Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Hardest Question in Life: What Do You WANT?

The instructor in my writing class said that what drives plot is this question: what does your character want?

This is a devilish question. It startled when she said it, because I've been quite tied up with plotting out this book (book 2 in my trilogy) very externally: this happens, and then this, which leads to this. The cause and effect thing I had down. But I realized there was a problem as I was reading through the first draft I'd written this summer: it had no heart, it had no soul. There was no reason to care about my main character, because she's a muddle.

What does she want?

Oh, you horrible, very important question. And it only hit me today, because I must be slow, and because things in my life have been quite hard lately--she's a muddle because I'm a muddle. What do I want?

Believe it or not, it was this exact question that set me off on some of these Big Change Life Choices earlier this year. I read this question (or a version very similar to it) in a book and literally threw the book down as if it had burned me: "Where do I feel good? What is giving me joy?" --Joseph Campbell, in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

My answer to what my character wants as I looked through my muddled draft today was: she wants things to start being okay, for them not to be bad for awhile. But really that is what I want. On my quest to find joy and to answer the question of what I want, all I have so far  discovered is What I Do Not Want: loneliness, sadness, bewilderment. Divorce is hard.

My novels are in first person. My main character, Zoe, is both like, and unlike, me. I think she will need different motivations from me--that the motivation that drives a novel cannot just be for things to be okay. Though maybe she's a little understandably shell-shocked from some things that have happened. And I have always used writing as a way to work through and understand my own world. If I can let my main character be more honest, let myself be more honest, I think it will give soul to the book. But I don't want this to be a sad book. I'm tired of the cliched middle novel of trilogies being The Sad Book ;)

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