Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Revising the Novel - Intention

When I first started this blog, my original intention was purely to get my thoughts on the revision process down on paper to help me with my current work. I wanted to use this as a think pad, a guide book, to direct and focus my thoughts on what I needed to do.

The results so far, based on your feedback, has been greater than I ever expected. Thanks to all who've written with your encouragement and thoughts.

Now the reason I mention all this is that my intention directed my actions, and those actions led to results, perhaps even results I didn't anticipate.

That's a powerful statement and one that needs to makes its way into our writing. Knowing the intentions of your characters, in each scene, can be a vital tool to drive the drama and power of your writing. I mentioned this earlier in the Ten-Point Revision Strategy under "Know your Character's Motivation," but it's worth exploring deeper.

I don't know about you, but when I write, I often like to get into the feel of writing, the cadence, the appearance of the words on the screen. I have scenes set that I know are necessary to move the story forward; plot oriented scenes that bring conflict and drama. But quite honestly, I don't often step back and ask myself a simple question, "What does each character want out of this interaction/situation?"

Think how powerful those words are. From the main character to a bit player, the story will change if you spend some serious thought on what each character really intends to happen in that scene.

Say you have a big scene happening in a restaurant, I don't know, a meeting between two lovers on the verge of divorce. This is their last stab at trying to stay together. They arrive in different cars and flip their keys over to the valet. Now, in this scene, the valet obviously has little importance in the lives of our characters. But say for example, that you wanted to have the valet say something, just a sentence in passing, to build the scene. How can this affect the story?

If the valet is miserable at his job, just wasting his time away, pissed off that his big audition at the Broadway musical was a bomb, his demeanor, body language and sentence may be very different than if he's had a brand new baby boy and his wife is home waiting for him.

A minor character for sure, but it's easy to see how his one sentence, based on his intentions, can have a dramatic impact on our lead characters, setting the scene for their meeting. Say the valet is a snippy twit, sarcastic and angry as he takes the car keys. Now compare that to a happy, bubbling new daddy, spreading joy and love with every word. How could that impact the moods of our main characters as they step into the restaurant?

Now, I've just described how a bit character's motivation can impact a scene, imagine if you spent the time to really think about each of the main character's motivations as they enter the restaurant. There's a big difference between the male lead dying to get back together with her because she's the love of his life, and just going through the motions because he's head over heals in love with a waitress at the very restaurant at which they're meeting.

Character Intention. Motivation. Spend the time as you're revising each scene to make sure that you know exactly where each character is coming from.

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