Saturday, April 10, 2010

Living Inside the Character's Skin/The Continuing Adventures of the Revisionist Writer

I am the co-pilot now. My characters are in total control. (Well, almost.)

A few weeks ago, I was surfing around on the net, looking at all my favorite blogs and reading up on my craft. Writer Unboxed is a great resource, current as far as trends go, but even more valuable in extending all the little gems that make for great story.

I came across Skyler White's guest article in two parts, so I poured myself a hot cup of tea, and read it all the way through. Skyler writes urban fantasy, which in a way, couldn't be any further from my own contemporary young adult fiction. But...as we all know, all story is connected. And technique is a collaborative effort. Writers study great writing, they generally work with a group and thankfully most people are looking to pass it on. Skyler's article suggested, Goal, Motivation and Conflict, by Debra Dixon, a primer for anyone engaged in writing fiction.

GMC is a great book, a short read, packed with great ideas and exercises related to story construction. I've posted about my current revision process, and this time, I've been a little more quiet on the blogosphere. I've decided to focus and stay awhile, live inside my characters' skins. I'm writing my story in the voices of three characters...so for each segment, I've got to all but dismiss the other two in order to follow the conflict, and chase the motivations of only one. It's a tricky process, requiring many more revisions than I'd expected. But I've grabbed hold now, and can tell I'm closer than ever before. It's all so real to me. Let's hope it's all there on the page.

Last week, I sat down with one of my writing friends, and she grilled me for the better part of an hour on Caroline. She wanted to know the who (character)...what (goal), why (motivation)
and why not (conflict) of it all. For me, Caroline was always the easiest to explain, because she's so full of conflict both inside and out. What we found though, was that I'd set her up with a conflict she couldn't overcome way too early on. So now? I've got it straight. And even though it's hard to put yourself in the mind of the character and defend your every thought and action?
The interview is an awesome way to get unstuck when you inevitably hit that awful brick wall.

Caroline is the wild child in the novel, she's risky, flirty and always on the run. She has to keep ahead of the gossip, and bowl people over with her behavior, and that in a way is how she finds love. It's not the real kind of love most of us crave, that's for sure. Caroline's concept of love is attention-driven. She's attracted to the adrenaline-pumping shock value. "If I can keep you watching me, you won't be able to resist me." So when the boy of her dreams attempts to get away, she jumps into the backseat of his jeep, crowds his space and her story evolves from there. Caroline's story is one of madness and mayhem...with lots of risks riding on her schemes.

And now that I've spent the last ten days inside her skin, I'm forced to move into the more serious goal-oriented head of Deirdre. Crazy, right? Writing makes you a bit schitzophrenic...a temporary condition, believe me. Thank God for treadmills, yoga and the great outdoors, otherwise the madness could choose to stay!

How do you escape the madness in your life? What tricks to the trade work in making your struggles lessen? I'd love to hear it!

5 comments:

George Stockwell said...

I escape the occasional madness in my life in a number of ways. The most effective means of doing this is spending time with my grand children. They enhance the 'healing' process better than any medicine a doctor could prescribe. I also stay busy with my blogging/column efforts, my yard and volunteering. If none of this works, and I begin to feel the clouds descending on me, I remind myself of how unbelievably lucky I am and that somewhere there are many, many people who are having a very difficult time of it, indeed. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

gael lynch said...

I like that story, and you should stick to it! It's a true recipe for sanity, George. Stick out your hand and help another...perfect. Oh, and of course, even before that...the grandkids! Can't wait...oh, never mind, I think I can! ;)

foldingfields said...

I love how your writer friend grilled you on character motivations, etc. That's a brilliant idea...and so good to talk out loud too as so much is written inside our heads.

I don't escape the madness. I poke fun at it. :)

gael lynch said...

Love it, Sarah...you're my kind of girl! You always gotta laugh, right?

The grilling is a great tool. It breathed a whole new life into things...helped me to repercolate the boring. It's hard when you're just inside your own head, as you well know!

Smileyblueyes said...

Those were the kind of conversations I always loved: intellectual challenges that come from the heart of things. And honesty in friendship makes it perfect. Teaching has taught me to 'sandwich' that honesty with a little bit of kindness, and to present the challenge as a question....obviously you have mastered that...

I have always found escaping into a book to be medicine for me. Sometimes it is filled with the humor I lack, sometimes the mystery I need, and sometimes the characters give explanation to me, about the complexities of human behavior---- and why....

Gael: your writing process has been layered with so many steps. Who would ever know that those delicious stories I have read were laced with so much sweat and tears? You give light to an author's
anguish in getting their 'picture painted with words'
(that's what I tell my students) out there....and then comes the publishing part? ouch!

Love you girl, Put me on the list of first to get signed by the author (you) list....And get it done!

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