Sunday, April 23, 2006

JENNY: Mare, Day Whatever

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.


Anonymous bon cheri bomb said...

Excelent thoughts, Jenny, thank you. Glad to see you're not too tired to be coherent. Is Bob giving this talk at nationals? I'll have to check the schedule.


April 23, 2006 8:27 AM  
Anonymous naked under my clothes said...

It will be interesting to see how you work through Mare's choices, Jenny. Traditionally, having power always requires giving up something else, whether it's giving up earthly connections to be closer to the spiritual or giving up ambition to be closer to family (or vice versa). That choice is required sucks in and of itself, but maybe not enough.

Thanks to all three of you for the chance to watch you working!

April 23, 2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger Brooke said...

There's something called the quarter-life crisis - hits in your 20s, much like a mid-life crisis where you're trying to figure out what your role is in life and where you're going.

Because really, you're just getting used to the whole being-an-adult thing. People face it in different ways - some rush to get married, some rush to a career, and some just watch all their friends doing these things that *seem* well-advised but in fact are mad grabs for whatever claim to adulthood they can lay their hands on.

So maybe if your antagonist is mid-life (?), Mare could be going through that. It's a weird time, very unsettled.

April 23, 2006 9:28 AM  
Anonymous Diane said...

And a lot of the reason there is tension between "sucky" and "suckier" is that you can never have enough information to know (for certain) which is which beforehand.

Which is why a lot of choices are made by default.

I may have to develop a mantra that reminds me to be more proactive...

April 23, 2006 11:14 AM  
Anonymous ArkansasCyndi said...

I want y'all to know I sat by Jenny during Debra Dixon's talk and she was taking notes...she wasn't gaslighting you in the post!
JC - this post did an excellent job of summarizing that part of Deb Dixon's talk and helped me organize some thoughts about with my heroine, who is giving me trouble right now!
Good presentation today at Desert Dreams.

April 23, 2006 9:33 PM  
Blogger inkgrrl said...

Thanks for the book recommend - I've learned to trust you implicitly about such things ;-) Just wish I could have been there to hear the lecture in person!

April 24, 2006 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Kay T said...

OMG, at San Diego conference during the workshops we were also doing "what is heroine's goal" and adjective.noun thing, and my heroine's goal was to "get out of town to be free/happy!" Completely different setting, story, etc. but I was not particularly happy with it as a goal either. In a later workshop there was a summary of Scarlett O'Hara's goal - headstrong young woman wants to be happy at any cost. I guess there are only so many ways of saying that! Ha!

April 24, 2006 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny, I've always found that when a person has a need to control something -- their own life, another person, various situations -- there's fear lurking underneath somewhere causing that need. Just something to think about.

Thanks for mentioning the "Why HER? Why NOW?" questions, as well as the "sucky and suckier" choices. This immediately clarified something I've been struggling with in my WIP.


April 25, 2006 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Plantgirl said...

I love reading about these issues of motivation & character. It's changing how I read books, and how I think about writing. Thank you so much for sharing.

April 27, 2006 5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you for posting these. I always feel like I'm not grapsing all the straws with it comes to GMC, and therefore my story's heading for muck-ville.


June 06, 2006 10:07 AM  

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