Clearly writing and book tours don’t mix, much as sleeping and book tours don't mix. OTOH, writing conferences and planning a book can be pretty good. I went to two lectures by pals yesterday and started to noodle around with Mare’s plot again and discovered that I never actually nailed that plot down and that there was a lot about her character that I hadn’t realized.
The first workshop was Deb Dixon’s GMC. Every time I take this class, I learn something more, it’s just so full of good stuff. There were three things that struck me this time in conjunction with Mare;
Deb asks, "Why her? Why now?"
We set this up that the sisters’ “why now?” is because the antagonist is coming to town, but it made me think, Why is the antagonist coming to town NOW? What event happened in the antagonist’s life to inspire buying a plane ticket? Because whatever it is, I want to echo it in Mare’s “Why now?” so that even if the answers are two different events, they echo or parallel or reverse each other. A classic that won’t work here would be one is starting menopause and is having her first hot flash and the other has started puberty and is having her first period. That won’t work for this book—Mare is in her early twenties—but it’s the kind of thing I’m looking for.
Even bigger for Mare, though, is “Why her?” We started with the premise of the three sisters with a single antagonist, a really good way to start, but I never broke Mare out of the sisterhood to consider her solo plot. Why is Mare the character who drives her plot? What is she driving toward? If I know why the antagonist is hitting town now (and I think I do), why is it Mare’s turn at bat? Why her? Why now?
The second thing was Deb’s brilliant description of the protagonist’s choices as “sucky” and “suckier.”
As she explains, if your protag’s choice are “sucky” and “good,” there’s not much tension in the choice. Bob talks about this in a slightly different way; he says that in training they’d be given a lose/lose choice: neither choice would get them a win. He said watching people make those choices told a lot about who they were. So if Mare’s goal is to get out of town so that she can live freely (a goal I am not completely thrilled with) she needs to have choices (“I’m trapped here forever” won’t work) but they have to be sucky and suckier. I’m thinking in one she can stay with her sisters and not use her powers and in the other she can leave her sisters and probably not use her powers, although that last one seems a little contrived. Neither is really sucky enough. So I have to work on the sucky/suckier choice thing.
The third one is the one I love because every time I do this for a character, I learn something, Deb calls it the Dominant Impression, and it’s a pretty easy exercise: you label your character with an adjective and a descriptive noun. (Deb explains this much better in her GMC Goal Motivation Conflict book which is EXCELLENT.)
One approach to the descriptive noun is the character’s occupation, so for Mare I tried “Determined Party-Giver” since she’s in charge of events at the video store where she works. That didn’t help much although it’s a fair description of her as she’s written now. But then Deb gives an example to work with: Your character is driving down the street and hits a squirrel. Now describe the character. And I got “Guilty Driver.” That is, Mare would feel guilty about what happened, but she wouldn’t stop to save the squirrel because she’d figure any squirrel that got hit by a ton of vehicle would be gathering nuts in squirrel heaven anyway. She’d feel bad, but she’d keep on driving. And I realized that “driving” perfectly describes the way Mare moves through life. It’s as if she’s got AWD and big tires and she just keeps going, bumping over people in her path, feeling bad for them but driven to get to where she’s going. She’s not cruel, but she is self-directed, even self-centered. I really like that whole “driver” thing, especially since Crash works with motorcycles but seems to be ambling through life instead of driving. There’s got to be something lurking in there that’s part of the understructure of the story.
So thank you Deb Dixon, and everybody should buy Goal, Motivation, Conflict
Then I went to Bob Mayer’s class on character, another one I’ve seen before, and heard him talk about the Trait/Need/Flaw progression.
Bob’s example: The character’s trait is “Loyalty,” because the character’s need is “To Be Trusted,” which leads to the character’s flaw, “Gullibility.”
So Mare’s trait is “Determination” because her need is “To Control Her Life” which means her flaw is “Self-Centered Blindness.” I think.
But she has other traits. She is loyal, she is strong, she is compassionate, she is smart, she is lonely, she is frustrated . . . So I have some work to do there.
And finally Bob asked the question that I always forget to ask and that’s crucial to determining if the stakes are high enough: What happens if the protagonist fails? Or in my case, “What happens if Mare fails?” And the answer is, not enough as it stands. In the climax, huge things will happen if Mare fails, but in the beginning, there really aren’t any consequences sufficient to drive her through the story because her goal is so weak: To get out of the small town where they’re living and use her powers freely. To which the reader says, “So go.”
And then I have to do all of this with Crash. But it’s such good stuff, it’s tightening things up so well, plus it’s stuff I can do on a plane, so I’m making progress. Also, I love this book.
And a big thank you to the Desert Dreams conference for bringing in Deb and Bob.