Monthly Archives: June 2013

“But what’s my motivation?”

It’s been a while. In the two weeks since Balticon, I worked many, many days in a row. I also wrote. I also banged my head against the wall (literally) trying to figure out what was wrong with Strix (again, still).

All I could say was that it was something structural. I couldn’t get more specific than that. Luckily, one of my roommates likes picking stories apart, and agreed to read the 50k I’d already written. Then we spent a good 90 minutes discussing it.

It was structural…kind of. One storyline didn’t mesh with the others. It forced characters to act in ways they wouldn’t, and diverted attention from the main through-line. Lack of a clear objective/conflict had been raised earlier as a potential reason for my angst, and it looks like that was at least partially true.

It’s good to remember that sometimes a simple change (that storyline got scrapped) can make a hopeless mess seem like a coherent story again. But it also made me realize how helpful speaking Actor can be to the writing process.

Preparing for Strix-the-Podcast, I realized there was a whole language out there that I didn’t speak, and that I needed to learn. Actors think in verbs. Suddenly needing to ascribe verbs to my characters’ emotional states (I caress, I stroke, I soothe…I HIT HIM) forced me to have those emotions and motivations much more clearly in mind.

Before recording went on hiatus, my cast and I would go through dialogue as a play-by-play, tracking the way each character’s wants and feelings changed in response to the other’s. Honestly, it was probably more helpful for me than for them. Sometimes it’s easy to let characters say whatever they want. Approaching dialogue the way an actor would keeps their emotions, motivations, and characterization a lot clearer in my mind.

And when goals are blocked, we get conflict, which is kind of important to stories. Here’s a tip: actors make great beta readers. They are trained to look very closely at characters. They spot inconsistencies, and if they can’t tell what a character wants, they’ll say something.

Sure enough, the main issue with this subplot was an unclear (read: nonexistent) goal. They didn’t want anything. No conflict, no drama, no story.

Cutting this subplot only cost me about 6000 words, which I’ve since replaced. I have a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the book and renewed excitement. It’s getting to that point where the story is physically pulling on me. Half my mind is in that world, and even as I sit here on the bus, writing this post on my phone…

I want to be writing.