Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sagging Middles & Desire--Day 3

And we’re back with more Desires. Better be careful how you spread the word about our topic. If I have a real spike in BGs, I’ll know why.

I want to re-emphasize a couple of points. First, this exercise in discovering character Desire is not merely for the sake of the Desire itself. It’s to help you build the entire rest of your story. When you fully, thoroughly understand what your character wants, you can better know the actions he’ll take to achieve that Desire, and from those actions will spring conflict to work against said achievement. If you build your story in this way, you’ll also have a more cohesive novel, and one in which the character is believable, because that character is driving the story. Remember, even in the most plot-heavy genres such as suspense, ultimately the character must drive the story, or you’ll end up with cardboard characters forced into a plot.

Second, in suggesting re-writes for the following Desires, I really am shooting in the dark, because these stories tend to be already written to a great extent, and all I know is what I’ve been told. So don’t focus too much on the details of my suggestions. Focus instead of the concepts of action verbs, specifics, and exactness.

Okay, continuing from yesterday.

I'm wondering if my protagonist's desire for a sense of belonging is conscious or unconscious - and is it enough? But then she (a paramedic) also has a desire to make some sense out of life.

Let’s assume it’s all conscious for now. “Make sense out of life” is far too general. What does “sense” mean to her? What specific actions would she take to make that sense? A “sense of belonging” is also too general. What does “belong” mean to her? Have one friend? Two? Twenty? Be married? Find a supportive church? If you remain this general in your understanding of the character’s Desire, your story is likely to falter halfway through, because you don’t have specific actions for your character to pursue, and therefore you’ll lack ideas for conflict to oppose those actions.

I have two main characters in my second novel. The first and primary is a teenage girl. Her conscious desire is to survive. Her unconscious desire is for a family that loves her for her. My second character (a cop) desires to find out who killed her brother - and make them pay.

Here, too, I’d advise to dig deeper, heading toward specifics. What does “survive” mean? Merely to be breathing? To be totally healthy, unharmed? To be extremely fit? To get away from some abusive person who wants to kill her? The cop’s Desire is better: to find out who killed her brother in order to bring him to justice. Now you’ve got a possible low point for your character—what if, after three-fourths of the book, he finally finds out who killed the brother, then still can’t bring the person to justice because there’s not enough evidence?

However, if you stick with just that Desire for the cop, his Desire will be no different than every other character in a mystery or suspense who is looking for the killer. In other words his Desire has sprung only from the crime. But who was he before this crime took place? Is there something happening within his personal life that could affect his approach to solving the crime? Examples: to bring the brother’s killer to justice in order to achieve a department promotion. Or . . . in order to assuage my guilt over allowing the death to happen. Or . . . in order to bring the sister peace of mind so that she can be free to fall in love with me.

My protagonist, a romance-deprived photographer's assistant, longs to experience a sizzling, bodice-ripping affair – with her nerdy, practical husband of twenty-four years.

The affair sounds like the “so that” part—e.g., second prong of the Desire. What specific things does she want to accomplish to make this “affair” with her husband happen? Is she trying to look sexier? Lose weight, fix herself up? Is she scheming to kidnap her husband to a romantic getaway? Etc.

The hero desires to keep his vows of holiness to God, but also desires the love offered by a woman who struggles with basic morality and is pursued by the consequences that endanger all around her. She is not a heroine. She is fire, desiring anything she wants; the hero, peace for her soul, to survive the deadly mistakes she made.

The hero’s desire for the woman is not a part of his character Desire. It’s part of the conflict (internal conflict) that opposes that Desire. I’d like to see another prong here, too. I’m just not sure if it should be the first or second prong, without knowing more about the story. It could be: to do specific action (fill in the blank) so that he can keep his vows of holiness to God. Or it could be: to maintain his vows of holiness so that _____ (fill in the blank). Depends upon which is really the ultimate Desire. For example, in the latter, he might want to keep those vows in order to assuage his guilt over past sins. In that scenario, assuaging the guilt is the bigger issue, with the vows the path toward that assuaging. What if he keeps all vows but still can’t get rid of the guilt?

Margaret's desire is to take control of her life and conquer her fears. Addison's desire is to find the hit man hired to kill her and keep her safe.

Specifics needed again. What does “control of her life” mean to Margaret? What does conquer her fears mean? The more specifics you discover, the better you can build your story as the character pursues those specifics. As for Addision, it sounds like his Desire springs solely from the inciting incident of someone trying to kill Margaret. Who was Addison before that happened? What does he want in his personal life? Why does he want to save Margaret?

A follow-up question from yesterday:

If I were to state a two-pronged desire for my character, I think it might be "to get financial help from the child's grandfather while still being able to raise the child as her own." Could that work?

Yes, but can you get even more specific? What does financial help mean? A certain amount of money per month? A check in emergencies? Just enough to get by?

Tomorrow I’ll talk more about this Desire concept and how it can drive a story. If you have questions/comments, you know where to leave 'em.


Linda said...

This is great, Brandilyn! Definitely making me think. The financial help she wants is temporary -- until she gets back on her feet. She's lost her fiance, as a consequence of wanting to raise this child. She's lost her job because of missing work and getting there late due to raising the child. She's lost her babysitter due to the war, and without a babysitter, she's having a hard time finding another job. Ultimately, she loses her housing because she can't pay the rent. Raised in an orphanage, she has no family of her own to fall back on. She knows the grandfather has the financial means to help her, but he's a last resort. In addition, at the time she decides to go to him for help, the grandfather has no idea he even has (had) a daughter-in-law or grandchild.

Lynette Eason said...

HI, Just a thought. Is "Desire" the same thing as "Goal" ? As in Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Just wondering if we're talking about the same thing, just different terminology. It seems the same to me, so if it's different, could you explain the difference? Thanks, Lynette

Evelyn said...

Maybe sense of family is a better word. (She's lost hers.) But she's afraid to let anyone get too close. As far as making sense of life, as a paramedic she struggles with the question of why sometimes "good" people die and "bad" people live, and how a "loving" God could allow so much pain. (How's that for a run-on sentence?)

C.J. Darlington said...

Yea, you're right. My character's desire to "survive" is vague. The reason she is in survival mode is because she's suddenly found herself with nothing but the clothes on her back and a backpack with a few provisions - no one to turn to.

And my cop ... I struggled with this character for some time, all because of her motivations, actually. Once I finally nailed down the reasons behind why she desires to find who killed her brother and make them pay, then the story made more sense.

I never realized how important motivations were. But for me, I usually end up discovering them as I write.