Tag Archives: character motivation

Who’s Driving Your Story?

I got in my truck this morning and my knees scraped against the underside of the dashboard and the steering wheel smashed into my ribs.  You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not–much.

You see, Dear Daughter drove my truck last, and she’s all of five foot nothin’. 

Writing is similar to driving.  One person must steer the car, but input can come from the passenger seat or even from a backseat driver. 

A story is typically about a central MC.  (Don’t freak on me, I said almost, not the absolute always.)  Sometimes the MC has a BFF that helps guide the events or a significant other waiting at the destination as motivation to not get lost along the way. 

Other times, characters and events can feel like a navigation system.  “Turn right here.”  These directions can send our characters on a clear and true path, lead them along the scenic route or nearly drive them off a cliff. 

In my humble opinion, it’s important to realize that stories unfold in a variety of ways depending on who’s behind the steering wheel.  Your MC’s personality plays an important role in how much or how little advice she’s willing to take along the way.

“I know, Mom” is my DD’s mantra when speeding up to a stop light and the car idling just in front of her bumper.  “Jeeze.  Let go of the door handle.”

There is no mistaking who drives the car when DD sits behind the wheel. 

Who drives your story?  Do events dictate your MC’s actions, does conflict detour your story line or does an end goal motivate your MC to push forward despite all obstacles? 

If we’re lucky, we have a healthy balance of all three.  If not, we are on a road trip from hell!

Forced Schedules: Writing Pitfall #27

As many of you know, we own an eccentric puppy.  To her, socks = crack.  When she eats too many she gets a tummy ache.  Being a highly vocal dog, she moans–yes, sick dogs moan just like sick husbands–and rolls around in her kennel, milking her discomfort for all it’s worth.

She’s also not housebroken yet.  I am.

Sock Dog is a finished hunting dog.   This means she came to us fully trained.  She brought all her year-old quirks with her as well.  The most frustrating is her complete lack of bathroom etiquette.  Having been kenneled outside throughout her short life, she could stop mid-anything to go potty.  She never learned that front yard grass is more appropriate to piddle on than a white living room carpet.

So, I get up from my writing at various intervals throughout the day to let her outside.  I stand in the yard and croon to her, begging her to please quit chasing ladybugs so we can go back inside.  And when she’s done, my “such-a-good-girl-go-potty” praises can be heard blocks away.

We tromp back in where she plops down on the carpet, curls her lips at me in contentment and heaves a huge sigh.  “Such-a-good-owner-I-got-you-trained.”

And she does.  I hate cleaning up piddle spots and she knows it.  I’ve created a schedule for her based on when I think she should go potty.  I’d love to hear her take on this, though I can guess based on the smug smirk she gives me as she dilly-dallies around and my muse begins to wander. 

Writers are also guilty of this forced scheduling.  We don’t want too many messes to clean up, so we direct our characters’ actions.  We steer them to perform the way we want them to in an attempt to tidy up all the loose ends and resolve the conflict.  We write what’s convenient, rather than allowing ourselves to be interrupted.

In other words, we intrude on the story and feed our characters the right info at the right time and unleash them outside when we deem they are ready–when it works for the plot.  Chapter 7, Chapter 16 and Chapter 23.

Sadly, we fall victim to Writing Pitfall #27.  The one where we are housebroken, not our manuscripts.  The one where we force the writing to perform on our timeframe rather than allow it to unfold naturally. 

Personally, I would prefer if Sock Dog whined to be let out instead of piddling on the floor minutes after I let her back in.  In this same way, I prefer to let my characters take the lead in the story.  I want an organic feel to my manuscripts.  Too often, I read stories that feel forced.  As if things happen because the author needs them to happen. 

I try really hard to practice what I preach.  At one point in my YA, my MC acted on her own behalf and dragged another character out the door with her. 

“Noooo!  What are you doing?” I shouted at her–I guess I’m vocal too.  I had no place for the drunk girl in my manuscript and I considered taking her out of the apartment altogether.

It wasn’t until after I let her stay that I realized my MC had remained true to her character.  She acted on her natural impulse rather than let me direct her actions via the delete key.  My story is much stronger because of it. 

So, dear friends, how do you write?  Do you follow a strict guideline to make sure you input all the proper info at exactly the right time, or do you allow the story to control the timing?  What are the pros and cons to each of these types of writing?  Is housebreaking a manuscript even a good thing or are we better off minimizing the chaos by adhering to a more structured form of writing?

Curious minds want to know.

Psychological Writing Series: Integrity

My absolute favorite quote comes from William Backus.  In TELLING EACH OTHER THE TRUTH, he writes:

“The concept behind personal integrity is wholeness. When a person is the same without as within, when what others know about him is the same truth he knows about himself, he has integrity.”
 
I love the poetry of these words and the very clear message they send.  Personal integrity is acting out what you believe and believing what you do.  It is honesty at its finest.
 
As a child, I distinctly remember The Summer.  The one where I got caught snarking behind someone’s back.  My sister and I were visiting rellies.  Our aunt and uncle took us to visit extended family on the other side of the relations. 
 
We’d done it before and I loved the experience.  Okay, I loved the bologna sandwiches my uncle’s dad made.  He put lettuce in them and it rocked my socks off.  What I didn’t love was my uncle’s little sister.  For the life of me, I can’t remember why.  Likely it was me being a booger and not through any fault of her own. 
 
Yet, this didn’t stop me from complaining about her to my sister–in private.  I guess I didn’t realize that hiding behind a camper in the dark wasn’t private, because my aunt over-heard and I got my rear end chewed.
 
I learned a valuable lesson that day.  If you don’t have the guts to say something to the person’s face, you have no business saying it at all.  Apparently I hadn’t taken Thumper’s mom seriously and needed to learn this through my own embarrassment and humiliation.
 
Integrity.  Who am I and does the inside match the outside?
 
Lack of integrity is probably the easiest conflict we can give our characters.  Learning it through the events of a story can help our characters change and grow.  Losing it can create more conflict than we have imaginations to capture on paper.
 
INTEGRITY QUESTIONS TO PONDER
  • Can a person have integrity and still be villainous, or does integrity always mean being good?
  • Do you agree with Mr. Backus and his definition of integrity?  If not, how would you change it?
  • Can you compromise your integrity and still have it?
  • What if you are better on the inside than you show the world?  If these two don’t match, can you still be considered as having integrity?  What if the opposite is true?
  • And does it really matter if you truly have integrity or just fake it?

I like the idea of wholeness in the characters I write.  It gives me boundaries to work with so I know how they will react much of the time.  For example: my current chapter book MC only believes in the facts.  Whimsy has no place in her life.  Therefore, when she’s asked a question, her answer is always the unadulterated truth.   Makes it easy for me as a writer…not so easy for her to live with the consequences.

In my young adult novel, my MC had ideals about who she was.  They didn’t match with what she showed the real world.  Striving to reach this place in her life drove her to seek painful answers.  Her desire for integrity (and self-preservation) motivated her. 

Likewise, the antagonist in my YA exuded a smooth exterior, yet was hideous on the inside.  To make his nasty deeds ring true, I had to show small fissures in his exterior all the way through.  The hints were subtle, but there.  In this way, readers are more willing to accept the outcome.

Good, bad or indifferent, writers must maintain consistency in their characters’ behavior.  By keeping in mind the wholeness that comes along with integrity, we can create strong characters with depth.  Also, when we challenge their personal integrity, we can ramp up the conflict within our stories on an internal level that rivals any external difficulties our characters may face.

How do you use integrity to create physical conflict for your characters?  How do you challenge your character’s inner sense of integrity?  What literary examples do you have of characters with strong integrity? 

Lastly, can a good character lack integrity?

Curious minds want to know.