Monday, August 24, 2009
My Characters Have Issues
One of the things about writing a novel is that it's a 24/7 kind of job. With the books I sell to publishers, there are no time clocks to punch. No boss standing over me with a proverbial whip. The deadlines are mine and mine alone to do with what I will. And being the kind of person who does not like disappointing editors, I'm pretty good about self-motivation when I have a deadline. But this is a double edged sword. It means that regular work hours are meaningless. That is to say, it's not like you can leave a plot point at the office and say hello the next day at 9 am.
Me: (Stretching luxuriously after a good night's sleep) "Oh. Morning, Jack. So, did you and what's-her-face resolve your conflict issues last night?"
A long, irritated pause.
Me: "Oh. Well, did you at least come up with some better dialogue than that idiotic patter you were muttering yesterday? Because seriously--"
Jack: "Uh, no. We were...waiting for you."
Me: "Waiting for me? What kind of lame-ass hero are you anyway?"
Jack: "All right, that's it. C'mon, folks. We're going on strike until we get some real revision here." Jack motions the other characters together, then tosses me a pointed glance. "And that's your job. Read your contract."
Yup. Regular hours are a dreamy, fantasy-world away. Because these characters you've conjured up will hound you. They will hunt you down in the middle of a perfectly good nights' sleep and demand their right to a decent resolution. They are relentless, difficult and for the most part, unhelpful.
By the mid-point of your book, as the sagging middle rears its ugly head and they just stand there, arms crossed, taunting you, it can make a sane writer...well, cranky.
(Picture Tom Hanks here, yelling:) "There's no crying! There's no crying in publishing!"
When my characters have reached this impasse, they are not capable of sorting it all out for themselves. Although, as most of you who write know, occasionally,they will lead you to the closed door looming ahead like a road block and helpfully point out that you took a wrong turn back there and it's time to retrace your steps. Here's where the familiar refrain of "Where did this stop working for me?" begins banging away at my sleep.
Nine times out of ten, it's because I've chosen the wrong Point-of-view for a scene. I'm trying to make some character talk when it really has little to do with them emotionally. By switching this to the other character in the scene, it's amazing how suddenly things loosen up. Characters put down their strike signs and belly up to the bar. POV usually finds its strongest ally in the character who has the most at stake in a scene (emotionally or physically.) Why? Because every scene is a mini-book. Each scene has a beginning, middle and end. Each scene starts with one or both characters having goals. And by the end, one character will win and the other will lose. Deciding who does and who has the most at stake emotionally for a particular goal is your choice. Try it both ways if you're stuck.
This all becomes so much trickier, of course, when writing in First Person (meaning the camera is always viewing from one POV--your main character. In that case, you don't have the option of changing POV. So your impasse probably has more to do with whether the scene you're writing has a strong enough goal, motivation or conflict.
I'll talk more about GM&C in another post. For now, if you're not a fiction writer and you managed to get all the way through this post, I apologize. Maybe it'll all pay off and you'll notice this stuff when you read your next novel. But even if it's blogging, I'd love to hear: What kinds of problems keep you up at night when it comes to your writing?