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.

Jack: "No."

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.
Rocky Balboa

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?


Kathryn Magendie said...

My novels tend to come out in first person and my short stories in third - :)

Sometimes things will resolve themselves upon awakening, as if my brain fiddle dee dee'd while I slept!

Great post!

Holly said...

As a woman who's been a consultant for over 10 years, the whole regular hours thing long since fell by the wayside.

For me, it was teaching clients that there are limits...yes, I work from home, but I'm not on call 24/7. Well, not really.

On the other hand, I once felt compelled to complete a project, and faxed it over for review at 2:30 in the morning. Later the same morning, the client called to ask, "Did you really send that at 2:30?" "Yes I did," I answer. They couldn't get over that. I said, "Well, wasn't it nice to have it in your office first thing when you got in?" "Yeah, Holly, but geez, you need to get a life!"

Good client. Wise client. Favorite Client.

Barbara said...

Kathryn--I love it when my brain fiddle-dee-dees! Often in the shower, of all places...

Holly--LOL--I set boundries, too, but it's my own brain that won't shut up. I have yet to figure out how to tell it to get a life!! :p)

Alicia @ boylerpf said...

Well, I did make it to the end of the post and I'm no where near a writer! I just find it so very interesting coming from the mind of a writer as to how all evolves. We, as readers, just think this "stuff" just rolls off the the keyboard and is easy. Little do we know the voices that play havoc in the middle of the night!
Setting hours is the toughest thing to do when you run your own business..the same as writing. You are your own boss, set up your own hours. It may seem glamorous and carefree but is a double edged sword. No work, no gain!

Snap said...

I made it to the end of the post, too and like Alicia found it fascinating.

I used to have a boss who would call me at 2:30 or later in the wee small hours of the morning. I let him get away with it the first time, but the second time I said, "Dr.K, you may not need to sleep, but I do. This will have to wait until I see you tomorrow morning." It worked. He didn't call me again in the wee hours --- just scowled more ... guess he didn't have anyone to talk to!

Sarah said...

Wow wonder you teach too!! Wonderful post!!

I have characters speak to me..but have never gotten to the middle of writing a book - not that far along yet. So what goes on then is facinating - stike huh??

Reading this was kind of like looking at several steps of an art Wip - work in progress. A little look into your process - facinating hon!! Thank you!!
Love you, Sarah

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I agree -- all this "insider info" stuff is fascinating to those of us who don't write fiction! Lets us know what we're missing, LOL!

A Palmer said...

I echo Alicia's thoughts. I wouldn't begin to know how to write fiction, so it is very interesting to read how you think -especially knowing you for low these many years, and what actually goes on in that brain of yours. Love the conversations. Hugs.

Renee said...

Barb that seems like such hard work.

Too much thinking involved for me.

Love Renee xoxo

Hybrid J said...

A wonderful post on POV. :) When I first started to write, 1st person POV came very easy as it sprang from writing personal journal. Then when I got more into the technical aspect of writing, the 1st person POV became very problematic. Nonetheless, I followed my gut to choose the POV when working on 1st draft. POV changes came after re-writing.

And I want to stress that I'm still learning my craft hence the above is for sharing. You're the true master and I have lots to learn from your post. Thank you! ;)

Barbara said...

Alicia,Snap,Debra,Sarah,Anne and
Renee--You all made me laugh. And Anne, this IS what goes on in this weird brain of mine. Oy. Thanks for sticking with the post even though you guys have better things to ponder. It is kind of fun, though to know this stuff just as a reader. I really appreciate your comments!

HybridJ--I totally get you on the
1rst person thing. Very problematic, yet, people do it. I like 3rd myself. I find POV is hard for most new writers because it's so invisible as a reader. But once you start actually doing it, yikes! It's complicated. But I'll do more craft stuff now and then if people want it. Thanks for your comment!

clairedulalune said...

Hello Barbara! I am this type of person. In my head, the greatest love story ever, when i try and write my thoughts, mumbo jumbo. So glad to hear your thoughts on writing, i have an awful lot of work to do! I have left something on my blog for you!

Izzy 'N Emmy said...

I tried to write a book once. It was hard. lol! Kudos to you and all the hard work you put into your novels! :)