secrets and plotting


Written on Friday, December 26, 2008 by haleigh

Friday, December 26th, 2008

So as I'm plotting my next novel (how fun is that to say? I finally finished one!), I'm reading, reading, reading. And this week, I came across a book that has really made me think.

I liked it - I liked it a lot - until I got to the last chapter. All the way through the book, it was clear the heroine had a secret. A big one. Something that created huge amounts of guilt in the heroine. And that guilt permeated every inch of her life - how she formed relationships, why she never put down roots but instead moved from town to town, why she no longer spoke to her father, why she'd dedicated her life now to helping others.

In most cases, this works - it's the classic search for redemption. I used this myself - Cole's entire life is built on guilt over his father's death. It affects every decision he makes, how he treats the people around him.

The problem, though, is the secret. I'm realizing that it has to be the kind of secret that would make your average reader feel that same level of guilt. Or at least understand why the character feels that guilt. Cole didn't actually kill his father (obviously), but he was in charge of the security, and he made one poor decision, and his father died. Happens all the time in security, and maybe some people wouldn't feel guilty, but in theory, readers could understand why Cole did.

The point (I promise there is one), is that in this book I read, once the heroine's "big secret" was revealed, I didn't get it. I still don't. The big secret was that she had taken the SAT's for her not-so-bright but uber-rich cousin. In return, the cousin paid the heroine's tuition.

Okay, maybe I'm more of a dishonest person that I previously thought, but I still don't get it. Sure it was a dumb thing to do. It might even have been criminal of the cousin. And I understand feeling guilty enough that when the college offered her a distinguished alumni award she didn't accept it. I don't understand feeling so guilty you walk away from a man who loves you because you think you don't deserve him because of this terrible thing you did. I don't understand that when someone unknowingly calls you a "fake," you panic so badly about someone finding you out that you go on the run for weeks.

So I guess that's my "what I've learned this week" message. If you're going to build an entire character around one trait, like guilt, the readers have to feel it too. Or at least understand it. I mean no offense to this particular author, but as a reader, it really bothered me that this character how I "got" for the first 20 chapters, I suddenly didn't understand anymore. And it really makes me hope that in my case, readers feel, or at least empathize, with Cole's guilt (and if you're reading it, and you don't, let me know!!)



Written on Saturday, December 06, 2008 by haleigh

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

And no, I'm not referring to GMC cars, though everything I read on both sides of the bail out debate depresses me, but rather the lovely Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts of our characters.

Somehow, even though I made lists about this and did character sketches, this must have gone straight over my head. The contest comments I got back this week? All three judges agreed on one thing (always a bad sign, when they agree!).

The heroine's character had no discernible conflict.

Uh, can I just say opps? I thought, "yes she does!" and kept thinking it through and realized, uh, no, she doesn't. It wasn't just that I forgot to make it clear in the synopsis what her internal conflict is, I forgot it all together!!

So I started thinking about Shae and all the wacky things she does over the course of the manuscript, and suddenly, her internal conflict was clear.

She has trust issues.

Now, I realize this is a new, exciting, and unique internal conflict. Uh, not. It's cliche. But it works. And not only does it work, but as soon as that crystallized in my head, the ending fixed itself. Literally. I'd been trying to figure out what to do about the end, because I don't particularly like it as it is now, and the new ending just appeared. And it's perfect.

Anybody else forget something so simple, that when it's pointed out, it fixes everything? Anybody have any pesky characters who are hiding what their internal conflict is?

I lost my first contest!!


Written on Thursday, December 04, 2008 by haleigh

December 4th, 2008

So over the past few months, I've entered four contests. The two earlier ones went in with the same version, then I made major changes (Thanks Marnee!) and submitted to two more.

The results from the first are back, and I'm not in the finalist round. Regardless, I'm so freakin excited I can't even stand it.

It was the Susannah Contest (Nola Stars - North Louisiana RWA chapter). Published and unpublished authors are in the same contest, and there is no distinction between sub-genres. They're goal is to make to provide similar competition as an editor's/agent's slush pile - everything all mixed up, and you're competing against everyone.

The top ten percent go on to the final round. And while I didn't make the finalist round, they sent out the average scores, and I was firmly in the top 20%. How exciting is that?

And the judges comments - wow! They really liked it!

And the best part? All those changes the judges said it needed to really shine, are all the changes I made!! (you freakin rock, Marn!!)

Okay, enough gushing from me!