Friday, August 1, 2014

Fiction Friday: Layering Motivation

"Mille-feuille 01" by Miya - Miya's file; My partner Miya took it in a teashop in Osaka, Japan.. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mille-feuille_01.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mille-feuille_01.jpg

The best single workshop I attended at RWA 2014 was on character motivation by New York Times best-selling author, Madeline Hunter.  According to Madeline, you can escalate the tension in your novel without necessarily escalating the action by layering your protagonist's (or antagonist's) motivation. Since I've really struggled with how you keep raising the stakes without always getting into bullets flying, this was great news.
Applying this to my own work-in-progress:  Dara, my protagonist, wants to keep her clinic open because:
1) She founded it. It's her clinic, dammit, and no demon is going to take it away from her. (Motivation: Ego)

2) It's the only source of medical care for uninsured people in Alexandria, Florida. (Motivation: Compassion/Altruism)

3) It has her dead husband's name over the door and no one is going to sully his memory. (Motivation: Love, Honor)

4) After losing her husband and kids, it's all she has left. If she loses it, she's got nothing. (Motivation: Identity)

So when Belial, a demon from Hell, invades, her first reaction is based on motivation #1. But he doesn't let up. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Dara really cares about the people of Alexandria and she can't stand to leave them in the lurch. Still Belial keeps coming after her. Then we learn that she co-founded the Clinic with her husband, who was killed in a fire along with their two small daughters. Letting anything happen to this clinic that has his name over the door would be like losing them all over again. But Belial keeps up the pressure. Everything else Dara has--her money, her friends, her reputation--are gone. She can survive that, she's survived worse, but the Clinic is her final battle line.
Conversely, Belial has his own set of escalating motivations:
1) He's been promised a promotion by Satan if he can win this wager. (Ambition)
2) When things don't go well, Satan threatens him with a millennium in the maggot pit. (Fear)
3) Even after he falls in love with Dara and no longer wants to corrupt her and destroy the clinic, he really doesn't have a choice. (Lack of free will) 

When you pit those two sets of escalating motivations against each other, things are going to just keep getting worse.

And that's what well-plotted fiction is all about.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fiction Friday: The Randy Ingermansson Challenge

I get a monthly email from Randy Ingermanson called The Advanced Fiction Writer's Newsletter. Randy is a fiction writer and a purveyor of great writing tips, so it's one of the mailings I get that I actually read. He also holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics, which may be why he seems so smart.

This month, he put out an interesting challenge: Write 500 words a day. Every day--on your birthday, on Christmas, if you're sick or if you're well. For the rest of your life. No rollover words--the counter resets at midnight. Also, tweaking existing words doesn't count. They need to be fresh.

His reasoning is that people who want to become professional fiction writers can churn out 500 words with their eyes closed.

Which is, well, true.

I'm not sure I'm up for every-day-for-the-rest-of-my-life, but I'm committing right here, right now, before God and the entire blogging community, to add at least 500 words a day to my current manuscript until I complete a first draft. Which means I should complete that draft by the end of September.

So there you go, Rachel Cotterill. Set aside a few days at the beginning of October, because you're going to have some reading to do.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fiction Friday: Just Like Starting Over

John Lennon makes it sound romantic, but when you're talking about starting over on a novel into which you've already invested two years, that's not the word that comes to mind.

If you're curious about what would make me throw away 50,000 words (and what feels an equal number of hours of work), check out the story over at Eight Ladies Writing, the blog started by my classmates at  McDaniel College.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Little Town Thursday: Going to the Big Dance

Tonight, the University of Dayton will play Stanford in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

We weren't predicted to make it this far. In fact, we were expected to be eliminated by Ohio State University in the first round. But, in a daytime game that brought network bandwidth to its knees in offices throughout the area, we managed to squeak out a one point victory in the last 40 seconds.

And then, in the second round, we doubled our margin, beating Syracuse by two points in a similar down-to-the-buzzer win.

If you go back through The Raisin Chronicles (and you might want to--I found an Old Joke yesterday that made me laugh out loud) you'll notice there are few, if any, other posts about sports. So if I'm not really a sporty kind of gal, why am I so interested in this basketball tournament?

Dayton has fallen on hard times in recent years (recent being the last fifty or so--as I grow older, my definition of "recent" becomes more elastic). We've lost population (dropping from a high of 262,332 in the 1960 census to 141,527 in the most recent count), safety (the violent crime rate was 515.4 in 2012 against a national average of 214.0)  and corporate support (Mead Westvaco, Iams and NCR have all left the area).

Having NCR leave was an especially bitter blow, because that company was founded here. After the city was nearly destroyed by a flood in 1913, John Patterson led the effort to build the five dams around the city that kept that from ever happening again. I suspect he spun in his casket when Bill Nuti decided to give Dayton the old heave-ho.
But even as all this crap has been going on, the University of Dayton has been a tireless supporter of the city. They have almost single-handedly transformed the area where the university is located and they are in the thick of nearly every effort to improve Dayton.
And for that, I would love to see them rewarded in some cosmic way. So when the game comes on at 7:15 Eastern tonight, if you don't already have a dog in this fight, please root for UD.
Because they're rooting for Dayton.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Little Town Tuesday: The Shopping o' The Greene.

On Saturday I went shopping at a local mall called The Greene. The Greene is one of those "now that we've killed all the urban downtown areas, let's put together a romanticized, homogenized version of a downtown in out in suburbia, far from the nearest public transit station" shopping malls.

Whoever came up with the brilliant idea of building an outdoor mall in Dayton, Ohio, apparently forgot that winter here is a bitch, with sub-zero temperatures and piles of snow. On the other hand, it reached 60F here on Saturday and The Greene has a lot of shops all in one place where you can actually try things on and touch fabrics and see real colors.

One of the things fascinated me was the music playing in the shops, and how each store's music clearly conveyed its individual personality and target demographic.

Francesca's Collection
had some soft-core rap playing.

Christopher and Banks

(where my friend flatly refused to let me buy anything, announcing "These are old people clothes,")  was playing some Hall and Oates tunes, so that was pretty cool.


had Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald going on, which was awesome. It made their stuff seem even cooler than it already was, and helped slide their hefty price tags right past me.

But the best of all was Talbot's.

Their song was "Steppin Out." In case you've forgotten, "Steppin Out" was a particularly squashy bit of 80's soft rock originally recorded by Joe Jackson. But even that was too out there for Talbot's, so they were playing a  cover. I think they should record a whole album of music like this. They could title it, "Music to Be Old and White By."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fiction Friday: Plotting 101

I'm going to be a teacher.

There's a center here in Dayton called Words Worth Writing. They offer various craft classes for both non-fiction and fiction writers, including some by the amazing Katrina Kittle. I've taken several classes over the past few years and even met some new friends that way. So when Darren McGarvey, the owner, asked if I was interested in teaching, I jumped at the chance.

The class will center around plotting. That's always been my biggest challenge, which is why I've spent so much time (and we won't even discuss how much money) studying it. The class is an amalgam of the things I learned at the Robert McKee Story seminar, from working with Mary Buckham, and at the online knee of Jenny Crusie in the McDaniel program, with stuff from a lot of other plotting wonks thrown in for good measure. I'm planning on lots of hands-on, interactive stuff, because that's the way I like to learn.

Here's the syllabus:
  • Week 1--The Basics
    • Common Novel Structures
    • Protagonists and Antagonists
    • Conflict and Goals
  • Week 2--The Building Blocks of Story
    • Acts
    • Sequences
    • Scenes
    • Beats
    • Turning Points
  • Week 3--Character Arc
    • Plot arc vs. Character arc
    • Subplots
We'll be using familiar movies (Toy Story, The Wizard of Oz, The Fugitive, Pretty Woman, Moonstruck) to illustrate the points. And talking about people's individual manuscripts, and how these concepts can be used to strengthen them.

Because I've never taught before, I asked Darren to limit the class to 6 students. A couple of slots filled the very first day and a couple more people have registered since then.

It's a little scary, trying something new at this point in my life (I turned 60 last month). But then I think about what Carol Matthau said:

There is no old age. There is, as there always was, just you.

And that's who's going to be teaching in April.

Just me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My Little Town Tuesday: Doing My (Jury) Duty

On Friday I was summoned to jury duty by My Little County. The case involved a young man charged with five counts of aggravated menacing. Fourteen witnesses told different versions of the same story. It was like the movie Roshomon, only without the subtitles.

Note: This is the story as I remember it. As you'll realize by the end of this post, that's actually not worth much.

 In September of last year, two spindly 14-year-old boys are walking home from school. Jimmy is white, Tommy is bi-racial. Across the street is a house where 6-8 young men in their late teens and early twenties are hanging out. Alex, the defendant, is refurbishing an old Camaro in the driveway. As they walk by, the boys look in their direction. A guy we'll call Brian takes offense and yells:

Option A: "What the fuck are you looking at?"

Option B: "What the fuck are you looking at, boy?"

(In one version of the story, the boys yelled "Fuck you" at the guys in the yard as they walked by. In fact, they had a history of randomly taunting these older guys. But even the other defense witnesses wrinkled their brows and looked confused when asked to verify this.)

The young boys walk another 50 yards or so, then pull out a cell phone and call Tommy's dad.

Dad gets the call just as he's leaving for the gym. Based on his appearance, Dad spends a substantial part of his life at the gym. He is wearing red sweat pants, a white wife-beater and, arguably, a red, sleeveless hoodie. He jumps in his van.

Dad's brother, Uncle J, also jumps in the van. They zip around the corner to where Jimmy and Tommy are standing on the sidewalk, still within sight of the Camaro crew. Another 14-year-old friend of the boys overhears the commotion and joins them, bringing their group to five.)


Option A: Dad, who is carrying, not wearing, his hoodie, decides to politely approach the young men and inquire whether someone has a problem with his son and resolve the issue. He remains on the sidewalk, and not on private property.

Option B: Ripping off his hoodie and tossing it aside, Dad swaggers up the driveway and demands to know who has a problem with his son.

Option C (I love Option C): Dad rips off both his hoodie and  his undershirt and storms bare-chested up to the Gang of Six (or maybe Eight). He flexes a few times, allowing the young men to take in the full glory of his bulging chest muscles, and screams, "Which of you motherfuckers has a problem with my son?"

At this point, everyone agrees, a lot of yelling and cursing ensues.

The defendant goes into his house, where he keeps an SKS assault rifle. Telling his younger brother to call the cops, he retrieves an empty clip from beneath the bed and inserts it. State's Exhibit C looked like this:


Option A: Carrying the gun upright and pointed at the sky in his right hand, he opens the door with his left hand and steps outside and asks them to leave.

Option B: Cradling the rifle in his arms, he steps outside the front door and orders them off his property.

Option C: With the barrel of the gun pointed ground-ward, he steps outside and demands that they leave.

Option D: Brandishing the gun with his right hand on the trigger, he kicks the door open with his foot and leaps out the front door, screaming, "Who's hard now, motherfucker?"

Options E-L: Some variation on the above. (The cops didn't testify to this part since they weren't there yet.)


Option A: Dad moved to the right, still on the sidewalk, hoping to draw fire, should any ensue, away from his son.

Option B: Dad moved to the right and toward the defendant, placing a tree between them.

Option C: Dad charged the defendant screaming, "Go ahead and shoot me, motherfucker."


Option A: The defendant decided that reason and calm should prevail and set the rifle back inside the house.

Option B: The defendant realized he wasn't going to be able to do much with an empty gun and leaned it against the outside of the house.

The cops arrived soon thereafter and the whole party ground to a halt.

In Ohio, aggravated menacing is defined as knowingly causing another person to believe they will sustain serious bodily harm. Even though Alex didn't plan to shoot anyone, and in fact couldn't have shot anyone as he didn't have any ammo, he absolutely made other people believe he was going to inflict serious bodily harm. We regretfully convicted him on all five counts.

What a waste.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several ways this could have been avoided:

Option A: Alex could have chosen not to be friends with Brian-the-Bully.

Option B: The boys in the yards could have come out of their parents' basements and gotten jobs so they weren't spending their time hanging out at Alex's.

Option C: Dad could have chosen not to be so protective of Tommy.

Option D: The crotches of men's pants could be made of clear plastic.

Because that way, everyone would have already known whose was biggest.
Related Posts with Thumbnails