I’ve been talking recently—well, I guess recently is a bit confusing as I’ve had so many weeks off—but I’ve been covering questions we writers can ask ourselves about our own book to understand it better, spot weaknesses, and make the book better. These are things we can do before we write a book and during the writing of a book, but mostly, it’s things we can ask ourselves after we finish that first draft and we are getting ready for the first major rewrite.
Wait. You don’t rewrite? Interesting. Most writers, professional and soon to be professional, know our books need to be rewritten before they are ready to be seen by NY. We know that we need to know as much as possible about our book/plot/character/conflict before we start with the actual rewriting. It is simple stuff, but important.
Disclaimer: All of us go through certain procedures and the Q&A I’ve been writing about are just one writer’s methodology. Not all. Some of us do it differently, but it all comes back the one most important question — Does it work?!?
05. Primary motivation: What is the protag’s (MC – main character’s) primary motivation? Okay, I admit it – this is an easy one. But perhaps harder, what is the antag’s (BBU – Big Bad Ugly’s) main motivation?
I am going to assume that you know your main character’s motivation. Kill the BBU that is trying to destroy the planet. Protect the MC’s family/children/wife/husband. Learn to dance so MC can sleep with the sexy dance instructor. Steal the golden egg so the MC can save the family farm. Whatever.
So many fantasy books have a BBU with no clear cut motivation. The Big Bad Ugly is just going to destroy the planet. Ummm. Why? What does he get out of it? A circulating ball of rubble. The end. If he is doing it of out revenge/hatred/something similar, then how much better to enslave and torture the people responsible for whatever happened to tick him off so badly. Why does he want to do the dirty deed that you, the writer, need him to do in order to have a story?
04. Who or what stands in the way of the MC?
In Faith’s version of Jack and the Beanstalk, (for the sake of argument. Just go with it) Jack is not a hard worker or very wise, yet he has a goal of helping his mom and saving the farm, as long as he doesn’t have to work at it. So when the magical beans grow into a beanstalk a mile high, Jack climbs it. Everything in the overhead palace is a danger, but he steals the golden egg and the goose who laid it, kills the giant, (who was just being a normal giant) and saves the farm. But nothing really stands in the way of Jack. No noose tightens around his neck. Jack doesn’t grow or change at all. Jack is freaking lucky. That is it.
I am currently reading four or five books at once. One is a book where the MC is trying to—I think—find and kill one big BBU who is doing evil stuff. In the course of that attempt, the MC is facing one after another minor evil creatures and each minor one is trying to stop the main character from reaching that one certain BBU and killing him. I think. It isn’t real clear. Like with Jack, things just happen. The writer doesn’t weave an ever tightening noose around the neck of the MC and force the MC to fight and change and grow to achieve the goals. That is what the increasing conflict is supposed to do—make the main character fight and change to achieve the required ends.
Worse, this book goes back to number 05. There is no continuity and no reason for each of the minor evil minions who come after the MC. It isn’t tied together well. It is just one roll of the dice over and over with different minor BBUs. Yes, the character learns something (very minor) about the biggest BBU some of the time, and the MC occasionally gets closer to the BBU when one of the minions is overcome, but…why are the minions doing what they are doing? They aren’t soldiers under orders. At least I don’t think they are. It isn’t clear. It is so random. So, while the biggest BBU may have a reason, a motivation for his actions, and the MC has reasons and motivations, none of the minor BBUs have any reason to be following orders or attacking the MC. I have put the book down 5 or 6 times over the last few weeks.
As I read back over this, it sounds like a rant. It isn’t. It’s surprise. That surprise has sent me back to my own WIP and I have looked at the last Jane Yellowrock book several times to make sure I know the BBU’s motivation. To make sure the things that stand in her way are real problems and not just something I threw on the page to get word count.
What are your main character’s motivations? What the minor BBUs and major BBU’s motivations? When you write them down do they make sense? What stands in the way of the MC achieving his/her goals? Are the MCs having to fight and grow and change to achieve them?