themselves how they get there!

  3. Janet Says:

    I wish I could remember where I read the advice to think of five things the character would never do, then make sure they are put in situations where they have to, where doing that is the least bad of two bad choices

    Donald Maass? Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook.

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    I want to read that, and his new one too, but I haven’t read either yet. No, I tracked it down, it was here- http://novelracers.blogspot.com/2009/07/plotting-its-all-about-characters.html A post Liz Fenwick wrote about the Jodi Thomas session at the RNA Conference.

  5. Lorraine Says:

    I was at that Jodi Thomas talk and it was brilliant – I think the emphasis is on putting your characters out of their comfort zones.

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    I wish I’d been able to go- maybe next year!
    That’s something I seriously need to learn. I don’t like upsetting my characters too much.
    I think that’s why I like external conflict more- my feisty heroines cope with all that stuff fine!
    Thinking about stories I’ve read recently and I can see it’s a good idea to keep the characters just that little bit off balance for most of the story. First with the external changes in their situation they have to deal with, then with the internal stuff, their responses to the other person which will bring up all sorts of issues for them.

  7. Janet Says:

    Hi again, Jane,
    That Jodi thomas talk must have ben inspired by the MAASS book. He advises t making your character do something he would never ever do., so they exceed their boundaries and perform larger than life actions. “How do you build larger than life actions in your current manuscript? What does your protagonist say, do and think that her , or we, would never ever venture? …let your character do, say, or think something memorable” He also says that “a larger than life action can be more effective when it is something the character involved does NOT want to do.” But maybe he’s taling about breaking through emotional boundaries rather than doing something reckless. But maybe with the right motivation you can have them do anything?

    Have you e-mailed the NWS organiser to ask if your entry can be carried over into next year –I’m sure that they used to alow this in special cirumstances–or did you decide to send in those 2 synopses instead of story pages.

  8. Janet Says:

    Ooops, a few typos in my last message –but you should be able to guess what I meant to write 🙂

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    I went on Amazon earlier and ordered the Maass workbook! Have you read his latest one? I seem to remember you saying you had. I like the quotes you give. I am sure that with good enough motivation, a character can do almost anything, no matter how reckless, stupid, or out of character it might be. Why characters sometimes appear Too Stupid to Live is just that the reader isn’t given a good enough reason to accept their choices. I can’t think where, but I read someone comment on the classic TSTL horror movie scenario where the heroine is alone in the spooky house and hearsa noise in the cellarso goes down the dark stairs into the cellar without calling for help. It’s a relief when a character that stupid gets killed.But what if she’d already tried calling for help, and the phone was dead and her mobile had no signal, and she hadevidence suggesting thatthe killer had herchild held captive down there? What if shegoes down there knowing she might be killed, but willing to take the chance that her sacrifice might save her child? Suddenly she’s incredibly brave, not incredibly stupid. I did the exercise from the Jodi Thomas talk and founda few interesting things and one highly surprising thing about my character, so it was well worth doing! Re the NWS- thanks for the suggestion. I planned to email Melanie just to let her know I wouldn’t be submitting, but I feel my circumstances aren’t extreme enough to justify asking for an extension or to carry it over to next year. If I’d been ill, or hadmy MiL in hospital or something like that, certainly. But this was just too much “Real LIfe”, nothing exceptional about it. I need to learn to deal with all that and still meet my deadlines. Chances are things will be even worse next year! DH may well still be unemployed, the additional nurse on the team will make the day job easier but it will still be a madhouse there as the workload is increasing, and my MiL is getting dottier and frailer by the dayso who knows how much help and support she’ll be needing?

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL, I’m so used to my own typos I didn’t even notice them!

  11. Janet Says:

    Yes, I’ve got the most recent Maass. (The Fire In Fiction) I can’t resist a good writing book, although I think the ones I have now, cover just about everything. Found it really good (especially the chapter called Tension All The Time.) Some people say the book is pretty similar to his previous two, and there’s nothing new in it, but it didn’t seem that way to me. He always makes me feel very inspired.

    I love your TSTL example and the way the different motivations change her from stupid to brave.

    “Part of me wants to plot it all out before I write, and part of me wants to simply know who the hero and heroine are and what the starting situation is, then just let them go for it.”
    You could plot the main turning points then leave room for a few surprises along the way. It seems so risky to set off without a map.

    Are you entering the Presents comp?

  12. waitingforthecall Says:

    Hmm, not sure at this stage whether I’ll go for the HMB comp or not. I have a lot going on (a trip back to Australia to see my family for the first time in ages!), and I think my next story, which Ithought at first would be aModern Heat,may be more suited to LBD. I’ll just have to see how it goes! How about you?

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