Monday, August 30, 2010

What's My Motivation?

A while ago, I was watching a movie with My Twin Formerly Known As The Other One, and when the villain was on the urge of admitting that they were the Vile Betrayer, my sister said, "It'd be great if that character had reasons and motivations, instead of just being a bitch."

After about half a moment's consideration, I realized she had a point. We were watching a character betray everything they were supposed to value and stand for, and they never actually explained why. No one even so much as implied that he'd been offered vast sums of wealth in exchange for his efforts in this villainous plot.

Now, I don't know about most people, but I feel I'd certainly need a reason to suddenly start working for the powers of evil and darkness. In fact, generally speaking, I like to have a reason for pretty much anything I do. And while I won't cast myself as an expert on the human race, I'm going to go out on a limb there and say most people are the same way.

People have motivations. Characters, as mirrors of people, should have motivations as well. Tempting as it might be to have characters charge blindly in a certain direction simply for the entertainment value (and, I know, sometimes it's tempting), characters need to do things for a reason, otherwise your reader's going to be sitting there wondering, "I don't understand. If she has awesome control of the universe, why didn't she just cause the chocolate to appear before her, instead of going on a magical quest to Hershey, PA?" And then your reader's going to have a point. (I know, dashed inconvenient, isn't that?)

Plus, motivations keep your characters interesting. A well-motivated character will be able to do interesting things with impunity, because they'll make sense. And a well-motivated character is usually more interesting, because motivations derive from important events in a character's life, and these events flesh out the character.

Motivations are the whys of characters and their actions, and understanding these whys helps the reader understand a character's actions and you understand your character.

In my WIP, Cordamant's Heir, my MC, Amira, has to flee the country to escape murder charges. She flees west (the direction of my plot), instead of north. Why? Because she's got slight issues with, well, the entire country to the north. Why? That country instigated a war that led directly to her father's death. So she's not exactly interested in moving there for an indefinite period of time. Does she know this prejudice is unfair? Yes. Does she know this isn't the time to let her thinking be influenced by irrationality? Yes. Does she let herself be influenced anyway? Yes. Why? Because this is too deeply ingrained an emotion to be combated by simple logic alone. She's heading west, and she's doing it for her own reasons.

In Harry Potter (because life is also improved with a Harry Potter reference, and because I feel reasonably sure I can make it and be understood -- ooh, look, I have motivations), character motivations are very important. There's a running issue throughout the series based on Professor Snape's motivations for saving Harry in book 1, because Harry thinks Snape's motives are one thing, is told they were another, realizes he was in error about the other, and in the final book realizes he was just dead wrong about all the reasoning. But without Snape's being motivated to keep Harry alive, Harry would have died in book 1, and there'd be no other books, and wouldn't that be sad for all of us? Oh, and Snape's motivations for keeping Harry alive were also his reasons for being in the Order in the first place, and for teaching at the school, and for hating James, and for serving Dumbledore so faithfully. Gosh those motives were integral.

Motives are useful. They explain your character and their actions to both the reader and the writer. They create the internal logic of the story, so that things don't seem to be happening willy-nilly. They are the answer to the ever present "why?".

Do you ever find yourself reading/watching/listening/observing a situation in which a character has no distinct or readily apparent motivation but instead seems to be acting at random? How does this make you feel? How far are you willing to follow a character of no apparent motivation?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Please Don't Slap Me In The Face.

Some of you who've been here a very long time (and if you have, I do really appreciate it, and if you haven't, that's okay, this'll just feel fresher for you), will know that I have expressed this sentiment before.

Last time I experienced this, it was a YA-Contemporary book that did a 180 in the middle of the text and suddenly became a book about vampires. All I could think was, "Umm... what the what?" because I felt like that had been sprung on me from out of nowhere.

This time, it occurred in an Adult Contemporary book that shall remain nameless because I'm about to give away the end. See, about five pages before this book, which had been uniquely told but definitely a solid contemporary clearly grounded in modern day Paris with absolutely no funny business going on, all of a sudden, this character, who'd been there the entire time, turned out to be dead. Yep, he'd been alive in the beginning, but he'd died halfway through the book, and the MC had just been hallucinating him this entire rest of the time.

I would probably have chucked the book against the wall at that point except I was reading the book on my laptop and Jessica (yes, she has a name) is just too precious to me to be tossed around like that. Seriously, though, I felt like the author had slapped me in the face with that ending, and a large part of me wanted to return the favor.

There's a reason I take umbrage with this sort of ending. It's not what you think. It's not even about my strong feelings about needing a good ending (which I've made so apparent, I don't even think I need to bother linking to them anymore).

I object because I think this sort of storytelling is both lazy and unfair to the reader.

It's lazy, because, to me, slamming a reader in the face like that just makes me feel like the author couldn't be bothered to at least drop in subtle clues along the way. If the author leaves a trail of inconsequential seeming bread crumbs, then when the big turn about comes, the reader can have the satisfaction of feeling all the pieces fall into place and seeing a bigger picture they hadn't even noticed. If the writer just whacks you with something, it makes me feel like they didn't make the effort to put the picture together.

It also strikes me as unfair to the reader, not only because they made the effort to read the book, so it's nice to make the effort to make it a good book, but because you left the reader out entirely. Reading is active process wherein the reader is in a give and take with the author. The author puts out clues, and the reader picks them up. The reader makes guesses, and the author either confirms them or not. If you do a 180, slam in the face, pull the rug out from under you routine, you haven't been letting the reader play along. They'll be sitting there wondering, "But... wait... where were my bread crumbs...." And then they'll feel sad and left out, and they'll go cry in a corner. (At least, that's what the imaginary reader in my head is doing, but she just doesn't like not being included in things. Maybe your imaginary reader has more spine and just gets very, very mad.)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking plot twists. I love them. I love being surprised by a book. I'm just saying it should be done well. If you look at a truly great twist, it's never a 180. It's more like a 105. Some things are reverting from what you previously expected, but the rules of the game have not changed, and if you think about it, there were all those signs, you just didn't notice them.

In Harry Potter, for example, when you find out that it's really Quirrel and not Snape who is in league with Voldemort/The Dark Lord/He Who Must Not Be Named, you're really surprised. Then you fall to the ground, groan, and say, "Oh, how did I miss that? There were so many signs?" Because it's not a 180 there. It's a 105.

How do you feel about 180s? Ever felt like you got slapped in the face by an author? How did that make you feel?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gender Neutral?

The other day, I was chilling in my local used book store when I overheard a woman trying to find some books for her son. Well, since I'm the person who secretly wishes she worked in a bookstore (no, seriously, I want to get a job in a certain bookstore to stage a coup and reorganize their shelving system), and because I had free time and no life, I went over and offered her to help her find one.

Yes, for the record, my mother did tell me not to talk to strangers, but I think I'm mature enough to protect myself from random abduction by women in a bookstore who've never met me. (Any young people who've found their way onto this site, listen to your parents and don't take candy from strangers.)

During my conversation with this woman about the sort of books she was looking for for her son, we ended up on the topic of the limited availability of books for teen guys. The woman to whom I was speaking expressed the view that this was because the publishing industry was out to emasculate all guys and "take the boy out of the boy."

Now, I'm among the first to cede that there aren't enough books printed these days for guy readers. On the other hand, I'm rather inclined to believe that this is an entirely capitalist decision on their part, in that guys make up a smaller portion of modern readerships and therefore there are fewer books needed to fill the smaller economic niche, rather than that this is part of a subversive social scheme to feminize the youth of America.

Captain Film Major will probably hunt me down and kill me for admitting this online, but when we were kids, he listened to the Princess Diaries books on tape the same time my sister and I did, and I would never describe Captain Film Major as emasculated. (Because he'd want it known, I will also say, in defense of his macho standing, that he has never read The Twilight Saga. Or, to my knowledge, anything by Ally Carter.)

I've listened to Lord of the Rings on CD, and I worship Ender's Game, and I would rather like to start handing Percy Jackson and the Olympians out to complete strangers on the streets. These are all books by guys, about guys, pretty much for guys. In the case of the first two examples, almost every die hard fan I've met has been a guy. And you know what, I don't feel femasculated (or whatever word people are using these days to feel express someone being rendered less feminine).

Would it be nice if there were more books written by guys and about guys and for guys these days? Yeah, probably. It'd be kind of cool, in my view, if when I met an aspiring author under the age of 25, they had a Y chromosome. Male MC YA, there could definitely be more of that.

Are these books full of female MCs and all the female oriented YA out there emasculating our youth and "taking the boy out of the boy"? I think not. If what we read literally made us who we were, I'd be wandering around in a corset or an earwig, or expecting some villain to attack me with his minions/buggers/swords of death. I know tons of guys who read, and contact with books -- even books by girls about girls for girls -- didn't turn any of them into women.

How do you feel the wash of female-drive youth reading material effects today's youth? Do we need more books for young guys?

Monday, August 23, 2010

In Which I Come Out In Favor Of Sleep

Okay, here's my deal: I write at night.

This is not always true, but generally speaking, when I do my writing, it's at night before I go to bed. This could have some detrimental effects on my writing. Probably, when I do my edits, I will find, at random points, comments like "I wish I had a Diet Coke" interspersed in the text, instead of, you know, what I actually meant. It's certainly detrimental for my health, because writing at night seems to give me that "I wish I had a Diet Coke" urge, and, according to my dentist, that's an urge I should be suppressing at all cost.

I fully recognize that my writing at night is quite likely at fault for what I'm about to say, but I'll say it anyway, because, I guess, there's a good chance it's true for other people. (Or, maybe I just think I'm the center of the universe. That's also the option. But I'll pretend I'm more modest than that, because, well, one does try.)

Once I finish my writing for the day, I do some reading, and then I embark on one of my favorite activities: sleep.

But, as I'm laying down to sleep, some cruel creature in my unconscious (who is, as yet, unnamed. Which is a shame, because creatures like this should have names. Super Subconscious Man? Meh. I'll work on it...), some cruel creature in my unconscious -- name TBD -- appears and says in a maliciously whiny voice, "Hello, can we discuss that outrageous plot hole you have forming about fifteen feet in front of you?" And if I try to tell it to shove off, it says something along the lines of, "Fine, I'll just go sit over here and watch you fall into it tomorrow. I'll laugh. It'll be a treat. I hope there are alligators in the bottom to eat you."

Yeah, my subconscious is a peach.

This is, as it turns out, though, somewhat useful. It means that while I'm lying awake at night, trying to fall asleep -- and I have spent a lot of my life trying to fall asleep -- I can also get some work done. Thinking, planning, and other things I like to pretend I'm above doing. (Thinking, as it would turn out, is necessary. None of us is immune.) (Wouldn't it be great, though, if you didn't have to think and plan? Just sit down and scrawl out a perfect MS. But, as it turns out, I don't have those mad skills. If you do, drop me a line and let me know. I'm more than happy to admit I'm crazy jealous.)

I don't think I'm the only one this happens to. I've been told the unconscious mind is wicked powerful, that it'll come up with things while you're daydreaming, real dreaming, or just bumming around that have your conscious mind totally stumped. Even if it's cruel in the way it does it, you have to admire some of the results.

That's why I'm in favor of sleep. It's rests your body, improves your immune system, and makes your writing that much better. Plus it's unbelievably nice. What's not to love?

What has sleep done for you lately? When/where do you do most of your writing/thinking/maniacal scheming?

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Haiku Blogfest

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am participating in the Haiku Blogfest started by Stephanie Thornton. And you should, too. You know why?

Haikus are awesome,
Even if they don't make sense.

(I stole that from a t-shirt.)

I wrote my haiku about the character DiSpirito from The Thief Book. Don't judge me too much on the poetry.

An open Catholic.
A mother to pickpockets.
Wanted housebreaker.

It should be noted, I am bad at haikus, but I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I don't normally interrupt my intended blog post ideas to talk about a movie -- okay, as far as any of you know, I don't generally interrupt my planned posts ever. On the blog, I can maintain a pleasant delusion that my whole life is entirely on purpose, and wouldn't that be lovely if it were true, but it isn't -- but I am interrupting my plans to talk about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Yes, because I saw it on Tuesday night, and it was just that good.

When Captain Film Major first made me watch all the trailers -- yes, I'm reasonably sure he made me watch them all and here is commentary -- my initial reaction was, "This looks like a manga."

And why was that? Because it was based on a manga. Admittedly, I haven't read the manga yet, but I fully intend to check it out. (Yes, I read manga, and I refuse to be ashamed. ^_^ )

My second reaction: I must see this movie. The part that swayed me? Most likely that part in the trailer when he gets a life. (In case you're wondering, 2 minutes in. Go on, watch it. I'll wait.)

(No, seriously, I'll wait.)

When I get to the cinema, during the first 1.5 minutes, when you first see the blending of manga style and traditional film style, I first thought, "Oh, no, it's going to be a train wreck." Then, it smoothed out. By the end, they seemed to be blending the best of both styles. You got the humor of the cartoonish style and the chance to violate reality, and you also got the flow of movement not always present in manga and, let's face it, a bit more reality than is present in some things based on a manga series. (Yay for emotional continuity!)

Overall: This might actually constitute a 5 out of 5 stars, and I don't give those out often as you'd think. 5/5 :)
Cleanness: Minor swearing, light sexuality. I'd take a 13-year-old cousin to see this.
Violence: Minimal. That present is cartoonized. Zero gore. If a kid can hack Mario, they should be fine.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thief Book 3.0

On Saturday, I finished Draft 3 of the Thief Book. (Finally, a full fledged draft. Usually, they get hinky numbers like Draft 2.5. But that's a story for another time.) I'm happy.

This Draft is, in my mind, a significant improvement over the old draft. I expunged the melodrama in Chapter 3, broke Chapter 3 into two chapters to save it from being painfully long, and replaced the last 3k with an ending that didn't scream at the top of its lungs "I'm trying too hard!!!"

A step up from the last draft where I cut 38k, three characters (including one I'd intentionally written into the text), and changed the entire ending, this kept more than I tossed. I cut 5k, replaced a bit over 2k, and 3 scenes, each to replace with a smaller moment in a different scene. It certainly hurt a lot less this time around.

This might be, dare I say it, locked. Not that there won't be some tweaking with word choice and such things, but I think I've got the plots/events and emotional arcs set the way I like them. For the first time, I'm not setting the draft down for a break with a lingering, niggling sensation of something not being right. (Or, you know, having a whole list of things that need to be fixed.) I think I've finally hewn my wood into the proper shape, as it were. I'm feeling that good about it.

How are you guys coming along with your WIPs?

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I admit it, sometimes when I'm doing a quick-shot fact check for my writing, I consult Wikipedia. 'What forms of casts were used prior to 1840? Oh, Dextrin. That's nice. What'll that do to Maggie? Can't move her arm for a few hours? Oh, well, that's fine.' 'When exactly did they invent steamrollers anyway?' 'Just how likely is my MC to die suddenly from a snakebite? And the stuff that she did to fix it? That made it worse? Oops. My bad...' That sort of thing. But, as anyone who spends a lot of Wikipedia knows, it's a black hole that sucks you into an info vortex from which there is no escape.

Who hasn't encountered this situation:

I know I'm not the only one that happens to.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Easy Button Endings.

While I was in Canada, I had the chance to see the play Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare. Overall, it was a good production of a play I'd call mediocre at best. (Sorry, Bill, I'm sure you tried. Still, you've done better.)

Really, this issue with Two Gents (and this will be delicately phrased to avoid spoilers) is the ending. In the middle of a scene of tremendous drama and conflict (or at least potential drama and conflict), there's a short pause wherein every character who is justifiably ticked off at one of the two gents just magically decides -- all at the same time, mind you -- that never mind, they're not mad anymore. As far as I'm concerned, someone might as well have hit an easy button in the hopes of wrapping the nonsense up quickly.

My objection to Easy Button Endings is quite simple: they're ridiculous.

Let me expand on that point before anyone gets offended. I know that claim sounds harsh, but I tend to find that any ending that wraps up ever single issue in the story in a single scene (especially in a very short scene) is radically oversimplifying human emotions or bypassing several perfectly legitimate reactions and responses a character could (and probably would) make in the hopes of creating a simple and neat solution.

I firmly believe that endings are the most important part.

(Yes, I had to invoke Secret Window. Always. If only because Johnny Depp is awesome.)

Therefore, when I see someone do something like this, or as I'd probably call it, blow the ending, I find myself tempted to drop the book and gripe to whoever's on hand (to the Other One's unending joy).

Endings should be good. They should be interesting, inventive, reasonable (read: physically possible and sense-making), and they should reflect the way these characters and, you know, actual humans might respond in the given situation.

For example, if a many tries to murder his girlfriend with an ax, most women would not leap at the chance to take that man back. If a character has a deathly phobia of spiders, she probably won't be carrying one in her purse just in time for it to come into play in the final scene.

If they ending doesn't work, the reader is going to feel very frustrated. And, as far as I'm concerned, they'll have a right to, because many readers (myself included) read for a resolution of some sort. They did their share of the work by reading the whole book, and it's only fair that the writer should do their share and write an ending worth getting to.

That, in my opinion, means taking the time to resolve the plot and resolve it in a way that makes sense and flows in terms of logic, the laws of physics, and human emotions.

I, myself, have occasionally been guilty of an Easy Button Ending. I'm editing the Thief Book and am scrapping the last 4.5 pages, because I took the easy way out and wrote an Easy Button Ending. I'd gotten tired, and the MS was running long, so I slapped an ending on there that doesn't logically track or make sense for the world of my story. Bad me. I shouldn't do that to a reader.

Do you share my frustration with Easy Button Endings? Do you not mind them? Have you ever felt like a writer was using an Easy Button to wrap it all up? Do you own an Easy Button? Do you share my love of Johnny Depp?

Back From Canada

I am back in the States! Technically, I arrived at 1am Monday morning, but I chose sleep, unpacking, and laundry over blogging. Not that I don't love you guys and all, but some things had to take priority, such as brain function and wearable clothes. But, thankfully, I'm back.

Those of you who weren't living in my house a week and change ago (and, thankfully, that's none of you, to the best of my knowledge, or that would be slightly creepy. Yes, even if you are a sparkly vampire secretly and desperately in love with me, or desperately in love with my blood, that too. That would still be creepy) probably don't realize how big an accomplishment getting my whole family from one country to another and back turned out to me.

The night before my little US contingent of the clan was supposed head to Canada to meet with the rest of the clan, we went to the airport at around 11pm to pick up The Other One and Captain Film Major who'd been in Chicago. When we got the home, my mother performed the obligatory passport check, to which my sister replied something along the lines of "Ohmygod."

That's when we began searching high and low for said passport. Couldn't find it. (For the record, we still haven't. Oh, Other One, you're lucky I love you.) Three hours of searching, and five plus calls to various consulates to check out passport laws, we changed travel plans so that The Other One and my father would drive to Toronto and catch a different flight to reunite with the clan. Oh, the plans people create at 3am.

Turns out, when you're carrying a freaking ton of ID, you can get across a border with only minor difficulty. Though, of course, when my Dad told the story to the family -- which has apparently expanded to include relations I didn't know I even had--, it involved a detention facility, rubber hoses, and the concept of Good Mountie/Bad Mountie. (It's okay if you want to take this moment to contemplate what a Bad Mountie would look like. I couldn't quite picture it.) Still, I guess the storytelling value is what counts.

Getting back into the country was much easier. I personally voted for trying to smuggle The Other One in in a duffel bag, but that plan got shouted down. Pity, since I thought that would have been a nice story. Of course, there was also the option where she committed a felony so she could be extradited back to the US. That did get some momentary discussion. But she's back in the US, and legally too. We're so happy.

Hope you've all had an interesting week. :) What've you been up to? Any Mountie stories?

Monday, August 2, 2010


Hello all.

For the next week, I'll be in Canada visiting my family and traveling a little. Really, it's a great country. It's got my fabulous extended family, $2 coins (the awesomeness and convenience of which should not be underestimated), and great theater. (Possible downside is that the place I'm going supposedly has mosquitoes the size of dogs. I'm not looking forward to being attacked by one of those, and I just know I will be. I'll let you know how that one goes. ;D )

The real downside here is that I'll be away from the Internet for most of the time, so I probably won't be spending much time in the blogosphere. So, I'm declaring a temporary blogcation.

See you when I get back. :-)