So far, Goal, and a little Motivation…

October 4, 2012

Well, I started reading through Debra Dixon’s “Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” this morning. It’s not a long book – a hundred and sixty-some pages, eleven chapters and a few appendices. I’m already finished the first two chapters – an introduction, and the chapter about goals. And I’m about halfway through chapter three, about motivations. (You only get one guess what chapter four is 😉 )

So far, it’s great stuff. The one thing I’m slightly disappointed in is that Debra doesn’t try to give a long example list of possibilities for character goals etcetra, but what she’s doing is at least as good – she gives some in-depth examples from touchstone movies like The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca, and a lot of helpful guidelines about what a goal needs to DO to be effective, why they work and why they might not, and so on. I’m learning a lot and loving it.

And my Nanowrimo idea is starting to come together already. I’m thinking of doing a science fiction YA story about a teenager living on a distant planet, who finds out that his parents have mortgaged his life to a corporation to finance their little souvenir stand; if they don’t pay off the loan by his eighteenth birthday, he’ll have to go up out of the tunnels to the forbidding planetary surface and work for the Corporation there. And he doesn’t believe his parents can raise the money in time, so he has to do it himself. That’s a strong goal, right? He’s motivated by not wanting to die young, working for the Corporation, and dreaming of doing more with his life, seeing the galaxy. There’s urgency, because if he can’t raise the money in time, the corporation doesn’t have to sell him his freedom.


Still waiting for Goal, Motivation, and Conflict

September 28, 2012

As I mentioned, I really enjoyed the Dragon*Con panel by Debra Dixon about ‘Goal, Motivation, and Conflict’ and it reinforced a belief that I already had that this was stuff I needed to understand more to take my writing to the next level. I didn’t rush right home and order Debra’s book, but I remembered to place my order over two weeks ago.

And I haven’t heard anything since, which is starting to make me feel jumpy. I sent back an email inquiry today, just wondering if they had any news on shipping or when I could expect delivery.

I want to have a while to read this book and let the big ideas sink in, then start using them to figure out what I’m writing this year for Nanowrimo. And time is starting to draw somewhat short – there are only a couple days left in September, after all.

Is anybody else feeling anxious about Nanowrimo already? I’m not usually jumpy about it, but between the GMC thing, which isn’t an approach that I’ve used before, (though I remember being exciting about snowflaking my Nano too,) and signing up as an ML, I’m both really excited and nervous about chomping more than I can chew this time.


Goal + Motivation + Conflict =…

July 25, 2012

In going over what I learned at the workshop in Kansas, I keep coming back to something that I heard about on a Storywonk podcase – Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. It’s a good concept about how to make your narrative craft better, and I think that’s where I need to be focusing some of my attention in what’s left of this summer, possibly in connection with Camp Nanowrimo August. But I’m also not sure where to go or what to do to hone that aspect of my craft.

I’ve done a Google search on those terms, and found a bunch of interesting stuff, but unfortunately a lot of it seems to be pretty superficial – defining the terms, going into a few details about how to use them, but stopping at a screenful of information – which is about the right level of info to absorb in a blog post, but most of these places all have just about the same screenful, which is frustrating when I want to dig deeper. For the record:

  • Goal – what your character needs to have, concretely.
  • Motivation – why he needs it, on a more personal level.
  • Conflict – who or what prevents him from getting it. (Or her.)

Have you heard of these terms? Can you suggest a course that I can take, or a website where I can really delve into the mysteries of GMC, preferably with exercises and worksheets and lots of crunchy examples? 😉


‘Out of Media Res’ transitions

May 28, 2012

So, I dove into reading Jim Butcher’s “Grave Peril” this morning. I’d dipped my toe into the book back in late March, reading a bit from the first chapter, and didn’t get any further because I was trying to catch up on Elizabeth Twist’s short story challenge and just getting to some of the good parts of ‘Game of Thrones.’ So this morning, pulling out my Kindle on the bus, I started from the beginning again.

It’s an exciting opening, with Harry Dresden and a holy knight going to a big Chicago hospital to save some babies from a formidable ghost. And then, just at the most exciting part of the scene… we find out that it was an ‘In Media Res’ opening, starting in the middle of the action, or at least a point after the chronological beginning of the narrative.

A lot of the time when you have an IMR opening, it’s fairly obvious, but this one snuck up on me, partly because it wasn’t a trick Butcher had used in the previous Harry Dresden books. (Incidentally, this is also the first that I’m not reading in audiobook format, so it’s somewhat odd the way James Marsters’ voice is sticking with me, giving life to Harry’s words inside my head.) I knew that there were a few things going on that had to be explained about how Harry and Michael Carpenter got where they were, but hadn’t actually clued in that there would be flashback scenes to go along with the explanation, or that this was a flash-forward scene.

So I’ve started thinking about the moment when you come out of ‘In Media Res’, and transition back to the chronological beginning of the story. Sometimes, with a narrator in a book, he actually tells you ‘But wait, I’m going to have to back up a bit…’ or something of that sort. In a movie or television episode, there might be nothing to signal the transition but a bare caption: “23 and a half hours earlier…”

What are your favorite ‘In Media Res’ openings? Were you taken by surprise, or did you know that they were using the In Media Res technique from the start? How did they handle the transition back in time?


Stretch goals versus the history of success

May 7, 2012

There’s an email from Holly Lisle – something from her ‘Holly’s Tips’ newsletter, that’s been sitting in my Gmail inbox for just over a month, and bugging me the whole time. In it, Holly tells a story from her past as a newbie writer, and how she set an incredible goal for her writing output in a fit of super-motivation. That didn’t really work out so well for herself, she wasn’t producing her best work and wasn’t loving it, and on some advice from an agent she lowered her goals. The lesson learned, she tells me, is to set your goals to what you already know you can achieve and thus create ‘A History of Success.’

Now, I’ve learned many lessons about goal setting myself, and I can understand where Holly’s coming from. Setting truly Herculean targets for yourself and failing to come near then could crush anybody’s spirit, and for some people, setting achievable targets, and then, as she says, “writing extra for the sheer joy of doing it” might be the best way to self-motivate. If your motivation is completely proportional to the level of success you feel, then why not?

Myself, I’m not always like that. For one thing, I don’t always blow past my limits just because I feel the joy. Sometimes I might, and sometimes I might be lazy and say “Okay, I’m done for the month now.” More importantly, I don’t always feel discouraged because I’ve set a big goal and don’t quite reach it. It isn’t too hard to turn that around and say “So – I didn’t finish a Holly Lisle lesson in April, or clean as much of my apartment as I hoped. And I didn’t quite finish reading my fiction slushpile that I wanted to have done by now. But I got my summer workshop situation sorted out, I won Script Frenzy, and I rocked the A to Z challenge!”

That’s the beauty of the stretch goal. It gives me all the motivation of setting really high targets for myself, but I don’t have to get down on myself for not going all the way when time’s up, because I was stretching myself. Sometimes I’m stretchier than I thought, and sometimes I’m stiffer than I’d like to be. (Especially my knee – ouch. 😦 ) And I may not be creating a history of success the Holly Lisle way, but I’m looking forward to finding out what I’ll achieve in May!

How about you. Would you rather build up a history of success with goals you know that you can reach, or try a stretcher with me? I’d love to hear from you whichever answer you have. And a big shout out to Elizabeth Twist, whose post on ‘Permission to Fail’ and the Story-a-day-in-May challenge nudged me into finally writing this. Good luck, Elizabeth!


Not blogfesting today – again.

February 10, 2012

I’d hoped to join into the I’m hearing voices blogfest late with a flash fiction, but it was a long day at work and I just don’t think I’m up for a flash fiction now, sigh. (So much for the promise that we’d get to go home early on Friday, sigh.)

But I’ve been thinking about emotion in short stories lately, mostly because of my still-untitled story in progress. (Maybe I’ll call it ‘Mirror of Storms’ for the time being.) Happiness, unhappiness and grief are all definitely driving engines of this idea – one character, Sarina the witch’s granddaughter, has used a magic mirror that was supposed to rid her of unhappiness, but at a cost. Whenever she has gets angry or sad, the mirror sucks the bad mood out of her, turns it into a storm, and releases the storm over her house. Unfortunately, she lives by the sea, and when one of these storms went out on the water, my MC’s big brother got washed overboard.

Oh – and there’s a curse on the mirror too, of course. 😉 If it’s broken or taken out of Sarina’s vicinity, then the storms will stop, but she’ll be unhappy for the rest of her life. When she’s truly happy, though, that will stop the storms too, and the mirror will crumble to dust.

What do you think so far?


IWSG Follow-up: Why my First-person Narrative has to be deleted.

January 5, 2012

Okay, well, since so many people asked about it, I’m going to do as Elizabeth suggested and devote a short blog post to talking about first-person narrative in “Won’t somebody think of the Children” and why I’m leaning towards rewriting the entire book in third person point of view.

I’m a big fan of first person point of view. On the other hand, I’m starting to realize that at times my reliance on that writing style doesn’t really serve the story that I’m telling, and that’s the basic decision that I’ve come to with Tom Sandinez serving as narrator of his book. It’s a call that’s more intuitive than deductive at this point, but the most obvious reasons have to do with the next point I made last post, that I need to do more showing as opposed to telling.

If I let Tom tell the story in first person, that’s exactly what he does a lot of the time. He tells the reader what happened yesterday or last week, and he skips over some of the best parts. Now, if I really wanted to, I could probably show a lot of what I need to show and still stick with Tom as the first-person narrator. But I’m still not convinced that that would be the best way to write this story, and I’d be fighting Tom’s inclination to gossip and summarize the whole time. So, I want to try switching things up – telling most of the story from close to his head, (and maybe jumping away to some of the other major characters for a scene when I need to,) but not letting his voice take over.

So, that seems to cover it. I hope that what I typed makes sense, and feel free to post more questions in the comments if you’re so inclined.

And Alex – killing off a favorite character with no warning because you’re not sure how else to end a book is indeed cruel. It also fits in with a great and glorious Nanowrimo tradition. 😉


Magic Manuscript – the first draft begins!

January 2, 2012

I need to come up with a better title – even a better temporary placeholder title – for this project than ‘Magic Manuscript.’ Oh well. It should occur to me soon.

I started writing my first-draft opening scene yesterday, with Will getting delivered the scroll in the loading docks of the Royal Ontario Museum in the dead of night – and Mandy dropping in by surprise to wish him luck. I think that it’s going about as well as I can expect a first draft to ever go. 😉

And I was working on character discovery snippets on Friday and Saturday – little 500-word scenes from the past of Will, and the third main character Emelia, to try to get a sense of their voice as characters. I put a lot of Greek references into Emelia’s discovery scene, and then, while working on her character sheet for the snowflake, ended up making her Irish instead of Greek, because it just didn’t seem to add up to have a Greek girl with curly blonde hair and freckles. 😀 Ah well, I don’t really need to rewrite it as it’s just discovery.

Have you started a new writing project, or a new stage in an existing writing project, with the new year?


The story of my dream.

December 12, 2011

I had a dream last night that was really like a passage out of a pretty cool fantasy novel. I’m not sure if I can work out the rest – if you’d like to use this notion, that’s okay, but please let me know, alright?

So, I don’t know what the overall sides were, but let’s say in the dream I was on the Rebel alliance working against an Empire led by a crazy evil wizard, okay?

We’d managed to find a magical talisman that was part of the Evil Wizard’s big ritual for destroying the Alliance. I remember that the talisman was a green sphere, about the size of a tennis ball or an apple. But it was so powerful that it couldn’t be destroyed safely just by squashing it with a rock or anything like that, and if we tried to hide it away forever, the Wizard would eventually be able to track it down.

The only safe way to dispose of the talisman was to invoke it early, without the rest of the ritual. It was voice-controlled, with a key word of ‘invoke’, that had to be spoken within a range of about 100 yards – but voice-locked to the Wizard’s assistant Magician. So, we had to find some way to trick the Magician into saying the word ‘invoke’, somewhere that we could hide the talisman within range.

I was researching this for a lot of the dream, and came up with a plan. The Magician was getting married soon, and there was a spell that was sometimes cast by the bride and groom at weddings, to temporarily summon up the presence of dead family members to witness the exchange of vows. And the spell started with the words ‘I invoke…’

So, all we needed to do was find some way to talk to the Magician’s fiancee without getting caught, and convince her to include this spell in the plan for her wedding ceremony.

That’s all I remember from the dream, but I think that it’s pretty cool. Have you ever had story ideas in your dreams?


Revising with Holly Lisle update, Lesson One

December 8, 2011

So, the first read-through of “Children” is going pretty well. I’m up to page 78 out of 123, and hoping to finish the Despair worksheet tomorrow night at Starbucks Runnymede in Toronto!

This is the biggest part of the first lesson, mostly because it involves the full manuscript read-through. The idea is that you look for five different things as you read:

  1. Ideas that didn’t work well or fell apart as you were writing them.
  2. Characters that work for the book, or don’t.
  3. Elements of the setting that work well, or poorly.
  4. Places where you find yourself skimming as you read.
  5. Places where the story is working and you enjoy it as you read.

So for each of those spots, I write down a little code in hot pink pen in the margin of the page, and make a note in my excel spreadsheet. The code indicates that it’s worksheet 1B, with another letter a through e for each of those five cases, and a numeric suffix to indicate the spreadsheet line.

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