1. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    Trying to figure out the "why" of it all.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nicholas C., Dec 10, 2012.

    I have recently found myself getting bogged down halfway through the first draft of my WIP. The situation is this – I have groups of characters, each with their own unique subplots, and as the story progresses you begin to see how they are related. Everything culminates at their discovery of each other towards the end, since for most of it they don’t know how they are connected.

    The problem is… neither do I.

    I know how I want things to unfold – who has conflicts with whom, the scenes in which major altercations take place, etc. I’m just struggling a bit with the “why” of it all and the individual motivations. Up until now it hasn’t bothered me much, but as the characters begin to collide with each other I obviously find myself worrying about it more and more.

    So how would you approach this? If you were in this boat, would you soldier on and write the first draft the best you can, filling in the plot holes and making changes as necessary during the revision process, or would you take a break from writing the draft and spend your time brainstorming and writing notes/character sketches to try and figure out the “why”s before going any further in the first draft?
     
  2. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    The risk you take by writing a story in which there are no real motivations for the characters is that they will appear hollow and static. It is good that you spotted the problem, I think motivations are very important because in essence that is what binds the reader to a certain character. The best villains always have a bit of a humane side, a motivation or reason that explains why they act as they do.

    I think you should continue to write altough you risk getting into writer's block because you simply no longer know how to continue. The reason for this is that you can not move the characters forward on their own because they have no motivations and therefore all their actions are probably in a reaction to a situation or something different. Once you run out of those your story will come to a halt. Moreover, I think it will be very hard towards the end if you have no clear idea of what any character is trying to achieve, how can you possibly hope to wrap the story up?

    Still. I recommend that you continue. The main reason is that for me, the motivations come naturally the more I write about a character. Perhaps you could also attempt to place some of your characters in an utterly different situation and try to see how they would react. Remember reactions are always driven by motivations, even if those motivations are circumstantial.

    Good luck!

    Oh and don't take my word for it. I am by no means a pro writer but I thought I could always share my two cents ;)
     
  3. brollykat123
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    brollykat123 Member

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    I feel the same way with my work. I guess I don't know why the character would do what it is that they are doing and how to make a transition to that point. I

    guess I really don't know what you should do. My best bet would be to break apart each character and try to figure out, with the story in mind, what it is that each

    character represents. Each character will bring something to the story, so what is it that they will bring and how will they help bring the story to it's fruition.

    I guess in a more simplistic term what is their purpose in being there? Is it just to have a certain ratio of female to male? Or to show the different aspects of female

    and male? Is it to have good and bad? Or is it to show that good can sometimes be bad and vice versa?

    My problem is I get caught up in telling and not showing. I think when you show, you start to learn more about your characters, because they have to be described

    not explained.
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    First, step back and see if you're running a plot that's more complex then your current skills as a writer are capable of carrying out. It's difficult to write stories with multiple MC's or groups for inexperienced writers. The reason being that it takes a better 'touch' to be able to put those things together. I'm writing a novel with 4 MC's, and a very complex plot-but it took five years of writing to reach that point also. Try simplifying things down and seeing how the ends tie together. If they don't then, it might require a step back a reevaluation of the story line being written.
     
  5. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Personally, I will always plan certain things before starting - I like to know what the essence of the end of my book is going to be (even if I'm not sure of the details), and I like then to create characters with desires and motivations that will tend to lead them to that previously decided ending. That's not to say I won't adjust the ending if I find my work with a character changes things a little, but I'll rarely change the ending significantly.

    All that said, I believe there's a case for just hunkering down and writing. It's not my style, but other authors do it and somehow get things to work out to a satisfactory ending, though probably with a fair bit of rewriting in the process.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it were me, I'd sit back and do some serious thinking about the why, as it seems to be pretty darn important to the story. It does sound like you've put the emphasis on the plot but forgotten (or neglected) the characters. I wouldn't recommend moving ahead, but then I work without an outline and thus I have to understand what's going on as I write. But if you keep going without understanding your own story (or a major part of it) you're most likely going to end up with one gigantic mess to rewrite. And I hate rewriting.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It seems to me there are actually two related problems here - not understanding the motivations of your characters, and being able to pull together a group of people and plots into an harmonious whole. I think you need to solve them in that order, one at a time.

    I like Kate's suggestion, but for a different reason. Simplifying things will allow you to focus on one MC at a time. Get to know him/her - probe the character traits that you've designed for each one and just build a plot for that person. Don't just think about WHAT they do but also WHY. Make their actions consistent with their personality, but also allow for some deviation if there is an overwhelming reason to do so. Example - in Nevil Shute's "Trustee From the Toolroom", Keith Stewart is a quiet, unimposing tinkerer who supports himself and his wife with his writings on engineering hobby projects. World traveler? Not a chance. But when his sister and brother-in-law are killed while sailing in the Pacific, he has to travel around the world to recover valuables for his young niece, for whom his is now trustee.

    As you go through this exercise for each MC, you will discover one of two things - either how they all come together, or that they DON'T come together. After all, we all have the occasional brilliant story idea that, when we try to do something with it, we find just doesn't work. And if you find that your characters and their subplots don't fit together, you can then turn to devising others that do. Meanwhile, keep your notes on the ones you reject. You never know when they'll come in handy.

    Good luck.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you don't know what's happening and why, you'd better stop writing and figure it out, before getting more tangled up in your many characters and subplots than you are already...

    do up a skeleton outline, to see what you have written so far... that should give you an overview of the plot/subplots and your various characters, enabling you to see the pattern of events leading to a 'collision' of the characters, if one exists... that, in turn may hopefully give you a clue to possible 'why's of it all...

    also lay out the premise and the plot you have in your head separately... then see if you can make the one gibe effectively with the other...

    and in future, be sure you know why everyone's doing everything before you start spewing out scenes willy-nilly, so you won't find yourself in this mess again...
     
  9. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    It isn't so much a conglomeration of scenes spewed out willy-nilly as it is a short story that just kept on going to the tune of about 37k words. Once I realized that more would come of it than just a short story, I started writing an outline of sorts: orders of chapters and brief descriptions for each that detail what it is I'm trying to accomplish in each one. I also have a three paragraph "abstract" (if you will) and a section for plot notes/corrections as they come to me. It's probably not the best outline, but I've never been much of an outliner to be honest.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What is your ending? If you know your ending, you can work out from that just what it is that has brought these characters together. The "why" will emerge from that. Once you have your ending, you will then be able to shape your entire novel based on it. You cannot go anywhere if you do not know where it is you wanna go, after all. Once you know your destination (your ending) you can then figure out the best path to take to get there :)

    That's me anyway. I discovered that knowing your ending is pretty much the only essential - all else can change but the ending must not. As you go along, don't be afraid to change events to make it work - even the reasons your characters do what they do may change as you discover your ending. Let it change. Just always keep the old version in a separate file in case you change your mind :D
     

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