What will your characters do? — February 25, 2010

What will your characters do?

Sorry, this isn’t a What Would You Do? post.  I’m running dry on WWYD ideas so that feature is going on hold for a while.

Today I want to talk about what your characters will do to achieve their goals.  How far will they go?  Where is that line that they’ll either have to cross or at least toe in the narrative?

I was listening to the original Broadway recording of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” the other day in the car.  (Yes, I’m a showtunes nerd.)  I don’t know if you’ve read the book.  I haven’t.  But in the play, Blakeney, our main character/hero, sets off routinely across the English Channel to rescue victims of the French Revolution before they meet the guillotine’s blade.

As suspicion begins to mount around him and his cohorts in heroism, they reach that line.  They find that point where they have to cross it or go back and lose all the deeds they’ve done.

What’s that line?

The number from the musical titled “The Creation of Man,” answers that question.  In it they are singing about how the Lord created men to be the ones who set the bar for beauty and fashion.

During this number, the audience was pretty much near to rolling in the aisles.  Blakeney and his men put on the powdered wigs, the makeup, all of it.  They do everything they possibly can to convince people that they are sissy men who would rather talk lace than fight with a sword and risk death to save others.

That’s the length they go to in order to protect their cause.  The entire plot, everything that comes before this, leads up to the decision to cross this line and say to themselves, “What we’re doing is more important than how we’re perceived by society.”

So, do you know where that line is for your characters?  How often do they approach near to it and then shy away?  At what point are they unable to do so?  That’s the emotional turning point for them.  There could be multiple internal turning points, even for the same plot or subplot, but you need to know where that line is so you can constantly raise the stakes.

For my main character the line is where she has to make the choice to either use the magic she’s been given or refuse to take advantage of the thing about herself she dislikes and face the consequences.  It’s going to be a major issue through the entire trilogy.  That decision drives her in every instant.  (I hope.)

Whoa, where’d that monkey go? — February 9, 2010

Whoa, where’d that monkey go?

You know that feeling you get when something big in your life ends?
I cried during the last episode of “Enterprise,” not because I cared about the characters, but because it was the end of an era.  We didn’t think there would ever be anything Star Trek again.
And I cried on two different occasions when “Revenge of the Sith” came out, for various reasons, but also because the era was ending.  I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek.  A big chunk of my life was closing in behind a door that would never be reopened for future generations.  (At least with anything new.)
Granted, I’ve been proven wrong in major ways.
But still, there’s that ending feeling that just makes it feel like part of you has been locked away behind doors blocked with heavy, Marley-esque chains.  A door you can never access again.
Well, that’s how I feel whenever I end a project.  When I finished my novel, titled A Rose by any Other Name, it felt that way.  (A novel which, by the way, will take far too much work to make saleable.)  I felt that way when I finished my chapbook for my last  poetry workshop.
And it’s how I felt yesterday when I wrote the last words of Oracles Promise.  Yes, you read that right.  I wrote the last words.  I finished.  After 8 years, the monkey is finally off my back.  I feel like Steve Young when he led the ‘Niners to a super bowl win.
Q4U: Do you feel similar feelings when you finish a first draft?  When you got your agent?  When you got your book deal?  (Or do you think you’ll feel that way when some door closes on the past journey you’ve taken?)
Don’t forget that there’s still time to ask me a question!  I’ll answer them all during Footloose and Fancy-free Friday!
Risking Sentimentality — October 6, 2009

Risking Sentimentality

No offense to the Rejectionist, whom I adore, but sentimentality is, I feel, essential.  Well, I’ll qualify that: Risking sentimentality is essential.

Yesterday would have been my dad’s birthday.  Had he survived to this day he would be 61.  (Shhh…I didn’t say that!)  I’m not overly sentimental, I don’t think, but there are occasions which cause me to reflect on the past.  Not every memory is a sunshine or rainbow.  I’ve hinted once before at a couple of things from my past that aren’t all happiness.  My mom and I went to his grave to lay flowers.  Now, we don’t lay flowers for Dad.  It’s not in our personal beliefs that he’s tied to his grave in any way.  Nor do we think that he really cares whether we do this or not.

It’s like in the Fox television show Bones when (SPOILER ALERT!  IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW BECAUSE YOU MIGHT WATCH THIS SHOW, SKIP THIS PART!) Booth takes her to her mother’s grave.  She completely doesn’t understand why she should be visiting the grave.  She knows what’s down there, how long it will take for what’s in the grave to fade away to dust (all that they ever found of her mother was her skeleton and some decayed pieces of fabric), etc.  Bones is totally not religious, she views all religions as equally inane, etc.  Booth is a fairly devout Catholic.  Sure he’s got some conflicts (worked as a sniper with the Army Rangers), but he’s far more religious than Bones.  He encouraged her in this scene to talk to her mother.  Her protest was that it wasn’t her mother.

I have a point to make, I promise.  (OK, now I feel like Elle in Legally Blonde when she’s interviewing a witness in the trial at the end.

When we go to my dad’s grave, it’s more for us.  Just to say to ourselves that while the days may pass with very little pain or sorrow, 9 years after his death, we still haven’t forgotten.  And we never will forget.

Now, my point is this: We should always be risking sentimentality in our writing.  My mentor in grad school used to quote this.  But I don’t remember who he attributed it to.  In Sunstone Trilogy, my other WiP that I haven’t been working on lately, I’m not going to lie in saying that characters die.  One already happens in the first book.  When I wrote the chapter originally, about 3 years ago or maybe 4, I dredged up all those emotions I felt the night my dad died, the week between his death and funeral, the day of his funeral, the day after, and two days after (which was Father’s Day), and put those in the book.

Now, a definition here will be helpful:

Sentiment
1a. an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling
1b. a specific view or notion
2a. emotion
2b. refined feeling, delicate sensibility especially as expressed in a work of art
2c. emotional idealism
2d. a romantic or nostalgic feeling verging on sentimentality
3a. an idea colored by emotion
3b. the emotional significance of a passage or expression as distinguished from its verbal context

Sentimentality
1. the quality or state of being sentimental, especially to excesses or in affectation
2. a sentimental idea or its expression

Emotion
1a. (obsolete) disturbance
1b. (obsolete) excitement
2a. the affective aspect of consciousness
2b. a state of feeling
2c. a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physical and behavioral changes in the body

Now, why all these definitions?  Because they point to something.  We want to convey sentiments in our writing, not just emotions.  Sure, there are instances where pure emotion, not sentiment, will prevail and should prevail.  But we should risk sentimentality in order to get those sentiments across.

To my way of thinking, sentiment is emotion amped up a couple notches.  Sentimentality is where we cross the line and have gone the way of purple prose.  We need to toy with emotions and toe the line of sentiment to elicit a response we desire of the reader.

Back to my book.  When I re-read this passage early in the summer, prior to beginning my complete re-write and prior to forging onward with what had never been written, I felt the emotions again.  I cried the whole time I read the passage.  I knew what was coming.  I knew who died and how it affected my character in that moment.  And I still cried.  I felt what my character was going through.

I felt it because I risked sentimentality.