Sunday, June 28, 2009

Awakening the Muse

I’ve begun serious work on book 4, Crucible of War, and in addition to researching the actual historical facts, I’m thinking about theme, plot, and characterization. At this month’s meeting of my local writers group, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers (MTCW), we focused on Debra Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, which I found very helpful in jump-starting the process.

Honesty, I’ve kinda been dreading diving into the long, intensive process of writing another volume in this series. So I was excited when this study provided some welcome encouragement and guidance. Because all good stories revolve around the characters who inhabit it, thinking about what drives them, and specifically about what drives my series characters in this particular volume, awakened the dormant muse with a vengeance. Good thing too because I was just about to give her a good hard kick in the hindquarters. LOL!

Deciding which historical events will be covered in Crucible of War was the easy part. Obviously there are the battles of Trenton and Princeton, and a fleet of battles during the summer of 1777 that followed. In this volume I also want to delve more deeply into the political wrangling of the period by involving Elizabeth with the Continental Congress and real-life people like John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. But what about my characters’ personal lives? How am I going to weave their individual stories into the real happenings in a way that keeps readers flipping the pages and looking forward to the next book?

And btw, boy, do I have a cliffhanger in store at the end of this one. It’s gonna be wrenching, to say the least! LOVE to torture my characters!

But back to the subject. Thinking deeply about my characters’ goals (what they want), motivation (why they want it), and conflicts (what’s standing in the way of reaching it) has me excited all over again. I’m basically a seat-of-the-pants (SOTP) writer, which means that carefully outlining the plot in detail before I begin to write doesn’t work for me. I’m too impatient to leap into the world of my characters and see what happens next. I want the characters to drive the story. They’re in the midst of certain life-changing historical events, interacting with the real people who lived through them and in many cases caused them. How do my characters react to all that? What events of their own lives intersect with the real historical events? That’s where goal, motivation, and conflict provides clarity, not to mention plot points.

In my next post, I’m going to talk more about each of my main characters—Elizabeth Howard, Jonathan Carleton, and Charles Andrews—and their individual goals, motivations, and conflicts. Of course, this is a work in progress, so parts will remain sketchy until I get deeper into the story. And as the story progresses, like it does for real people, some of their goals, motivation, and conflicts will change as they grow and mature. That’s what makes a well-told story so fascinating: It reveals hidden depths in our own hearts that inform our understanding of who we are and why we act as we do and enables us to change too. Hopefully in positive ways!

Now I’m looking forward to discovering what 1777 has in store for Elizabeth, Jonathan, and Charles. And I’m glad you’re joining me on this journey! I promise it’s going to be a bumpy, but exhilarating ride!

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