Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - #3 Know Each Character's Motivation

Todays trip down the Ten-Point Revision Strategy lands us at Know Each Character's Motivation.

While this might seem incredibly basic, I find that at times, it's one of the hardest things to do. When we're writing a scene, we usually pay careful attention to our hero's point of view (or the POV of the main character in the scene) but we often ignore the fact that all those little secondary characters also have their own lives, ideas, desires and reasons to be in the scene.

For example. In my novel, Deadly Vision, the hero, Taylor, has many significant scenes in the lab with his research partner, Malcomb. In each scene, I know exactly what Taylor wants and why. His backstory is imprinted in my brain. And I think I know Malcomb as well. He's a little awkward, a brilliant scientist, and a touch of comic relief compared to the much more serious Taylor. But when they're in a scene together, do I really know what Malcomb wants? Or do I know how to make him say things that act as drama compared to what Taylor wants?

In order to really flesh out the novel at this point, I need the answer to be that I know Malcomb as backwards and forwards as Taylor. Sure, I've already created a character profile and history, and written Malcomb's story arc as it will evolve throughout the novel. But what I really need to focus on is that scene. What does Malcomb really want? Why? What is he afraid of?

Just because he's Taylor's partner, doesn't mean they want the same things. Even in the research, they have different reasons, goals, levels of commitment. Now, it's important that I don't drop a big info dump on the reader (see Ten-Point Strategy #1, RUE) to explain why Malcomb wants what he wants, but the point remains, he wants something. We all do. Each scene I write will be clearer if I, and therefore the reader, know what that something is.

Drama and tension comes from the conflict of two people wanting two very different things in the same situation. Not violence or anger. But desire. That is the real fuse for conflict.

Know each of your character's motivations. For each scene. Then let the drama unfold.

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