Today my goal was to outline my entire story. From beginning to end. A bold task that required getting up early and focusing by planting my butt in a chair for the time it takes to drink a venti passion tea. Three hours later (I savor my drink, ok?…I got lost in social media, ok?), I had at least figured out the “want, motivation, but” for my protagonist, that wasn’t difficult. But I got stuck on my antagonist! I know what he wants, but I have no motive, and without that motive I can’t outline major turning points! Damn it all to hell! Excuse me, I needed to get that off my chest.
If I lost some of you at “want, motivation, but” it’s a plotting tool I learned at the Writers Institute by the wonderful Lori Devoti. Lori is a paranormal romance author and if you want a great deal on e-books, she’s running one on her blog right now. What Lori showed us at the conference is a chart where you list what your character wants, which needs to be the goal of the story so it has to allow growth in your character. For example, someone’s goal might be to save her marriage. After you’ve named the goal, you have to know the motivation behind it. What is it that drives the goal for the character? What is the best thing that could be if they get their want? And finally, you put the BUT in there. The obstacle that prevents them from achieving their goal. For example, if the goal was for the character to save her marriage, but her husband dies, her motivation and goal become something different, possibly about creating a better life for her child. Lori’s advice was to draw up this chart with the protagonist and the antagonist side by side because as much as you can pit them against each other with conflicting wants, motives, buts, then the easier it will be to plot them against each other.
Today my problem is that I haven’t figured out my antagonist’s motive yet. So I decided to stop staring at a blank piece of paper and definitely STOP getting lost in social media world, and do some research for the book to get my brain spinning again. So, I spent the better part of an hour walking through a graveyard.
No, no, this wasn’t a suicide mission. Not in the slightest. It’s the main setting of my story, and I thought a stroll through my character’s world would help clear up the muddy bits. Despite the fact I had to hide my camera from the protective groundskeeper who kept driving past me while I sauntered around, it was a productive visit. I got several great shots that will help me create scenes in the graveyard. And best of all were the names! Many of the graves in this cemetery are from the 1800’s and the names and variety in the tombstones was something spectacular to see. I also found the FREAKIEST tree that may or may not make its way into the story (I’m almost too creeped out to write about it).
I still haven’t quite nailed down a motive that doesn’t leap beyond the borders of “yaah, right, Witkins!” so I’ll keep working on that. But I still consider this a productive day that will help me when I am scene building. I mean, look where I was!
What do you think? Any advice for this stuck writer? What helps you sculpt your characters and outline better?
Also, don’t miss out on a chance to win a free book! Read my review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, leave a comment, and you’re automatically entered to be a part of the World Book Night Giveaway!
All this immersion in writing and meeting other writers has changed my thinking process. Time, for instance, has taken on a new meaning. How do I prioritize my time to the best of my ability while at work, so when I come home I can focus on my writing? How do use my time off and properly divide it amongst projects? I now think about writing as a second job, and if I want writing to one day be my only job, I need to devote my time and energy to it.
And speaking of jobs, I’ve had a few interesting ones. I’ll tell you I appreciate every one of them because I like to view the world as being full of experiences. Everyone has a story to tell, every situation has something you can learn from in it.
Babysitting was my first job, as I’m sure was many a first job for the average teenage girl. I was even properly trained in a hospital class, learned CPR and carried the number for poison control with me. The first family I sat for was full of devil children. They were very convincing sweethearts to start out with, and suddenly the nights would take a horrendous turn onto Evil Road. Evil Road is where bad things happen for no reason. For example, one minute the eight year old boy would be vacuuming the living room to help out his mother, and the next he’d be dumping his milk on the floor and stomping his sock feet in it. Evil Road is where you think the four year old has gone to sleep, but really she sneaked to her mom’s room and started watching Road House. Evil Road is where the three year old fools you with her red hair into thinking she is cute and angelic, but really she’s allowed to run around the house like a banshee at all hours of the night. What did I learn from this job? Tone of voice. I learned if you’re going to use the line, “Bryce, stop throwing soup cans at your sister!” you’d better say it with some gumption.
My next job was a little something I coined Cake Pan Dishwasher Extraordinaire! Sure I was only “hired” cause my dad owned the place, and sure he wasn’t actually paying me on a regular basis, and sure I lost a fair amount of skin cells from the bleach water, but it didn’t matter, I was helping out my Pop. It was quality time of undivided attention to me. What did I learn in this job? The art of dialogue. I learned if you’re going to have it, it better be good, and two-sided, otherwise your readers may end up putting your story down cause they have “errands” to do.
With all the people skills I was learning, I moved up in the job world, actually getting one that required legal papers and didn’t pay me in cash. I became a clerk at the local video store. This is where I got most my training. I got to know my characters, I mean customers, their likes and dislikes. I did endless amounts of research, sometimes six films a day, every genre! I also quickly learned that the video establishment I worked in and loved was haunted and my boss refused to talk about it. What did this teach me? Rising action and climax. The closer I got to learning about the spirit world, the closer and creepier the spirit world got to me.
When I moved away for college, I had to find a job that would help support me and allow for study time. I found two working in my college dormitory, one as a front desk assistant and one as a dorm housekeeper. I now know that:
- Front desk pizzas can solve any problem, no matter how drunk you are. 😀
- College dormitory bathrooms are THE nastiest places on earth.
What did these jobs teach me? Time management and editing is not beneath you. If you’ve spent the whole day researching and writing and the only time to clean your bathroom is at 2 in the morning, so be it! And if the supplies you are given to clean simply do not cut it to take out the
stains and clumps of hair information dump of words, then you need to get new tools!
Moving onward and off campus, I joked that I worked “part time all the time” as I juggled full time student with three part time jobs. I worked as a copy room slave in the English Department, a student worker in the Diversity Center, and as a clerk in a madhouse conglomeration of Gift Shop meets Rubber Stamping Store. To enlighten you on each of these varying titles, I spent my time in the English Department photocopying lesson tools and handouts, marking grade rosters, and endlessly fixing the jammed copier. I became quick friends with many of the faculty, who subsequently assisted my writing endeavors to take advanced classes without the prerequisite. Igniting a dwindling flame of the past, I was one of the “re-founding” members of the Diversity Center, a place on campus where students could go to learn about the diversity organizations on campus. I spent my winter break working alone in dusty old rooms, cleaning out storage areas and rearranging furniture to give the center life. Finally, job number three, in which I clerked and did odd tasks the owner hated doing inside a stamping/gift shop store. I did lots of things like vacuum the whole place using the small tubular attachment that required you to hunch over and slide the nozzle back and forth until it sucked every fuzz off the carpet (that’s the way Master wanted it). Once she made me work in the display window on one of the hottest days of summer using a pliers to chip off these old, now caramelized, strips that held tubes of twinkle lights in them. I was sweating, grunting, and getting slivers of plastic flying at my eyeballs when I looked up to see someone take my picture from outside! What did this menagerie of minimum wage paychecks teach me? How to make connections and build a foundation, and how to craft the perfect antagonist!
Wow, I’ve really learned a lot about writing from my past jobs. And I know I’ll never be done learning, which is a good thing. What are you learning about your writing process? What are you battling against? What helps you? What can I do to support you? Tell me, I really want to know! Good luck everyone and happy writing!