Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Establishing roots


I can't tell you how glorious it is to have two face-to-face critique groups--people who know what it means to write, who are willing to tackle anything and who become invested in your characters and stories. I feel very fortunate.
This is one of the weeks when I've had back-to-back meetings of those groups, so I'm particularly inspired and energized at the moment.
One of the topics that arose was motivation and how it's important for the author to know the motivation of even minor characters. Motivation gives a story roots, kind of like the behind-the-scenes backstory and character sketches you do for your own understanding.
And, yeah, I put up a photo I took of some gnarly roots. Many times we don't get to see the way tree roots twist and intertwine and reach out, how rugged and strong and purposeful they are since they are burrowed into the earth. (This is a Montezuma cypress, which grow to enormous size and old age, perhaps thousands of years old.)
So the reader sees the tree/story and, hopefully, admires its amazingness. But the writer knows all the deep, hidden roots that allow it to be strong and grow. I can hear somebody saying, 'But motivation is a drive. It's movement toward a goal, not a tree.' Yes, it is a propelling force for the characters, but, as a writerly tool, it's part of a story's foundation.
I attended a SCBWI conference that included a round-table discussion with Alyson Noel. One of the things that stuck with me was that she goes back through every scene to be sure that something changes for the character and moves toward the story's end point, at which time the main character should be different than at the start. If this doesn't happen, she alters or cuts the scene. Since I'm deep in revisions, I'm on the lookout for scenes that do not propel the character's development. If we think of our writing as a labor-of-love, I suppose such pruning could be called tough love. I want the strongest story I can write. What about you?

35 comments:

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Wow, you are so lucky to have face to face CPs. I have yet to meet either of my awesome CPs--but that will hopefully change at SCBWI LA. Good luck with revisions and thanks for sharing Alyson Noel's pointers. :)

Donna said...

Good stuff on motivation and character growth. Thanks.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I've never met a real live crit partner. All mine are virtual. Like the character growth tips.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shannon: I do love to get-together with crit partners, but I also like virtual critiques. I think there's a place for both. The important thing is that people work well together. I wish you a grand meeting up with your partners at SCBWI.

Doinn: You're welcome. I hope it's useful info--or at least that it makes sense. ;)

TerryLynn: I have some that are 'virtual,' too. Except I am quite sure they are actually real!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna!!! I have no idea how I typed Doinn, but it's an interesting name, is it not?

Liza said...

You've offered some good wisdom here, and have me thinking about a project I'm working on. Thanks.

paulgreci said...

Beautiful Photo!! And I love what Alyson Noel said about how in each scenesomething should change for the character and move the story forward. Happy pruning!!

Sarah Laurence said...

Critique partners are a big help. That’s wonderful that you have found yours.

I like how your image works with the theme of the post. Great advice! I find it helpful to write those scenes that reveal back-story and character even if I don’t end up using most of them in the final draft.

Jade said...

Face-to-face CPs? You mean writers exist in the non-internet world? Well, I never...

Thanks for a great post! You've made me think which is impressive because it's 8am and I haven't had any coffee.

Angela Ackerman said...

Great analogy! Glad you found some frawesome (freaking awesome) crit groups!

Tabitha Bird said...

LOL Jade's comment!

And really great advice. I will keep an eye out for those scenes in my book too.

KarenG said...

Next week I get into my revisions and I cannot wait!! I've got tons to do on those kinds of scenes that you mention. Pruning pruning and pruning!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Liza: How wonderful if I said something helpful. Sometimes it feels like I'm babbling. *grins*

Paul: I'm so glad you like the photo. I'm partial to it and those amazing roots. Yeah, the idea of change in each scene was an eye-opener for me. For my WIP, I've got the pruning clippers in hand. :)

Sarah: Thanks. I enjoy rummaging in my photos for something to match what I want to write about. Or sometimes I'm inspired by the photo itself.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jade: Ha! Real flesh and with red-ink pens. Daunting and divine.

Angela: I am amazed at how many frawesome writers I'm meeting these days. You included. ;)

Tabitha: Yeah, you guys from those lands down under...make me laugh and cry!

Karen: What a great attitude! I am starting to appreciate the revising work more these days.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Really informative post. Thanks for sharing. :)

VR Barkowski said...

I'm amazed at how many commenters have only cyber cps. Count me among them. :)

I just excised 250 pages. I don't know if it will result in a stronger story, but it will be a different tale when I'm done.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks, Sharon!

VR: I'm surprised by the tons of cyber CPs, too, although it does make sense.
And I have to shout--250 pages!!! That's like most of the book, so I sure can see how it's going to be a different tale. Lordy.

Jemi Fraser said...

My crit buddies are online too. Face to face terrifies me a little - but I'd still like to try it one day :)

PJ Hoover said...

OMG, I so need this reminder right now. I'm working on new characters and really trying to think about their motivations. It's kind of easy to put it off, so thank you!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jemi: They don't bite. Really. :D

PJ: I just realized myself how important it is to develop the motivations of even minor characters. I know it's going to add layers of depth to my work.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Face to face CPs are wonderful. I wouldn't trade mine for anything in the world.

One of my CPs is awesome at asking me lots of behind-the-scenes questions that make me question and evaluate. My story is always much stronger once she gives me the third degree. :)

Yvonne Osborne said...

That's what I miss....my writer's group. I feel like a lone wolf. Very good advice.

I think this is what blogging does for me, partially takes the place of a crit group. Or at the very least, it connects one to other writers of like mind.

Talli Roland said...

When I'm going through my MS, I always ask myself what is the purpose of the scene to the character or plot. If there's no purpose, it gets chopped!

Love the tree, by the way!

Margo Berendsen said...

Thanks for passing on Alyson Noel's advice. And I like your tree root analogy.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Karen Amanda: It truly does make such a difference to have great CPs. I'm so glad you do, too!

Yvonne: You're an awesome lone wolf, but I hope you get a little pack support, as well. I think online CPs can work well if they're the right ones.

Talli: It sounds like you've learned how to be ruthless. One tip I got some time ago was to always start the second draft with a blank document and just reference the rough draft. That way you're less likely to leave something in that shouldn't be there.

Margo: Hello and welcome! It's a pleasure to see a new face and hear a new voice.

Paul C said...

'I'm on the lookout for scenes that do not propel the character's development...' This is a wonderful goal to keep in mind.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Oh, excellent analogy! I love this view of character motivation. And how lucky are you to have been able to participate in such a fabulous round-table discussion with Alyson noel. I'm terribly envious!

Jonathon Arntson said...

I started the Snowflake Mehtod a couple of months ago and posted my progress on my blog. I received several comments about the character motivations part. I didn't even know how to come up with any. I love the idea associate a character's motivation with the movement of the story. It helps put writing in a new perspective, which is something I have been desperately seeking.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Paul: Isn't it? I think it's going to help in keeping momentum and cohesion.

Thanks, Carolina. And, yes, I got a lot out of that discussion.

Jonathon: This idea has helped me a lot. With my current WIP, I developed it with the motivations of three major characters as the propelling force and it really has kept the story on track.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

alyson rocks!!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelli: Oh, yeah!

How to become a police officer said...

The best way to become a strong writer is to write..write...and write. It is the best way to get it better.

kanishk said...

Good stuff on motivation and character growth. Thanks.
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Elle Strauss said...

Motivation for secondary characters is important--I agree. With my HY book I had to take time off of revisions to study WW1 so I could better understand my adult characters, what shaped they way they think. It really made a difference to add depth.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Elle: I'm glad to hear that anecdote. Thanks so much for sharing it.