It actually doesn’t need to be a Tardis (that’s Dr Who’s Time Travelling Police Box for my Mum and Dad who read this blog faithfully), any old time freezing, stretching, cloning sort of device that will allow me to get on top of my life will do. Because over the past few weeks real life has become really hectic (you may have noticed the tumbleweeds blowing through the blog since I last posted) – so time available to write has been significantly reduced.
However one good thing I’ve discovered being under pressure is, I’ve stopped trawling twitter and have been making the most of any writing time I can squeeze in – even if it’s just checking the blogs I follow or daydreaming about the plot. In fact I’ve probably been more focussed this week than when I have great screeds of time to play with. So it was easy to pick one little gem of writerly advice to share with you this week – it stood out – er, like a tardis materialising outside your window. (I’m sad to say I did do an Amy Pond and looked out the window just in case – but I digress). So what was it that managed to catch my attention?
Know what motivates your characters.
Yes, that’s a bit of a given you might say. But I read a blog somewhere this week where the author was talking about knowing the motivation of every character in a scene. Initially I thought it was a bit extreme – really everyone has to have some sort of goal? I’m already writing epic fantasy, so there are a lot of characters getting page time.
But the more I thought about it – I realised the author was right. All of us behave according to a perceived goal or motivation.
For example right now my goal is to write a half-decent blog post in the time I have available. So I’m typing as fast as I can because I know I have to pick my children up soon and still have a whole heap of chores to do. If I was a character, you might note my impatience by the way I’m banging on the keyboard and ignoring the kitten meowing to come in the front door (no I’m not heartless there is an open french door mere metres from where she’s sitting). You might notice I’m leaning forward and my shoulders are slightly hunched (whoops sit up properly) or catch me frowning at the keyboard when I mis-type. If you spoke to me, my answers would probably sound short, or distracted.
Now this isn’t exactly an action packed scene, but it gets the message across – even the least characters in your WIP will have something going on – and at the very least it will impact on the way they carry themselves. Consider how my posture and demeanor would be different on a morning when the sun was shining and I knew I had a few free hours to work.
In my post A Little Light Relief, I wrote about a flirtation between two minor characters – Stellar and Artemis. Stellar is the reason one of my POV characters (Jae) is attending the dedication ceremony at the Sanctuary. Jae being at the Sanctuary is crucial for the plot – but I knew she would never attend unless she had no choice. Stellar is the force against which Jae has no resistance. But I’d never really given any thought as to why Stellar was so insistent she wanted to attend the ceremony. They are outsiders – travellers who aren’t welcome in the city – so why would she be so adamant they go?
If you ask your characters those sorts of questions you might be surprised what comes up. In this case it was a beautiful, if somewhat tragic experience of the younger Stellar. All of a sudden the character became much clearer, her motivations became clearer – even her attitude towards Artemis started to make sense. But best of all I was able to re-work the scene and it ties in much better with the bigger storyline.
Now I’m not suggesting you write a whole backstory for every character that walks across a page of your novel, but at least know why they’re there. Are they tired, impatient, focussed on something else, hungry, angry or in a hurry? It will help make your story world more vivid, as you see them wriggling in their seats, staring out the window or pushing food around their plate. Every little bit of attention you can give to a character can only make your work stronger.
Postscript: It’s never a good idea to do something in a hurry. I just came back to check the post and realised I’d somehow deleted half of the first paragraph and the whole thing didn’t make much sense. Now if I only had a tardis I could have gone back and fixed that before anyone saw it…
So do any of you need a tardis? What are you favourite time travel stories? (Have you noticed all efforts to cheat this way usually end badly)? Do you know what motivates all of your characters?