Friday, April 8, 2011

What We Want

I've been wading through pools of literary blood as I embark upon revisions for my next, untitled book.  It's been a bit of a challenge for me because my cast of characters is larger and more diverse than anything I've written.  First of all, it's going to be in 3rd person, which means I'm not telling the story from just one perspective.  That, in and of itself, is a challenge.  But it's character motivations that are really troubling me this time around.

See, in Deathday, everything was pretty clear.  When I wrote the Ollie/Ronnie romance, I had this feeling that if Ollie hadn't gotten his letter, eventually he and Ronnie would have reconciled and worked out.  So their journey toward the end, while sped up a bit due to Ollie's demise, was fairly easy to script.  Plus, I only had to primarily deal with the whole thing from Ollie's point of view.

Not so in this untitled book.  I find myself frequently asking: what does this character want?  I'm fairly clear on most of the characters, however there's one to which the answer has repeatedly been:  I don't know.

And that's a problem.

Everyone has an agenda.  I know that sounds crass but it's true.  Even if that agenda is to get completely trashed and act like a wanky jackhole, it's still something.  Of course, if you dig deep enough, you'll likely find a deeper motivation behind someone who goes to a party to make a complete fool of themselves.

I should know; I've been the fool.

So when you sit down to write a scene, ask yourself what the characters in that scene want.  Are they trying to impress someone, make them jealous, make them smile, feel guilty?  Knowing the answers to those questions can help sort out your scenes and character motivations.


  1. My current novel has an ensemble cast. I originally wrote it in 3rd person, and it ended up being over 300k words. Which obviously wouldn't work. I've been re-writing it into 1st, and it helps a lot, but I do miss being able to delve into the other characters a little more.

  2. 300k! Whoa! My longest was this YA contemporary fantasy that I hand-wrote that turned into about 150k words.

    I know what you mean though. I just finished THE WAY OF KINGS and there was something really refreshing about the author being able to jump into all the different characters at will. Some people deride first person, but I think the limitations simply force us to be better writers. Now you have to show all that stuff but you have a limited POV from which to do it.

  3. This is awesome, Shaun. The fact that you're challenging yourself like this means the final product will be spectacular. Don't worry though, you'll do a great job I'm sure.

  4. And not only do you need to find what motivates each character, but you have to, at least in my opinion, figure out how those motivations impact the plot. I've been working on the same thing.

    Also, I've had some trouble maintaining a consistent voice in third person. There's "my" voice, which is prominent throughout, but some of my characters have their own voices which shows up in the narration of "their" chapters. Not sure if that's okay or not.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.