Friday, March 8th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Give Your Characters More Than One Goal

ListI’m sitting here looking at at a giant list of “2013 Fun Goals” that the Husband of Awesome™ and I put together a few weeks ago.

This isn’t something we normally do, but I thought it might be fun. We wrote them down on easel-sized paper in different colored markers and posted it on the wall. The list includes things that require us to get out of the house (hike, fish, attend a minor-league baseball game) and things that we can stay home and do (make homemade ice cream, tie-dye t-shirts).

And as we come up with ideas for things we want to do this year, we’ll add them to the list.

The characters in your stories should have these kind of goals, too. It makes them more like real people, and it provides a way to include more drama in your novels by creating subplots out of these desires. This ‘minor’ activity might even provide the hook or inciting incident you need to begin your story.

For instance, suppose you write mysteries. Your detective is spending a Saturday morning at the gym, taking a yoga class for the first time, deciding whether or not it’s the kind of thing she might like. Halfway through the class, a scream erupts from the women’s locker room. Someone found a dead body–and now your story is off and running.

These goals can also provide some comic (or not so comic, if you wish) “relief” from the intensity of a dramatic novel. Perhaps your character just wants to get away for the weekend…and each time he makes plans to do so–or even starts out on the trip–the main plot interrupts (ramping up the drama again!) until he tries again.

(This kind of sub plot will need to be resolved before the end of the book.)

Here’s Your Prompt:
Create a list of five or eight activities or goals your character might want to accomplish (which are unrelated to the main plot). Jot down why your character is interested in these items–you can’t just wing it. There’s got to be a compelling reason–a back story–behind the idea, even if it’s simply “because I’ve never done it before.” Just make certain that kind of reasoning rings true for your character.

(Someone who is afraid of heights will probably not have bungee jumping on his list unless there’s a very good reason for it.)

Choose one goal, two at the most, which could compliment the plot. Brainstorm some ways your character could accomplish the goal.

Finally, write the scene. What might happen that could affect the main plot — positively or negatively — during this scene? Could it lead to another clue in a murder mystery? Could your character break a leg and not be able to be a bridesmaid for her best friend in a romance? Does it simply provide relief from a very intense plot?

Good luck!

Photo: © Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Writing Prompt – Resolutions, Goals and Conflict

A long time ago I resolved not to make New Years resolutions.

I’m not against trying to do better. I just don’t like the system: For the last month of the year or so, people start talking about what they’re going to do next year: lose weight, read more, eat more vegetables, stop kicking the cat.


And for a month or so, people binge eat, swear off books, eat less vegetables and kick the cat more…because they know in a few weeks they’ll have to go cold turkey. (Never realizing, of course, that by Valentine’s Day, 75%* of all those resolutions will be long broken anyway.)

* I made up that statistic. But you get my point.

And besides, it’s all so arbitrary. If you want to stop kicking the cat, do it NOW. Why wait?

That being said…

I do like to set goals for myself: reachable, measurable goals which are wholly under my control. (If they’re out of my control, they’re not goals, they’re dreams. Don’t get me wrong: dreams are awesome. But they often rely on outside influences to obtain them.)

If I miss a goal, I’ve only got myself to blame…

…unlike really good fiction.

Goals are the building blocks of stories. The hero has a list of goals he wants to achieve. The protagonist has a list of goals he wants to achieve (often at odds with the hero’s goals). Without this conflict, the story is boring.

Often, the hero’s most basic goals, let’s say, leaving a room, are stymied by the protagonist — who locks the door, or shoots the hero, or reveals a bit of information to the hero that is so inconceivable, that the hero is frozen in place (by shock, indecision, heartbreak, anger, etc.). No matter what, the hero cannot simply get up and walk out of the room.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  1. Make a list of 3 – 5 goals you want your hero to accomplish. (If you’re writing a short story, stick with 1 goal, 2 at the most.)
  2. Make a list of 3 – 5 goals for the antagonist to accomplish: goals which by their very nature are at odds with the hero. Remember: at the beginning of the story, the antagonist doesn’t know what the protagonist’s goals are, so it’s cheating if the goal is a direct contradiction of the hero’s.
    For example:

    Your protagonist might be a retiring Firefighter looking to purchase his neighbor’s 10-acre farm on which to live out his golden years.

    The real estate agent handling the transaction finds out the land contains lucrative mineral deposits, and puts in a bid for himself instead. Prices for the farm escalate into a bidding war as the realtor decides he wants to own the property for its potential value.

    (So, the protagonist’s goal is to buy some property to retire on. The antagonist’s goal is NOT to stop him from retiring with property, but to invest money in a property with possible lucrative minerals. It just so happens that in this case, the property is one and the same.)

  3. Choose one goal for each of them, and write the scene where the two goals conflict.

Good luck!

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Motivation for Meeting Writing Goals

SpreadsheetAs you know, last year I didn’t submit to magazines as many “pieces” — my generic term for both fiction and non-fiction — as I wanted to. Though, if I’d planned it better (rather than completely focusing on other things) I might have.

And I might have had more than the three pieces accepted for publication.

One of my 2011 goals is focused on making more submissions (which will, I hope, lead to more acceptances). But other than setting myself a reminder on the calendar, I wasn’t sure how to make this happen.

And even if I did schedule it, how could I guarantee I’d have something to submit when the time came?

Today I stumbled on a method which might work, and I wanted to share.

I keep this spreadsheet (I love me some spreadsheets) which tells me just about everything I need to know about submission I make:

  • Name of the story/article/query letter, etc.
  • Type of submission (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Microfiction [added in 2010!] Query, etc.)
  • Where it was submitted
  • Date Submitted
  • Whether it’s still out or not
  • How many days it’s been out
  • Date I received a reply
  • Notes

Over the years it’s evolved (via much writing procrastination and cat waxing) into a document which tells me yearly totals and percentages of each of those, how many total submissions I’ve made in my writing life, what kind of stories I’ve placed more often, average days out, etc.

(Yeah – there have been days when the spreadsheet, rather than the WIP, has ruled my life.

But, I digress.)

Spreadsheets being what they are, I add a line at the bottom when I’ve made a submission and all the formatting is automatic. I usually close it fairly quickly unless I need to reference something. End of file.

But, today, I added 30 blank lines at the bottom of the file….which are begging to be filled.

Such a small, visual change…but seeing the blank lines has me itching to fill them (and motivated to write something new to submit) – as soon as possible. I’m fairly confident I’ll make, and probably exceed, this 2011 goal.

What tricks do you use to motivate you?

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

2011 Writing Goals – Finally, eh?

Water Polo - Making a GoalI summed up my accomplishments for 2010 in two parts:

Part 1 – the platform building
Part 2 – the numbers

Finally, I’m getting to my goals for 2011.

I’m behind (as you can clearly see) but I wanted to put some thought into this before posting.

It was important to me to make the goals challenging, but reachable. I also wanted to be more specific than I was with last year’s goals, so that my review at the end of the year will be both easier to write, and easier to evaluate.

With that in mind, here’s what I’m striving for this year:

1 – Write 302 out of 365 days in 2011

I’ve determined that since I work full time and have a 2+ hour daily commute for the day job, it’s impossible for me to write daily. 302 = 52 weeks of the year times 6 days a week, minus 10 Federal Holidays. I’m not sure I can actually meet this goal…but I’m going to try.

Note that I don’t care if I write fiction, non-fiction or cereal box ads during any given day: writing is writing.

2 – Triple last year’s fiction output

Since I’m not planning a blog tour this year, I think I can reasonably accomplish this…with some stretching. In order to do so, however, I’m upping the goal words-per-day by 25%.

You’ll note that I’m talking percentages and not real numbers….just as I did in my year end review. I’m deliberately obfuscating the number, and the reason is simple: what I think I can reasonably accomplish in a day, and what someone else can, are different. And that number changes, based on the circumstances. Before I agreed to a two-hour commute, I could knock out 2k words easily in a day. These days, 2k is a good weekend goal.

If you’re playing along, pick a goal which you can reasonably accomplish with some effort – you don’t want it to be too easy, after all.

3 – Finish the two short stories that have plagued me since the beginning of 2010….or trunk them.

4 – Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress novel.

5 – Write and submit 6 non-fiction articles.

Word count doesn’t matter.

I’ll be keeping track of the word count, of course, but it’s more important that I actually actually write the articles. As part of my “platform building” last year, I wrote three and submitted them to some articles web sites. I’m hoping to drive additional traffic to my site.

6 – Write at least three blog posts per week for a total of 156 blog posts for 2011.

Again, word count doesn’t matter (though it will be tracked). I simply want to remain consistent.

7 – Fifty-two blog posts must be writing prompts.

I want to maintain my “Friday Writing Prompt” which I’ve consistently published each Friday since I started in June 2010.

8 – Make 30 fiction submissions this year, only 1/3 (or less!) of which can be flash or micro-fiction.

9 – Finish reading Sol Stein’s How to Grow a Novel.

(This sounds like a gimme, but I borrowed it from the library last year and I’ve renewed it 11 times so far. I’m only allowed to renew it 9 more times – unless someone puts a hold on it, and then I must return it immediately. It’s a good book, but others keep making it to the head of the line… Putting it on this list will make me finish it. I hope.)

Finally, I come to the big goal….and I still don’t know how to phrase it correctly.

I’m going to be sending a novel out into the wild. Obviously, I would like to obtain representation this year…and yet, that goal is out of my hands. So, rather than set myself up for a pass/fail grade by the end of the year, here’s what I realistically think I can do:

10 – Send 25 query letters to agents.

Obviously, I’ve got a plan. I won’t be spamming 25 agents with my manuscript. I’ve got a carefully written, personal query letter ready to send to my number one agent of choice. And to my number two choice…and so on.

With luck, I won’t need to send all those letters, but I’m trying to be realistic. If I do wind up sending them all…I’ll regroup and make a new goal somewhere late in 2011.

What’s most important? The writing, of course. If I can finish the writing, the rest of the goals, minus Stein, should fall into place.

Can I do it? I hope so, but only time will tell.

Has everyone else set their goals, or am I the last one in the pool?

Monday, January 4th, 2010

More on Resolving…

I made a mistake!

While updating my work-progress spreadsheet for 2010, I discovered in error in the “percentage of days written” column. In my post on 2010 Writing Goals, I mentioned that I’d failed to write more than 50% of the days in 2009.

Not so: it turns out that through the magic of cut and paste, I’d introduced a tiny error in my spreadsheet on those months that don’t have 31 days, consequently adding five more days to the calendar year.

I was dividing 370 days rather than 365. So…my actual days of writing last year were almost 53%.

With that in mind, it hardly seems fair to only shoot for a total of 57% days writing this year. What’s 4%? Not much to aspire to after last year’s results.

So…I’m upping the ante over my previous ante upping:

I’m shooting for 64% AND I’m increasing my word count goals by 50%. That should challenge me.

How about you? Have you changed your goals already?