Monday, February 23, 2009

Why me, Lord?

I'm busy putting together a story proposal with a possible co-author. Now Chris is fine writer in his own right and if we didn't share viewpoints and do things in a very similar way, I would never consider it... but it still exposes a lot of differences in the way we work. The principal one is that I insist on knowing WHY. What authors do is to put their characters in harm's way. We're just like that. Trust us with your children! We then work out ways -- often bizarre, exciting and dangerous, and usually daft --of getting them out of those situations. I, it appears, am a little unusual in that I like to know why the character got into the situation, why he chose that way of getting out (which in turn leads to a whole lot more whys) and of course why the situation exists in the first place. And of course there is another huge 'why': why should the reader care? And bluntly if you can't answer that question, maybe you need to work on it before you try to sell the book. In this case Chris had posited an interesting heroine and her brothers going off into the chasms... for wealth. Well I'm pretty sure lots of bankers did nice things to the banking system and our future for the same reason. Funnily, I can't say I find them my aspirational heroes. But as soon as I know the character lost his father at 10 and grew up in poverty and 'needs' to succeed to deal with their insecurity -- I'm more sympathetic, especially when the story explores that aspect of his character and how he deals with the flaws it has created in him.

So don't just tell me. Tell me why. I want the motivation. I do not want co-incidence. I want a train of logic. Then your story WILL suspend my disbelief and swallow me.

4 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Absolutely, Dave.

When I run workshops I tell people you can have your characters do terrible things, as long as they do them for what they perceive to be noble reasons.

There's nothing like a tragic, misguided hero to make a book memorable!

Dave Freer said...

Agreed. And provided the reader is given reason percieve something to like - even Dick Dastardly can be retrieved. In fact that's often the core of a good story.

Anonymous said...

"In this case Chris had posited an interesting heroine and her brothers going off into the chasms... for wealth." -Dave Freer

If a non-writer is allowed to contribute to the brainstorming, I offer the following--

I suppose the question that needs to be asked is why do they need or want the wealth? Answer that and what might seem a very mercenary sort of thing to do, may turn out to be as prosaic as needing enough money to keep going or to raise funds for something necessary or kind.

Hey, who came up with Katerina Montescue in Shadow of the Lion? Her smuggling was certainly, well, gray, but the reason behind it was relatively noble, my family needs income, badly, and I'm the only one currently able to do it, so I'll do what needs doing. I liked Katerina Montescue, another character like her would be worth reading about.

Dawn H

Dave Freer said...

:-)Well, Dawn H ANYONE - especially readers are welcome to the brainstorming And you hit on precisely the underlying reason: The heroine in this case does not merely want wealth to buy 53 pairs of manolo blahniks, but rather noble reasons.