Writing Tip — What’s Your Motivation?

could-of-2458284_1280Recently, I sat down to outline my second novel. After just a few sentences, I stopped. My villains are two brothers and a sister who are con artists. One of the brothers is the father of my main character and the plot is about how father and son face off. I knew where I wanted my plot to go but found I didn’t really understand my villains’ motivation. Until I did that, I couldn’t go anywhere with my outline.

Unless it’s a very minor character, I need to understand why my characters act the way they do before I can write about them with confidence. Saying the con artists do bad things because they are con artists isn’t enough. Real con artists have a motive: money, power, or some other kind of gain. I needed to figure out what was driving my villains and why.

To do that, I began outlining a scene which will never be in the book.  This scene concerns the three siblings talking about a death in their family and how they can take advantage of it. Now I can shape their motives as they talk among themselves.

My novel is told from the point of view of the son, so the father’s, uncle’s and aunt’s motives will slowly be discovered through the story. But as the writer I have to have every character and his motives laid bare to me so I can figure out how to hammer together the plot.

Writing scenes which aren’t part of my novel is the best way I know to get a handle on a character that seems difficult. Not only can I uncover motives, but also perfect that character’s voice so she sounds unique.

For another opinion on the motives, read this article from Almost an Author.

What methods do you use to uncover your characters’ motives?

West Virginia Wednesdays — The Falls of Elakala

IMG_8506Sounds like a more remote section of Middle-earth, doesn’t it? It also goes by the far more  ordinary name of Elakala Falls, but I prefer the name used on the map we got at Blackwater Falls State Park, where the falls are located. The falls are a series of four separate falls as Shays Run “descends into the Blackwater Canyon”, as the article in Wikipedia puts it. Our hiking map gave warnings similar to those found in this Wikipedia article, namely that once you get past the first falls, the other three become increasingly dangerous.

Early one morning during our stay, my husband and I went to hike the falls. We drove to the lodge. If you walk out the front door and turn right, you are only about a three-minute walk from the trail head, which is clearly marked. The day was overcast, occasionally spitting rain, the perfect backdrop for the dark hemlocks and spruces that overhang the trail by the falls. Under these trees grow ferns and mosses, giving the forest a magical, primeval look. If an elf or a centaur had passed us on the trailer, I wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow.

IMG_8526The path to the first falls is easy to walk and clearly marked. We crossed the bridge as the first falls tumbled beneath us. Walking down the trail that parallels Shays Run, we were able to take photos of the falls. In the evening, we brought our kids back, and my husband experimented with different camera set-ups.

During our morning hike, my husband and I looked for a trail to the second falls, and my husband thought a small path following the Run would lead us to it. But since it wasn’t marked, and my husband and I aren’t experienced hikers, we decided to stick to the marked trails of which there were many. We met no one on the trails and could take our time trying to different shots with our camera. The quiet, ancient atmosphere of the forest was soothing and mysterious.

IMG_8634If you get a chance to visit Blackwater Falls State Park, don’t overlook the Falls of Elakala. Or the Elakala Falls. Even if you only reach the first falls, it is worth the hike.

 

Writing Tip — Death to all Adjective and Adverbs!

words-1034410_1280Or at least some serious injury. This post at Almost an Author talks about how the current writing style tries to eliminate most adjectives and adverbs. After I got Miss Hall’s response to my question, I realized that the new style poses both advantages and a unique danger to writers, especially to beginning ones.

Advantages

The current style is more descriptives. When a strong verb can do the work of a verb and an adverb, then eliminating the adverb makes sense. The sentence is both more descriptive and shorter.

He walked home slowly.

He trudged home.

And some words have been so overused that they don’t hold any meaning any more. “Really” and “suddenly” can’t be used, except in dialogue.

Disadvantage

But in the case of the example Miss Hall provides, the description grows from 23 words with adjectives and adverbs to 39 without them. The passage is more descriptive, and longer is not necessarily worse. But I think writers can very easily develop the written equivalent of long-windedness if we don’t exercise caution when replacing adjectives and adverbs.

So what’s a writer do do? Here is my advice.

First draft

Use as many adjectives and adverbs as you want if they express most clearly what you are describing. If the lettuce is green, fragile, ruffled, and crispy, put it all down. In a first draft, getting the words down is more important than what words you put down.

Revision

As you edit your first draft, determine which adjectives and adverbs you should replaces and how succinctly you can replace them. If your replacement description is longer than the adjectives or adverbs, make sure it doesn’t effect your pacing.

Read recently published books and see when and how they use adjectives and adverbs. The current style allows more adjectives than adverbs. I find, especially when describing the physical characteristics of a character, there is just no other good way to go about it except by using adjectives.

My main character describes his eyes as “boring” and “blue”. I don’t know how else to describe the color and by adding “boring”, the reader learns a little about how my main character sees himself.

If you would like to learn about the basics of how to use adjectives and adverbs, these two articles will show you.

memo-29039_1280Personal Note

If you read the comments below Miss Hall’s article, you will find one that disagrees strongly with the new style. I don’t think it’s better or worse. It’s just what publishers believe people will read. Three thousand years ago, if you wanted to tell a long story, you wrote an epic poem. Now you write a triple-decker novel. One’s not better than the other. Both want to meet the needs of the reading public of that time.

Who knows? If fifty years, writers may be passing death sentences on strong verbs.

 

Mondays Sparks — Writing prompt

woman-792150_1280What does a dog think when he or she goes for a walk?

One of my favorite books when I was a kid was 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith — it was a book before it was a cute Disney movie. The dalmatians call their owners their “pet” and talk about putting their “pets” on the leash when they go out for a walk.

My sister had a small dog named Ginger that was part terrier. The terrier part made Ginger think she was the size of a St. Bernard. And also the head of the household.

Here is what I imagine Ginger thought of a walk: “Why do I have to wear this lousy rope? I know how to walk.  Well, if you won’t leave the rope at home, I am going to make you walk fast. Don’t pull like that. I am leading, you are following. How will you know where to go if I don’t lead? Maybe the rope is a good idea. You won’t get lost.”

Share if you have your own idea of what your dog is thinking on a walk.

 

 

Scripture Saturday — Last Thoughts on the Solar Eclipse

bible-998150_1280In the days leading up to the solar eclipse, my husband mentioned how extraordinary the phenomenon is. The moon is the perfect size to block the sun and leave the corona visible. Both the sun and the moon are the perfect distance from each other. According to Wikipedia in the article “solar eclipse”, if “the Moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to Earth,  and in the same orbital plane, there would be total solar eclipses every month. However, since the Moon’s orbit it tilted at more than 5 degrees to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, its shadow usually misses Earth.” To read more of this article, click here.

The eclipse reminds me that in God the Creator, He combines the Ultimate Scientist with the Ultimate Artist. Although the nature we see isn’t perfect due to death, it still functions with a beauty that makes us smile and catch our breath. Can you imagine what perfect nature will be like in the new heaven and new earth?

Perhaps we limit ourselves when we try to split science from art. Some inventions work, but we like the ones that work beautifully. An artist still has to understand the elements of his art. A sculptor must know how different materials behave under different applications and which one would be best to accomplish a particular work.

I am going to keep this in mind when I write. There is a “science” in writing — understanding parts of speech, word definitions, sentence structure — and I should take full advantage of that “science” so I can meld it with the art and creat something beautiful.

Writing Tip — The Eclipse as a Setting

wallpaper-1492818_1280If you were anywhere near the path of the eclipse yesterday, I hope the weather and your circumstances allowed you to enjoy it. I wasn’t in the path of totality, so all I experienced as a slight darkening and cooling, like on an overcast day. The most notable difference were the crickets chirping like it was evening in the middle of the afternoon.

Eclipse for Crime Fiction

If I was using the eclipse for a setting, it would have to be a backdrop for something momentous. It’s too unusual an event for just mundane occurrences. A murder can take place, or the revelation and capture of a master criminal.

Speaking of crime, my husband noticed something at a business meeting yesterday. The meeting was held at a building with security at the entrance. The building emptied for people to view the eclipse at its height. Then everyone reentered the building. So many people came in at once that the security guards didn’t bother to check I.D.’s.

With that in mind, in a crime story, an employee can smuggle in accomplices when the crowds return to a busy office building after viewing the total or near-total eclipse. Then they commit their crime later in the day. Or have a crime planned for site in the path of totality when the criminals know employees will be outside for several minutes.

Eclipse for Speculative Fiction

surreal-2290472_1280Researching the myths surrounding eclipses might provide fertile ground for a story. The site timeanddate.com list many of them. Interestingly, most ancient cultures describe the eclipse in terms of some creature eating the sun.

I could write a story about a certain group of people whose special powers only work when they stand within the path of a total eclipse. They spend their lives traveling the world, from eclipse to eclipse, so they can use their powers, some for evil, some for good.

Or a villain is going to unleash some horrible power but can only accomplish it in the path of totality and if the eclipse is visible to him. The heroes know this. The day of the eclipse, the heroes and the villains watch the weather and race up and down the path trying to get into the perfect position.

I like the idea of this story a lot because I could work in the specific date and real locations that were in the path of totality. It would give a veneer of realism to a fantastic story. I also like the idea of the chase, and the characters racing around in numerous vehicles as the villain hunts for the right weather and the heroes hunt of the villain.

What ideas do you have for using the eclipse as a setting?

Scripture Saturdays

bible-450298_1280I’m sorry it’s been so long since I posted in this category. My time got away from me this summer and I have just now found it. Since Easter, I’ve been reading the Psalms and Proverbs.  I like the structure of the Psalms. The verses are usually a kind of couplet in which the same thing is described two different ways.

Psalm 37:1-2:

“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon whither, like green plants they will soon die.”

I’m not sure where I read it, but a writer pointed out that because of this structure, the Psalms translate into any language. Its poetry isn’t dependent on rhyme.

Proverbs also uses this dual structure. Sometimes it does it the same way as the Psalms, such as in Chapter 17:17:

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”

But many of the Proverbs are couplets that demonstrate an opposite.

Proverbs 14:23-24:

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

“The wealth of the wise is their crown, but the folly of fools yield folly.”

My favorite chapter in Proverbs is Chapter 30, “the Sayings of Agur”. It uses a structure only found in this chapter.

Proverbs 30:15-16:

“There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!'”

Proverbs 30:24:

“There are three thing that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats from nothing,; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and king secure against revolt.”

I like how these list are constructed and would love to be able to write some with modern meanings. Now that I’ve found my time, maybe I will do that.

Here are some of my favorite verses from the Psalms:

Psalm 24:1:

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.

Psalm 24:7

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, your ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”  I like this verse because it is the first line of a hymn I grew up with.

Psalm 133:1, 3:

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion, for there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Psalm 121:1:

“I lift my eyes to the hill — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” I like this verse because I love mountains.

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