Monday, May 4, 2009

The ”Why” Factor

I believe in fairy tales. I don't just say this because I'm a romance novelist and believing in fairy tales is part of the job description. Nope, I believe in fairy tales because I hold to the belief that one day the market is going to turn and romances set in World War II will become popular. Keep your guffaws and groans to yourself. I don't want to hear them. I plan to cling to this belief like a barnacle clings to the hull of an aircraft carrier. You see, in addition to paranormal romance, I write historical romances set in World War II. Cue the big band music. Go cat go.

Unfortunately, my World War II novel suffers from the same problems that my paranormal romance does. I'll call it the "Why " Factor.

Below is a conversation that I had with the TriMus at one of our weekly gatherings.

"Why does Carly want to be with Austin?" asked the Tri Mus as we talked how I was going to revise Carly and Austin's story.

"I don't know." I whined. "She had a hard childhood. He's good for her."

"I don't buy it." This was Vert. The rest of the Tri Mus agreed with her.

I wanted to argue, but I couldn't because they were right. I needed to know the why and it was very clear that I didn't. I put my head on the table and mumbled. "Clearly I'm not a good writer. I should just stop now."

Fortunately, the Tri Mus persuaded me to keep working on it. I think by changing the pacing of the romance and Austin's motivation, I can make this work. This interlude is the perfect illustration of what is a huge, huge problem for me. I know the who of my novels. I know the what. I know the where. I even know the how, but the why eludes me every time.

Character motivation. It vanquishes me in every first draft, but I will not let it defeat me in the long run. This draft will be better than the first one and the next will be better still. Carly and Austin are not letting me give up on them. I'm glad of that, but I do wish they would make it easier for me to discover why they do stuff because this is like pulling teeth.

Do any of you guys fight with the "why" of your story?


haricot vert said...

Yup. I often struggle with character motivation, but not so much due to a lack in my understanding of the character. Rather I struggle with how to _show_ the motivation, the why, without giving too much of a straight info dump. Making the character's actions inevitable, that is what gives me problems.

Darlene C. Goodman said...

I struggle more with the why not's? My characters will have all this pent up angst and a great many good reasons why, but I'm scared to let them act out. I don't want them to make a scene, which is bad, because that's exactly what fiction is supposed to do.

Sarah said...

Sometimes it takes a long time to answer the big questions.

"What does this character want and what will she do to get it?" are a lot easier to answer than "But why does she want it in the first place?" Focus on the latter part of the question - what is the character willing to do - and you'll find the why is right there.


It took me three questions to get Kellen's chapter back in shape. The third - "Why is he even alive?" - spurred me to my own AHA! moment. Quiz your character to pieces. Don't worry, they'll still surprise you. In fact, the better you know how they act - the more I find they try to pull pranks and change your story :)

purpleprose 78 said...

Bah...Writing isn't a hobby. It is work.The characters are real in my head. They walk, they talk, they complain, but getting them to walk, talk, and complain so that the reader thinks they are real is harder. Which for me comes down to the why factor...Sigh...Must keep working.