Yesterday a reader wrote: ”How do you plot for characters that don’t really have an outward goal or problem they can solve? I’ve relied on yearning for this, but I’m curious how books like Speak and Twisted came about plotwise.”
It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to complete a novel without knowing what your character wants out of her life. I guess maybe you could write an experimental book that way, but I’m probably not the person to ask about that, because I doubt I’d read it.
Whether we realize it or not, our lives are all about quests. Good word, “quests.” From the Latin, quærere ”seek, gain, ask.” See also: query. Clearly a word that carries a lot of weight for writers.
Sometimes the quests are small, like finding a pair of jeans that fit.
Sometimes they are larger, like reconnecting with a child given up for adoption or figuring out the meaning of your life before you die. To fall in love. To trust yourself. To craft a life that is balanced. We are all on quests all the time.
The trick to good fiction writing is for the writer to be aware of the main character’s quest (sometimes when the character is not aware of it) and to construct the world of the novel so the interior and exterior lives of the character, and sometimes the lives of other characters, drive relentlessly through the ups and downs of the story in pursuit of those quests.
When I started SPEAK, I did not know what Melinda’s quest was. I just had the voice of a depressed, isolated teenage girl in my head. So I listened to her and I wrote. Eventually I figured out what happened to her and the plot of the book took shape. More or less. She wanted to find her voice. She wanted to be able to tell people what had happened to her, to tell them what she was feeling. But she had to reclaim herself before she could reclaim her voice.
TWISTED was different. I knew I wanted to write about the experience of a teen-age boy. After talking to guys for a couple of years, I knew that my character’s father, his peer group, and the girl of his dreams all had to play a role in the story. I started that book and wrote the first fifty or so pages about six times; each draft was completely different than the one before it. I struggled until the voice of the character came to me clearly, and I understood his quest: he wanted to be a man, but nobody would show him how. Once I knew that piece, the writing flowed easily.