Tag Archives: character motivations

Thoughts on Writing – Writing a Rough Draft, One Character at a Time

I recently finished the main draft for book three of The Wishing Blade series (the main draft, in this case, being a little bit more polished than a rough draft, but not quite ready for beta-readers). The process I took for writing this one was a bit different than some of my other books, so I thought I would take a moment to discuss the process.

Normally,  when I write, I write semi-chronologically… for the whole plot. I may skip around at times to write scenes that I feel particularly enthused about, or to bypass scenes that are giving me difficulty until the rest of the rough draft has been written, but I write in plot order.

This time, however, I focused on writing one point of view at a time. The third book (currently untitled) has four points of view, compared to the two in Magic’s Stealing (Toranih, with a few short scenes from Shevanlagiy), the three in The Shadow War (Daernan, Toranih, a few scenes with Shevanlagiy… and technically there’s four POVs because there’s a single scene with Siklana). Distant Horizon and Glitch each have only one point of view (Jenna and Tim, respectively). There’s also Little One, which has three primary points of view and several brief scenes with a bunch of other characters, but I was jumping all over the place when writing that one.

General consensus?

The process for writing each book is going to be different.

That’s okay. Some books are harder, some are easier.

But let’s take a closer look at my most recent experiment… writing one point of view at a time. While I haven’t sent book three out to beta-readers yet, and there may be other advantages and pitfalls that I’ve missed, I have already noticed a few key aspects of the process.

Advantages:

  1. Character goals and motivations are easier to keep track of.
    • Since you’re writing one point of view all at once, you aren’t distracted by the other characters’ motivations. You’re focusing entirely on one character and what that one character wants. Thus…
  2. Character arcs are smoother.
    • Their emotions are easier to follow. You can see when their emotions are shifting, and they aren’t reacting to what the previous point of view character was feeling. It’s easier to isolate them, thus…
  3. This allows you to clearly see what major players are doing.
    • Each character feels more fleshed out because he has his own wants and needs, and is acting with an individual character arc.

However, this particular character-oriented process comes with a few pitfalls.

Disadvantages:

  1. Occasional lapses in timeline.
    • When you’re writing these different characters, you may find that something that needs to happen in the morning happens in the afternoon, or days before or after an event should occur. Having a general outline that shows what each character should be doing, and when, can help alleviate this issue, as can leaving some time frames in which the events’ timing is not solidified to one point on the plot. I was pleasantly surprised at how all four POVs managed to come together for book three… and that was probably because I had a rough outline, which I wrote after one character’s POV was already completely written.
  2. Story flow may not be as smooth.
    • When writing the plot in a linear fashion, it may be easier to see the ups and downs for the reader, not just the character. You may run into problems where the scenes are jarring, with one character coming out of an extremely tense situation into a scene where other characters are in absolute calm. To counter this phenomenon, you may want to look for moments of irony. If one character believes one thing and the opposite is true, this may work in your favor. You can also play with parallels, in which we see how events are lining up between characters more than they know. You can place alternating POVs in such a way as to create moments of tension, in which one of the characters has discovered a great danger to another character (or is the great danger), and we know that the character’s POV that we just shifted into is under a threat they don’t suspect.
  3. Story plot might be forgotten.
    • When focusing on the character, rather than the plot, you may find that the characters have decided to go an entirely different direction than you had planned. This can be good… it provides twists the reader might not expect, but it can also be bad… (On hearing my plans for the plot of book three, my husband asked, “But where’s the Shadow War?” Needless to say, I’ve made a few notes which will need to be addressed in the next round of revisions). You may find that the external plot has shifted away from what your reader expects to read. This can sometimes be prevented by having an outline, or it can be adjusted scene-by-scene once you have the rough draft written.
  4. Your story might get bogged down with subplots.
    • You may find that writing all of the scenes from a single point of view means that you place more importance on a character than you necessarily should. These subplots decide to take over the story and run away like the horses of a wagon in a gold heist… (sorry… my mind is stuck on “frontier” and “mining” at the moment). Once you place them in the story with the other characters’ POVs, you might quickly realize which scenes are bogging down the plot and which ones need to be moved. Beta-readers may also be helpful here, if you’re having a hard time picking out the problem spots.

Overall, though, I found doing each character arc individually to be an effective method for writing multiple points of views when each of the points of views were largely separate from the other. The characters are contributing to the main plot, but what they do doesn’t directly affect the others… yet. Still, readers can see that a larger scheme is unfolding, and what each of the characters are learning should create tension for the other characters, especially as the web of the plot slowly weaves them back together.

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you ever tried writing a story from each individual point of view before placing everything together into one, mostly-cohesive draft?

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Thoughts on Writing – Multiple Character Motivations in One Scene

Though I’ve primarily been focusing on getting the paperback edition ready for Magic’s Stealing (I ordered the proof copy today!) and making edits to The Multiverse Chronicles, I’ve still been thinking about the plot for The Shadow War. My goal is to iron out as many inconsistencies as possible before I get into the heavy writing/editing phase.

Today I’m going to look to look at a scene from The Shadow War and focus on how knowing the multiple character motivations in that scene can help improve the logic of what’s going on.

Warning: There are spoilers in this post regarding events in Magic’s Stealing, along with certain character motivations and the first major event of The Shadow War.

In other words, if you don’t want spoilers, you might want to pick up a copy of Magic’s Stealing before reading this post, then come back to read this post. If you don’t mind spoilers, then by all means, please continue reading. 🙂

Toward the beginning of The Shadow War (the second book) there is a scene in which it is very important that the main character, Toranih, is captured by the shadows. In the current draft of this scene, a city guard requests her presence for legitimate reasons, but once she’s separated from her friends, a pair of shadows ambush her and the guard, then drag her through a portal to where Shevanlagiy (the antagonist from the previous book) is waiting to kill her. Shevanlagiy makes the attempt, but Toranih takes her by surprise and knocks her aside, leaving Lord Menchtoteale (the leader of the Shadows) to try. He attempts to strike her once, but since Toranih knows that shadows can’t be killed by mortal weapons, she grabs the nearest shadow’s knife and strikes her own hand. She falls into the shadow realm, and Menchtoteale again attempts to kill her, this time making what should be a devastating blow with the Wishing Blade, but Isahna (the trickster god behind the shadows, the god Menchoteale answers to) heals Toranih, orders Shevanlagiy to leave Toranih alone, and orders Menchtoteale to train her.

At this point in time, though, I’m a bit concerned that all of that is going to seem rather… confusing.

Why does Isahna prevent Menchtoteale from killing Toranih, and more importantly, why can’t these big bad guys successfully kill an almost defenseless teenager?

(Though I do have to say that Toranih has been working on her magic, and she is good at physical combat. But still… shouldn’t a well-trained sword fighter with a magic sword, or a super-powerful sorceress, manage one partially-trained kid?)

Since I want these scenes to make logical sense, I did my usual day-dreaming to work out the problems with this scene. As a result, I considered the character motivation for each character involved.

Toranih: She wants to get out of this alive. Being caught by shadows? Not exactly conducive to her plans of warning the port city of the upcoming attack. Now, she’s been in the shadow realm before (in a slightly alternate timeline that got erased because of her actions–read Magic’s Stealing if you want to know how that went), so she has a bit of an idea of how shadow magic works. She also knows that–at least according to her memory–she’s resistant to Menchtoteale’s attempts at magic’s lure (basically, a mind control power).

Shevanlagiy: Thanks to events in Magic’s Stealing, Toranih has part of Shevanlagiy’s magic… specifically her resistance to magic’s lure. Before that event, Shevanlagiy could ignore Isahna’s commands (so long as ignoring his commands don’t alert him to her own secret plans). Now that Shevanlagiy has lost part of her magic, she’s not sure how much it will take for Isahna to give her orders that she must follow, which isn’t good when she plans on stealing the Wishing Blade from him later. At this point, she needs to kill Toranih as soon as possible. However, it’s important that she be the one to kill Toranih, otherwise she won’t get her magic back.

Menchtoteale: He’s in charge of wielding the Wishing Blade, and his job is to collect as much power into the sword as possible. He needs an army of shadows (to overrun the Immortal Realm so that he can kill the gods and force their powers into Wishing Blade). Toranih was one of the few mages who didn’t lose her powers when he wished the magic of Cirena into the Wishing Blade, largely because she had the support of a lower-tier goddess behind her. For Menchtoteale, killing Toranih with the sword means finishing that part of the job. Alternatively, striking her with a shadow blade means he should be able to command her. But he knows that someone who looked like Toranih was particularly resistant to his ability to command the shadows. As such, killing her is the more practical option, even though having a shadow mage on his side could be good for the army.

Isahna: His intent is to have Menchtoteale get as much power in the Wishing Blade as possible so that he can eventually take that sword, confront the high gods, then take their place. (It’s a bit of a vendetta after he lost the bid for power to a different god). He’s gotten surprisingly useful information from Shevanlagiy, but he’s certain that she’s playing him for a fool. Unfortunately, he’s not all-knowing, so he’s not sure what her end-game is. He does have an idea that her resistance to his powers may have dropped recently, and has something to do with Toranih. Thus, keeping Toranih around might give him a few insights into what Shevanlagiy has planned… especially since the kid has strong powers (if she can be coaxed into using them) and an interest in military operations (unlike Menchtoteale, who Isahna chose as his general mainly because the guy could forge the Wishing Blade).

There are other motivations behind these guys, as well, but I’m trying not to give away all the twists of this scene. 😉

Anyway, looking at those motivations, let’s take a look at the scene again and at what could happen instead.

First, Toranih must be captured early on in the story (or at least, she needs to be in a position where she becomes a shadow). This is critical to the plot, as she needs to be working against the shadow army from the inside. The problem with this is that, in theory, Shevanlagiy really should just sneak up on Toranih and stab her in the back.

Problem solved (And we have one very happy Shevanlagiy).

But we know from Magic’s Stealing that Shevanlagiy is hesitant to do that so long as Toranih’s other two friends are around. They have an artifact which can effectively wipe out shadows (and is a large detriment to her own powers). Not only that, but one of those people is Toranih’s sister–who has proven to have particularly good aim with a throwing knife and nearly killed Shevanlagiy once before (Shevanlagiy doesn’t die, per se, but she can get thrown into another realm and thus lose all her progress in this realm). The other person is Daernan–someone Shevanlagiy has been working very hard at making sure he stays alive. Putting him in danger isn’t a good idea for her–not yet.

Even if Shevanlagiy simply stabbed Toranih with a shadow knife and commanded her to hold still while she delivered the finishing blow, the possibility that Toranih might get destroyed by the artifact her friends have–thus permanently losing her “stolen” magic–is not a good risk.

So that’s an area I’m still running into issues with. Shevanlagiy needs Toranih dead, so the question is how does she make that attempt?

For now, let’s say that Shevanlagiy still orders a pair of shadows to kidnap Toranih and bring the girl to her. Now she’s putting the shadows–but not herself–at risk. Shevanlagiy’s first goal is still to kill Toranih… just on her own terms. She’s ready to strike when Toranih arrives, and makes an immediate attempt on Toranih’s life.

Since we don’t want Toranih dead yet, this is where we can see Toranih’s growth with magic from the previous story. She successfully thwarts Shevanlagiy with telekinesis… even though her chances are looking bleak if she can’t find a way to quickly escape.

Now enter Menchtoteale. He’s in the same location (which makes me consider… why would Shevanlagiy bring her captive to the same place as someone who might kill Toranih before her? Perhaps he comes back to their base unexpectedly early? Or perhaps Isahna gets wind that Shevanlagiy is up to something, so he sends his puppet along to check things out). Either way, Menchtoteale arrives unexpectedly, realizes Toranih is the same person he saw earlier, and he knows he won’t be able to control her easily. Forget making her a shadow, then. While Shevanlagiy is still dazed from her earlier attack, he attempts to kill Toranih and be done with it… except that Toranih, in her desperation, snags the knife from one of the nearby shadows and prevents her death by turning herself into a shadow. The catch here is that if he uses the Wishing Blade, that would kill her (but she might not be thinking about that)… unless he stops mid-strike because he’s bewildered that anyone would willingly make themselves a shadow.

He’s not the only one. Toranih isn’t sure what to make of her decision, either.

In the meantime, Shevanlagiy has had enough time to get back into the game. Now it’s more important than ever that she kill Toranih. She prepares to make the kill, but is stopped when Isahna shows up and orders them to stop. She can technically disobey his orders at the moment, but deliberately breaking his rules now would make it clear that she has her own agenda, which would jeopardize her later plans. She holds back, though she’s still trying to figure out how to take out her enemy.

Now, this next section needs some work, but this is what I have in mind so far:

Isahna orders them not to harm Toranih. Both Menchtoteale and Shevanlagiy protest, and Isahna makes the case that Toranih might be useful to have around. He orders Menchtoteale to train her, and orders Shevanlagiy not to kill her. When Shevanlagiy expresses her displeasure with the idea, he begins to question her why. Shevanlagiy tries making excuses, to which Isahna starts giving her minor orders with magic’s lure, ones which he knows she will deny if his suspicions about her are correct. Each time she refuses, her ability to resist magic’s lure dwindles, until he finally gives the order not to kill Toranih. This time, he successfully uses his power against her. Not only can he now keep Shevanlagiy away from his new military interest, but he has also discovered exactly where her resistance to his powers ends.

This is important for multiple reasons.

1st – This sets up a rule of magic that we will see throughout the rest of the series, one which Menchtoteale tells Toranih (paraphrased): “Better to accept the little things that Isahna orders of you, and thus be able to resist the commands that matter to you, rather than resist the insignificant things and be forced to do something terrible.”

2nd – We now see exactly why Shevanlagiy is afraid of Isahna… and why she is more desperate than before to push her plans along and find some way to strike Toranih and get her powers back… especially now that she physically can’t unless she takes care of Isahna first. Not only that, but this puts her in a position to ignore Toranih for the time being and focus her attention on Daernan, which gets into the sub-plot regarding glass-stone and protecting the kingdom from the shadows. Shevanlagiy is playing both sides, which makes her, to some extent, unpredictable.

3rd  – Toranih has now seen firsthand how magic’s lure works from Isahna, which affects her decisions through the rest of the series. This is especially important when Isahna offers her a legitimately useful deal later (Though it comes with it’s costs,of course. I rather enjoy stories with villains who can offer a hard-to-resist deal. Probably one of the reasons that I enjoyed Rumpelstiltskin’s character in Once Upon A Time). Along the same token, we’ll also see Isahna offering Menchtoteale a deal regarding Menchtoteale’s own freedom if he can get Toranih interested in trading places with him… and that gets into a whole nother set of character motivations. Needless to say, Isahna is going to try covering all the angles.

In the long run, taking a close look at what motivates each primary character to act, especially early on in your manuscript, can really help to work out the kinks not only in a specific scene, but also in the full length of the plot. Not only that, but you’ll also have more believable antagonists and stronger protagonists, because we can understand what they’re up against.

Now I just have to figure out how much to actually show in the story. On the bright side I’ve already shown multiple points of view in the first book, so it won’t be as odd if we see the occasional point of view from the antagonists.

I hope this post has been helpful. 🙂 Have you ever explored a character’s motivations to solve problematic scenes?

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Thoughts on Writing – Character Motivation

Today I’m talking about  how a character’s backstory influences their actions.

In the first draft of Magic’s Stealing, I never really explained why the main character, Toranih, didn’t like magic. She simply didn’t. But stories generally read better if the author knows why a character behaves a certain way, even if they never explain this directly to the reader. So, in order to add credibility to Toranih’s character, I began to explore her motives.

From Dictionary.com (a really useful resource when double-checking that a word means what you think it means), motives are “something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.”

To see why Toranih acts so paranoid/distrustful of magic, while being so interested in learning how to effectively wield a sword, let’s take a look at her world. Toranih is the youngest daughter of the Lord of the Armory, so she has plenty of access to swords and the people who can teach her. In regards to magic, the kingdom has a high number of ribbon mages, so magic is common. However, the ability to see magic is not. Neither Toranih, nor her older sister, Siklana, can see ribbon magic, though her best friend can.

In the original draft of Magic’s Stealing, Toranih did not like magic because she felt like it was all tricks and illusions. (A side note: the trouble with using the term ‘illusion’ with magic is that if you actually have magic doing something, the illusion of something happening is no longer an illusion. I’ve been slowly weeding this word from the story). So my first idea for why Toranih didn’t like magic was that maybe a bad event scared her in the past. She gets her first glimpse of magic at a parade when she was little, and it overwhelms her. Thus, she’s been wary ever since.

However, my husband pointed out that a parade with a lot of colorful, fluttering ribbons is likely to be awe-inspiring to a four-year-old, not terrifying. While I still feel that everyone has different reactions, so what some kids like, others are terrified of (for example… clowns), I started looking elsewhere for answers. Toranih doesn’t like magic, and to the extent that she is paranoid in earlier drafts, there seems like there might be a bit more to her paranoia. So I cut the bit about the parade (keeping the event, but not having it terrify her), and considered Toranih’s distrust of their mythology. There are already several references in the current draft which lends itself to this theory.

For example, after an event involving Toranih being magically called to do a task she wouldn’t otherwise do:

Old fables flitted to the edge of her mind, haunting melodies of immortals and creatures whose very power was that of magic’s lure, the power to call and demand, to whisper in a person’s ear and convince them, without fail, to do their bidding.

In something of a flashback, Toranih’s sister tells her about life and death magic:

Once, long ago, when Siklana showed Toranih how to use her crystal, she’d convinced a couple of the servants to come stand in front of them. One had magic, the other did not. And she’d pointed to the one with magic and all the ribbons, and explained what ribbon magic was and how it worked.

 

Then Siklana pointed to the other servant, and said that even though he wasn’t a mage, he still had magic. Everyone had magic, but it was difficult to see because it was closer related to string magic, but couldn’t Toranih see it? There were two thin strings running through his body, each entwined and almost impossible to spot.

 

Siklana had adjusted the crystal to make them more visible. “That’s the only string magic visible to a ribbon mages,” she’d said. “One strand is life, and the other is death. Everyone has them. If you don’t, then you’re dead. That’s how the gods made us,” Siklana had continued, much to Toranih’s dismay. “But only the really powerful gods can manipulate those strings, so there’s nothing to be scared of.”

 

That memory had stuck with Toranih ever since.

In a conversation with Aifa, the Matchmaker goddess:

Aifa rolled her eyes. “Such a harsh tongue, tut-tut. Dear, I’m the goddess of relationships, not all-powerful. But if you don’t mind your manners, you’ll find yourself mute.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. She had heard tales of citizens who’d crossed the gods in older times. Citizens who found their love lives broken or their ability to communicate… impossible.

Toranih has plenty of reason to be uneasy about magic and the gods’ use of magic. However, we can take this a step further. We know that Toranih is very interested in swordsmanship, and wants to be a guardsman except that her father doesn’t think that position befits her station. This is especially problematic when her sister, Siklana, reveals intentions to marry into a different estate, thus leaving Toranih as the sole heir.

Her father handed one of the servants his empty plate and rested back in his chair. “Understanding self-defense is important, but you’re taking these studies a bit far. There are more important subjects for a young lady to—”

 

“Siklana is much more adept at those studies,” Toranih interrupted. Her scone crumbled and she swept the crumbs into a napkin before he could get onto her about that, too. “Let’s be honest. When inheritance time comes around, she’ll inherit the estate. She’ll master magic at the academy, and she’ll be the one to win the hearts of the city and lead them in her wise, older age.”

 

Siklana ducked her head behind her bangs. Her dark brown eyes shown through. She was smaller in stature than her younger sister, especially since she lacked the muscle that came from Toranih’s years of swordplay. “What if I marry into a different house?”

 

Toranih turned sharply. Her sister… marry? Of course she would, she had always been interested in the attention of suitors, but Toranih hadn’t thought she would try to climb the social ladder through marriage.

 

If she married into a higher class, she would leave behind the Covonilayno estate. “I’d be the heir,” Toranih whispered, stunned.

 

Her father nodded. “The rights would fall to you. As is custom.”

 

Toranih glared at her sister. “How long have you been planning this?”

 

“I’ve been thinking about it for a year,” she admitted coyly. “I’ve already passed the academy’s first year exams, and I’m well into my second year. Our inheritance is decent, but there are a few worthy suitors who could help me further my education once I finish in Cirena City. With a decent suitor’s allowance, I could travel to the Islands. I’ll make sure that’s part of the contract. I might even learn word magic.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. While having at least some degree of ribbon magic was common, word magic was practiced by very few. Anyone could learn it, so long as they knew how to pronounce the spell.

 

But say just one syllable wrong, and any number of horrors awaited the practitioner. Setting ones’ self on fire, opening a portal in the middle of a crowded city and killing anyone in its path, trying to heal someone and killing them instead… and a particularly powerful spell could bind a target to do the mage’s will.

 

Toranih shivered. Unlike ribbon magic, word magic was invisible. No crystal could reveal words the way it could reveal ribbons.

My husband pointed out that maybe Toranih doesn’t like magic because, unlike her sister (and most every other mage in the kingdom), she never really became adept with magic.

As a young child, Toranih saw her sister and Daernan surpass her with flying colors while she struggled to control ribbons for even basic tasks. At the same time, young noblewomen were taught basic self-defense, which is where she excelled. She threw herself into the study of swords and knives, hoping to become a weapons master. In the meantime, she became more and more resentful of magic. She eventually understood the basics (which we see her using in Magic’s Stealing), but she never quite comes to terms with the fact that she’s been left behind by the mages.

The result?

She can’t easily control magic, so she doesn’t trust it, and (as the current blurb says) she would rather have a sword in her hand than use her powers to heal and throw fireballs.

And now we have the reason that Toranih doesn’t like magic. We can see why she might, at times, lash out or vehemently deny anything to do with being a mage.

But she lives in a world so saturated with magic that she can’t ignore it, and so she still uses the magical light crystal her sister gave her. She still changes into an owl when Daernan convinces her to go to the parade. She still tries to save people who are dying when their magic is stolen. But she has a flaw, and because of that flaw she doesn’t always use her powers when she should, and her unwillingness to try could cost her the people she loves.

Now I’ve just got to make sure that is apparent within the story, even if I never come outright and say this is why she acts the way she does.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you found any books where character motivations were well-done, or where they were lacking?

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