Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cut to the Quick

Maven Lacey KayeSorry I'm late. I think I say that a lot, actually, so maybe I don't really mean it. You know how you have so many options to prevent disaster, yet you usually don't? But our characters can't really be like that, can they? They need to think out all the paths before they pick the most logical one.

Or don't they? Let's take this subject my mom and I were discussing late last night: I feel my hero needs to tell the reader why on earth he would go visit a woman he knows he can't marry and then spend a lot of time with her in a compromising situation (historical, baby) when, you know, he knows he shouldn't marry her.

My mom says he's a man. She wants sex. What's there to motivate?

And so I said, "But he's a big boy. If he didn't want the consequences, he shouldn't have gone in there." You know, "Don't go in there! She's going to get you!" sort of thing. And then after she gets him, how much sympathy do we feel for him when sure enough, everything blows up in his face?

**Shrug** Maybe none. Maybe it's part of the writer's talent, though, that we CAN get our readers to identify with his stupid mistake. How many people here have done stupid things that seemed like a good idea at the time even though you knew they were stupid? Then again, how many wallbangers out there are there that use Stupid Mistakes as their main plot device?

Turned out, I was asking my mom the wrong question. She asked me a lot of good questions and eventually drilled down to the heart of my issue. It wasn't that I needed to motivate why he went into the room, or even why he stayed in the room. I didn't need to motivate why he let the heroine "get" him. I just needed to know why any of it mattered to him at all. I mean, I do stupid stuff all the time and I don't beat myself up for it. Unless...I care about the opportunity cost of the consequences.

Look at it this way: let's say you like to drive fast. You make scads and scads of money. Do you care if you get a ticket? Probably not. You'll just pay it. If you like to drive fast and you get a $300 ticket and it means you don't have beer for a month, you're probably going to keep driving fast. But if you're poor and your mom needs to go to the hospital a few times a week for very expensive chemo, maybe you'll lay off the gas every now and then. Maybe. I guess it depends on how much you love your mom.

Anyway, deeper seems to be better. If you can figure out what's *really* at the heart of your conflict, you may just build a believable, sympathetic character others can relate to. No matter how many times they go into that dark, scary house when the killer's on the loose.

Anyone been re-motivating since National? Conferences seem to have that effect on me. They always force out "more." Do share!


Erica Ridley said...

Great post! I love conversations like that, where you accidentally get to the right answer. =)

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens