Thinking While Writing

Although I finished the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month, I am still writing, though I’m back to my usual snail pace and my habit of thinking while I write. It’s not so much that I’m reverting to my old ways, but that I’ve written all the easy parts. Now, besides figuring out how to put the book together, I have to write any missing scenes, write the connective tissue that turns isolated scenes into a cohesive story, and write descriptions, which has always been hard for me. I am not fond of long descriptive passages, but I understand the need to anchor a reader to the story with visuals, so I try to describe a scene in as few words as possible. Generally I do this by finding a significant detail — the one thing that will make a scene come alive, such as a green lizard on the ceiling of a hotel room in Thailand or a razor-wire-topped fence hidden in the trees.

All those parts of the story take thought, which means no more writing at break-finger speed. Still, I’ve come away from the experience with a better appreciation for the writing process (though, drat it! It was supposed to be a vision quest, and I had nary a vision.)

The most important lesson I’ve learned from this experience is that by jumping around and writing scenes as I think of them rather than trying to write them chronologically, I can see what I need to include. For example, in my other WIP, the apocalyptic allegory that’s been paused for the past three years while I dealt with life, I need to have my hero preparing for the future. I couldn’t think of all that he would need, but after writing a scene where he assisted at the birth of a baby, I could see he needed something with which to cut the cord. I already had him sharpening a bit of flint, but since these end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-survivors have no clothes but loincloths, which traditionally do not come equipped with pockets, he pulled the flint out of a pouch. Aha! So now I not only have to have him make the flint, I have to have him carrying it around. He started out working on it in secret and hiding it before returning to the group, no he will have to make a pouch (out of what? and how?) and start carrying the makeshift knife. But why would he go through all that trouble? Perhaps too many people have shown an interest in his activities. Perhaps someone went searching for the knife. Perhaps he just likes knowing it is available if he should need it.

Answering why is a vital part of keeping our writing cohesive. Without character motivation, we end up with a series of happenings that aren’t connected, which means no story. Knowing what the story needs, such as the flint in the pouch, I can go back and figure out why he’d have it, otherwise it seems too coincidental. And to keep from things being coincidental, I have to think, which means writing at a slower pace. At least for a while.

Sex With Sister Tips — Writing Tips, That Is

Who am I to sneer at a gift from the google gods? Ever since I posted an interview with my sister called “Was It Bizarre Reading a Sex Scene Written By Your Sister?” people have been coming to this blog wanted to find out how to have sex with their sister. If writing about sister sex will boost my blog ranking, then what the heck, I’ll write about sister sex. Or rather, write about writing sister sex.

We have such a strong taboo against incest that if you want to write about sibling sex in a mainstream novel, the incest must be motivated. In other words, there has to be a strong reason for it. Perhaps the children were shut away in an attic most of their lives and had only themselves to rely on. (If I remember correctly, this was the premise of V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic.) Perhaps two sisters were molested by their father, and the only tender love they knew was the love they offered each other. Perhaps the parents saw nothing wrong with sibling sex, perhaps even encouraged it by having a brother and sister share a bed. (Of course, this complicates matters in that you have to show the parents’ actions as being motivated. Why would they think this was an acceptable arrangement?)

The point is, if you want people to accept the incest, you have to give them more of a reason for siblings to have sex than simply because they wanted it. People want lots of things that are not acceptable, but that does not make the thing acceptable to lots of people. As always, with writing, you need to figure out what your motive is for writing the scene before you can figure out your characters’ motivations. Are you trying to prove that sibling love is acceptable? That it’s inevitable under certain circumstances? That love is love wherever you find it? That you have the hots for your sister or brother and want society’s okay? Whatever you want to prove, you then have to write the scene with this objective in mind.

Once you get past the motivation and emotion leading up to the sibling sex scene, writing a sex scene with a sister is the same as any other sex scene.  You show the two together, you show them connecting both emotionally and physically, and at the end you show how their interaction affected them.

The emotion does not have to be love on both sides. Nor does it have to be a single emotion. There could be love coupled with revulsion, love with fear, hate with sorrow. The emotion and how it affects the couple,  how it changed them or defined them is what makes the scene compelling, and the more contradictory the emotions, the better.

For more about writing sex scenes, see:
Writing Sex Scenes

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

On Writing: More About Character

Creating characters is one of the challenges and satisfactions of writing. We need to devise lifelike personalities for our story people, and we need to figure out why they act the way they do. Characters’ motivations for their actions are more important than their personality type. That WHY takes the character out of the ordinary.

In Practical Tips For Writing Popular Fiction, Robyn Carr states, “Some of the most common failures in motivating characters or plots occur from the following:

1. Foolish and or spontaneous actions.

2. Arbitrary decisions and/or behavior (making the behavior purposeful instead of arbitrary makes the motivation believable.)

3. Actions prompted by passive needs or emotions.”

We learn much about characters from their actions, but what the character does is not the defining element. Like with personality, the defining element is WHY the character does what he does. Characters can do anything, though they must be psychologically true and consistent. A character who is cowardly but does not hesitant to rescue someone from danger without any reference to fear or a believable reason for the action is not a well-written character.

Characters do change, of course, but the motivation for that change must be shown. Some basic personality traits do not change under ordinary conditions, so if a smart character becomes stupid or slow, he has to suffer some sort of trauma, as in Regarding Henry. Nor can a slow character suddenly become smart without intervention. The movie Phenomenon is a good example of how that can happen.

When it comes to storytelling, character is all. The plot and the character should be so intertwined that we never see them as separate. Character motivation, in many instances, is the plot — what the characters do and why.

In Story Robert McKee writes: “The revelation of true character in contradiction to characterization (the sum of all observable qualities) is fundamental to all fine storytelling. What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind the facade of traits.” And often, in that hidden nature, we find our character’s motivation.

We Read Fiction to Make Sense of Life’s Disorder

Life is often disordered, but fiction cannot be. We read fiction to make sense of life’s disorder, and we demand that things make sense. No matter how well ordered the rest of the plot, when a stranger comes and simply hands the hero the one element he needs to complete his mission, we feel cheated. The hero should have to work for his goals.

This same order must be inherent in every bit of the book, characters as well as plot. Foolish and spontaneous actions, arbitrary decisions and behavior make the story unbelievable. A character can’t simply wake up one morning with a desire to change jobs, or go on a quest, or hunt for a murderer. While such whims are a part of our lives, they are not part of fictional characters’ lives. All their decisions must be motivated.

A character can wake up one morning with a desire to change jobs, for example, but the author needs to add a few words to explain why: a quarrel with a boss, a promised promotion that doesn’t materialize, a backbiting co-worker. If a character must quit on a whim, the author has to establish motive from within the character. Perhaps the character always acts on whim, in which case the author needs to show that. Or perhaps it’s June; the scents seeping in the open window remind the character of the long summer days of childhood, and he has an overwhelming need to experience that freedom again.

Readers will believe almost anything an author wants them to believe, as long as it is motivated.

At the beginning of my book, More Deaths Than One, (which can be seen by clicking on the My First Chapters link off to the right) I have Kerry, a graveyard-shift waitress, showing an interest in Bob, the quiet hero, who stopped by the coffee shop every night for a hot chocolate. I always thought it was enough that she was bored and was playing games with him, trying to get him to talk, but a reader told me she found Kerry’s motivation for involving herself with Bob a bit thin.

Because Bob is debilitated by headaches and nightmares, I need Kerry to push him into action when he discovers that the mother he buried twenty years ago is dead again and that he has a doppelganger living what could have been his life. If her motivation for involving herself with Bob isn’t believable, then the whole book falls apart.

I thought I was finished with Bob and Kerry. More Deaths Than One was the first book I wrote, also the third and the fifth, and now it looks like it might be the seventh.

In life, as in fiction, we have to work for our goals, but I wouldn’t mind if a stranger came and simply handed me a publishing contract.

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