February 17, 2011

A Writing Epiphany, Plus Links

I don't always post thoughts about writing as much as I really should--I often leave those for my personal blog, reasoning that it's mostly semi-coherent stream-of-consciousness meandering anyway, and we're professionals around here.

Today I'm saying nuts to that, because I can't help sharing yesterday's epiphany.

I've often wondered why it is that I seem to follow a particular pattern when plotting and planning my stories: I'll start working on setting and characters, coaxing the seed of an idea into something a little less formless, and then, as I start to write the beginning and take notes about the middle, I'll suddenly have these exciting ideas about the climax and endpoint that I didn't have back when I was in the exclusively notetaking stage. Then, it's a matter of finding my way from Point A to Point, um, D.

I'm back in that exciting, bottom-dropping-out-of-my-stomach stage of first-drafting, working on a brand-new project, and yesterday morning I had a realization about WHY the above strategy, or method, or whatever, ends up being the case for me when I write. Writers, remember all that stuff about the importance of knowing what your character wants, what motivates him/her, what is at stake for him/her? I think what happens for me is this: once I start writing a scene from a character's viewpoint, with their desires and motivations in mind...(here's the part that makes me feel like a jerk)...then I become much clearer on what the character has to lose over the course of the story's events.

If they want X, then part of my job as author, in order to create tension, is to come up with plot events that thwart them in their achievement of X. And, if they really, really LOVE something, then a great climactic moment for the story would be the actual or apparent or even partial loss of whatever that thing is that they love. All you need to do is start with that character's drive, their desires, what would make them happy and comfortable, and then take it away or make it somehow difficult or impossible to achieve. Plot events will arise from that, as long as you've got your characters and setting, your backdrop, in place.

What cruel, cruel puppetmasters we writers are...

Aside from all that writerly stuff, here are a few interesting links that came my way lately. Firstly, an article from the New York Times that's very timely with respect to the release of The Latte Rebellion--it's called "Race Remixed: Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above," and one of the author's assertions is that "Many young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting the color lines that have defined Americans for generations in favor of a much more fluid sense of identity." I'm not entirely convinced by everything the author puts forward in this piece, but it's excellent food for thought, and brings an important topic up for discussion.

Speaking of the NYT, via the Expression Online newsletter, I learned that they've named a new children's book editor for their Book Review section: Pamela Paul, a nonfiction author in her own right who has worked in the past for Scholastic. In Publishers Weekly, she says she "hopes to give children’s books more attention on the Times’ Web site," which seems like a very good thing.

Lastly, we're very glad that fellow authors Bruce Coville and Elizabeth Levy made it safely out of Cairo during the tumult of the past weeks!


Maggie Desmond-O'Brien said...

Perhaps this makes me sound like a jerk, but I love it when authors make their characters suffer. That was my problem with the Twilight books - did any one of those characters really have to give something up? Ever? Characters suffering is what keeps me turning pages. =)

The NYT article is great, too!

tanita✿davis said...

Dear Puppetmaster,
Please don't hurt us.
Signed, your frightened characters

Heh, heh.

Yeah, I think that this is going to be something I write on the backs of my hands during this ongoing revision: BE MEAN! BE MEAN! BE MEAN! Hard to believe, but it's an EFFORT. I mean, I have to TRY.

(Yeah, I know. You thought it came naturally. I exude that effortlessness.)

Anonymous said...

Hard-hearted, bloodthirsty wench! LOL

Loved this post. And your epiphany. And your helpful tips.