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It’s my usual time to write my novel, first thing in the morning.  I make myself a cup of Twinings Prince of Wales, fidgeting through the time it takes to steep.  I turn the radio on to Minnesota Public Radio and hope that they’re playing something I like.  When the tea is ready I stuff my nose into the cup and breathe in the musty fragrance.  I let whatever is playing sink into my morning as I look out the window at Irvine Park, the center of my existence.  As I relax into my world, I’m ready to write.  I’m motivated.

The first problem comes as soon as I start writing dialogue.  I’ve spent so long getting myself motivated with my own little routine that I’m not into my character.  My novel centers around a middle-class Anglo living in Miami who is a lot like me in some ways.  He simply took a few different turns in life.  He lives an E-Z life without a lot of moral choices and absolutely no appreciation to learning from the world around him.  To him, the world is only a foil, a series of games that need to be played to get what he wants.  I have to be something of a method actor to get into his head – or, more accurately, get his head inside mine.

This it the problem I have every time I sit down to write.  The “drafting” process that I am learning allows me the luxury of taking a good first pass at how I define this character, knowing I’ll refine it later.  That should be good enough, at least to get me through the story to see how it all comes together.  Often, however, it isn’t.

I’ve had a few bad turns in my life lately, as I think we all have, that make December look a bit tougher than it should be.  It’s nothing that the whole world isn’t dealing with right now through the economic downturn, but I’m supposed to be creative.  I’m supposed to be able to step outside of my own life and into another as I plot out how such a person behaves.  In addition, I naturally have other characters who are nothing like me that I have to pay a lot more attention to as I plow my way ahead.  Their motivations are even harder to pin down.

Some writers don’t appear to be particularly bothered by doing this.  For example, there was a woman who invented a whole personality for herself as a gang member in Los Angeles, despite her middle-class white upbringing in Sherman Oaks.  The effect, from what I have seen, is unbelievably fake – but it went to publication without anyone noticing.  The motivations of everyone involved in that debacle are far, far more interesting than the author’s thin attempt at being someone she wasn’t.  No matter what most writer’s say, stealing someone else’s story is not only immoral, it’s usually pretty obvious.

There are ways around this problem, of course.  Limiting the perspective means that you channel everything through the point of view of one character, a person who is going to have their own biases and perspectives.  I never liked the omniscient author outlook on writing, popular as it is, because every character becomes known equally.  Life just isn’t like that.  I prefer a realism that sinks deep into the reader’s mind and rings out as truth.

Sitting in my kitchen and lifting myself with the steam from my tea, I have my own careful kind of reality.  I see things in a different way from most people, and I know that.  That doesn’t make getting into a character’s head and really understanding their motivations much easier most of the time.  I’ll make some progress in a little while, but for now it’s not easy.  A little more tea every day and I’ll have my own motivation, at least.

12 thoughts on “Motivation

  1. Ah, but do you LIKE the people you’re creating? Do you enjoy getting into their heads and figuring them out? Do you enjoy their world? Or is the fascination in piecing together a puzzle of a tale?

    Or maybe it’s the tea? There’s nothing like taking a deep breath of four-bag Lapsang Souchong to clear the cranial cobwebs! 🙂

  2. Excellent question! I have decided that “liking” a character is too much – I’m going for “interested in”, which is to say more compelling than likable. Did I ever tell you that I do things the hard way? 🙂

    Prince of Wales is a Keemun that has a lot in common with Lapsang Souchong, minus the smokiness. It’s all smooth and mellow, not head-knocking. But they blend well for extra bouts of wide-awake fighting with the characters, should they deserve it!

  3. As an actor I have to get myself into head of the individual I play on stage . I do not have to like or love my character but I have to rationalize thier view of life. Then I have to give them a speaking and physical style. On those nights I am distracted or tired I have a gesture and a line of dialouge that helps me find the groove.
    It may be possible as an author to use a similar approach as you try to slip into the characters of your novel.

  4. I read this twice because I thought you were being clever again. Is this really about understanding what motivates you, yourself?

  5. Brian: That’s a very good point. It is a kind of acting, no matter how I look at it.

    Janine: Guilty as charged! Reality is what you make of it, after all. 🙂

  6. I agree with your view on what makes the best read…I’d much rather get to know one character in a novel deeply than get an overview of many. I think that’s how one avoids creating stereotypes.
    Maybe think about changing your method of triggering motivation…what would be the routine of your character to establish their state of consciousness and allow them into your mind? Maybe they drink Peppermint tea in the morning or better still Jonnie Walker!

  7. Guys, I tried the heavy drinking in the morning. I wound up writing two chapters of “The Great Gatsby” before I passed out.

    Seriously, I don’t do dat hard stuff. Writers have a bad enough rep as it is! A couple of beers on Friday is about my limit since about 5 years ago when I came closer than I’d like to having a real problem. Although, I have to say I’ve heard more than one writer refer to whiskey/vodka/etc as “writing fluid”.

  8. Pingback: Miami « Barataria - the work of Erik Hare

  9. Pingback: Routine « Barataria - the work of Erik Hare

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