Sunday, October 12, 2008

Why Fight the Evil Grobs?

In which I ask you to forget you like your main character and really stick it to him.

Today's episode of No, Seriously. Just Try It was sparked by a conversation on the playground.*

Everything in this conversation was screamed at full blast.

MRS. TUTTLEBUM:** (sitting on bench at outskirts of playground) Joey!
JOEY: (running across playground away from said bench) What?
MRS. T***: Joey!
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: Aren't you cold?
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: Do you want your coat?
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: Your coat. Do you want it?
JOEY: What?
MRS. T: (sigh) Never mind.
JOEY: (running to his mom) What?
MRS. T: It doesn't matter.
JOEY: (reaching his mom, panting) What?
MRS. T: Never mind. It doesn't matter.
JOEY: Then why were you screaming?!

Indeed. If it wasn't that important, why go through all the trouble?

We all know good characters have to want something. They have to be motivated. And any good pre-writing exercise has "What does your character want?" as one of the first questions. Today, I want to talk about WHY your character wants it.

"My character wants to be prom queen." "My character wants to have freckles." "My character wants to find the one true Stunstone that can defeat the evil Grobs."

Why? Well, who wouldn't want to be prom queen or have freckles or defeat evil Grobs? But is that enough?

The question for you today is this: how can you make the motivation even more important to your character?

Answer me these questions (no reading ahead before answering, okay?):

1. What does your main character want?

2. Why does she want that?

3. So what? What could make her want it even more? List three ideas.

4. Nah. I still don't care. What could make her want it even more than that? List three more ideas.

5. I know. You're out of ideas and into "I'd never really write it like this" territory. But I still don't care. What's the one giant thing that could make getting what she wants the absolute most important thing in the world, more important than anything else she's ever wanted, even oxygen?

6. Okay, now go write it like that. No, seriously. Just try it.


In case that makes no sense, here are sample answers:

1. What does your main character want?
She wants to defeat the evil Grobs.

2. Why does she want that?
Because they're enslaving her people.

3. So what? What could make her want it even more? List three ideas.
She has something she has to do that she can't do from their prison

4. Nah. I still don't care. What could make her want it even more than that? List three more ideas.
The something she has to do is go back and rescue somebody. Her younger sister. Who's happily waiting for her in their hiding place, expecting her to come back with dinner.

5. I know. You're out of ideas and into "I'd never really write it like this" territory. But I still don't care. What's the one giant thing that could make getting what she wants the absolute most important thing in the world, more important than anything else she's ever wanted, even oxygen?
Her sister will starve without her. Her sister has no idea the Grobs are advancing on the hiding place. Oh! Her sister wears the Stunstone around her neck; the Grobs will try to steal it, which will rip her chest open, exposing her entrails, which the Grobs find delicious. Her sister will die a gruesome death thinking all along that my character's abandoned her.

Oh, wait. That's The English Patient. Sort of. You get the idea. Now, go and write.


* and adapted from an exercise in D. Maass's revision workbook Writing the Breakout Novel, and lots of other places.
** Names have been changed to keep parents at my playground from knowing I eavesdrop on them constantly protect the innocent
*** Anyone else picturing Mr. T in drag? No? Oh. As you were, then.

9 comments:

J. Thorp said...

jacqui, you rock. this is a great idea.

C.R. Evers said...

LOL! I'm afraid I can relate to that playground conversation! too funny!

I think I'll try this exercise for my Nano prep!

Thanks!

christy

Marina said...

Hey, that was fun! And I got a cool new angle on my Nano plot in two seconds flat. Maybe I should reread Writing the Breakout Novel and actually DO some of the exercises this time. Thanks, Jacqui!

Jacqui said...

Marina! I'm so glad. And impressed that you're planning. I kind of wing it. Have you been to Christy's for "PlannoWriMo?"

Thorp, when do I get more dragon?!

Christy, report back, okay?

J. Thorp said...

how's never? is never good for you?

(kidding. I'll send a real email at some point and let you know what's what ...)

Marina said...

Maybe "plot" is overstating it a little. More like "vague, occasionally even coherent, thoughts about a couple of characters that have come to me in the few microseconds I get to think in peace lately". Thank goodness school went back today.

And yes, I have checked out Christy's Plannowrimo. I think it's a great idea. Children permitting, I will even do it. I still remember the dread panic that came over me last year every time I got to the end of what I had thought of for my novel and had to dream up the next thing to happen. I do NOT want to go there again!

Colorado Writer said...

1. What does your main character want? Ruby wants her life to remain normal.

2. Why does she want that? Because it is comfortable and it feels scary to change.

3. So what? What could make her want it even more? List three ideas.
If she loses her best friend.
If she really starts to like the stepmother.
If she makes a new best friend.

Thanks Jacqui!!!!!

Candace Ryan said...

Great exercise, Jacqui. Plus, now I want to be a Grob for Halloween!

sruble said...

Good exercise, funny playground exchange! Thanks!