Monday, March 23, 2009

Why, oh why?

Here's a horrifying experience for a writer: as you're working on your current project, you ask yourself, "But why does the bad guy do that? I mean, why is he there at all?"

And there is nothing but the sound of crickets chirping in your brain. 


This past week, I've been combing my book with why's and wherefore's. Pretty much at every scene, I'm asking the characters, "Why are you here?" And it's been illuminating, mostly because of how often I had absolutely no idea, or the answer is a muddled "garr." 

Maybe in real life people do things randomly, but in novels, I don't believe they ever should. Random action is the enemy of a tight story or a good plot. So with every scene, there has to a defensible reason why every character is present and why they're doing what they're doing. 

The cool thing, though, is the more I stress test the story, the deeper I go. With every round of questioning, I find myself building it out a little further, and the themes become clearer, the characters become clearer. But it does make for slightly slower going than I'm used to ... 


Mark Terry said...

I feel a Talking Heads tune coming on. "Is this my beautiful house? Is this my beautiful wife? How did I get here?"

Erica Orloff said...

Thanks . . . now that is stuck in my brain for the rest of the day.

Oh, have I been there. But maybe the bad guy hates simply because he can. Or . . . knowing the storyline a bit . . . there must be jealousy. More people seem to do bad things for that . . . such a corrupting, insidious emotion.

Either way, we shall wrestle with it . . . CAN'T WAIT until tomorrow night, Dude.


LurkerMonkey said...


What Erica said. I hummed that stupid song for the next two hours ... thanks a lot.

LurkerMonkey said...


I'm pretty excited to get this thing underway myself. The deeper I dig, the more backstory becomes involved. You know ... how did he figure this out, why is doing that, etc., etc., etc. The funny thing is, I know his main motivation exactly, but figuring out a way to bring it all forward in the story is a bitch. I really want to avoid POV shifts or flashback if possible, but now I see why JKR used them in her final four books. She had a lot of story ...

spyscribbler said...

You know, I've been concerned about how little I revise when I'm done. But reading this, I realize I do a whole lot of editing before I even write a word. People's varying processes are just fascinating. It's cool.

And wow... awesome post. Totally. I agree 1,000%.