Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I get so caught up in my story I think I tend to forget my characters. I recently had one of my 4Corners buddies tell me my chapters were like short stories. They didn't tend to move the story forward which is an absolute no no to a writer.

I have had this criticism before, in fact it's the most frequent criticism I get. I've never really understood the criticism before but I think I finally do. My 4Corners buddy talked about something having to happen in each chapter to move the characters along to their final destination and some hint of the final destination has to be there. Even now I'm a little fuzzy as to how I manage that.

OK. Hypothesis. Let's say your final destination is a whole series of events that end with one of your characters getting arrested. This is my story RUN. There will be a trial. In the 1920's teenage runaways were routinely put into jail and younger siblings returned home. My characters have run from an abusive household and being returned home is not a good option.

The adults who have befriended them, Cecil and the Nuns and the old men from the hotel come to their rescue and spirit Kate and Pearl out of the courthouse. The brother, Ben, sees their plight in a newspaper and has come to the courthouse as well and he is also spirited away, with his friend Abel. There will be a surprise ending and I don't want to give that away but the upshot of that ending will be that Ben will join the girls on their next adventure. He will no longer be in Penn Station. Abel may join them; I'm not sure of that as yet.

How do I move my characters toward that series of events? Perhaps I have the girls see a mysterious stranger in the neighborhood of the hotel. Perhaps they worry about the nephew who remembered some runaways whose father would pay a mint to get them back and, when last seen, was running for the library to look them up.

I think both of these options would work to move the story forward. I think it would make sense for Pearl and Kate to worry about being found and what would happen if they were. The children's father is a lawyer and Kate has seen him in court and undoubtedly knows what would be in store for them if she and Pearl were found.

The key to this is my rendering of character. If I don't get a good hold on my characters the story takes over. I think that's what's happened here. I need to grab hold of my characters and not let go.


Brit said...

Marsh - I've dealt with this issue before.

Are you working with an outline? I've heard of plotting backwards, which I've done. What is the end result? Where do you see the characters in the end? Reunited and ready for adventure #2? Then put that down. Somehow, Ben has to make his way back. How would that happen? There is a trial - the publicity lets him know of the girls' whereabouts and he travels to them? If there is a trial, then Kate and Pearl have been caught? How? Did someone turn them in? Was it a friend they trusted? Was it a stranger? Were they in the wrong place at the wrong time? If they were, were would they be caught? If it was a friend, is it a current character or a new one? If it is a new one - how do they meet this friend?

You get the drift. Sometimes that and outlining helps me find the theme and make sure everything is working together. Sometimes if I'm writing, something will happen and then I try to branch off of it and it takes me away from the central concern of the story.

You know the kids runaway from an abusive home. You know they are trying to find their way in this big world. They get separated. Are they trying to get reunited? Their goal is to be together and make their way in a scary world in the 1920s. They are kids. They are runaways. The police will be looking for them. That is their conflict. Then they're caught - then there is a trial and somehow they are reunited and can go on to find their way in the world. That's all I can think of - I'm not even sure if this helped.

I've plotted backwards before and found it extremely helpful.

marsh to the fore said...

Thank you Brit for all this helpful advise! I read your blog piece to my husband on the way to Tahoe yesterday and thought it was great and he did too. I am going to try the outline, for sure. I like your idea of plotting backwards, which of course is what I'll be doing.

I wonder if I can print your comment? It was that good! I'm going to try!