Goals and themes

Done today: nothing so far

Revision remaining: 46,313 words (entire book)

Daily words needed to be finished by end of November: 908

I’ve been feeling very unmotivated lately since our dog passed away, and I’m trying to snap out of it. But I’ve pretty much done nothing on my revision since I last posted on Day By Day Writer, and I was ashamed to see that was last Tuesday. I’ll just have to do better this week.

One thing I have been doing is thinking. As I mentioned on Tuesday, I’m trying out Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Manuscript Revision method. To start off, she suggests you write down your book’s theme among other things. This should be quite simple, but it stumped me.

The thing is, when I start writing, I don’t have a theme in mind. Both of the books I’ve written — and just about all the story ideas I have for future books — are plot-driven. Something happens that launches a character on an adventure. When I get the idea, it comes to me more as a “Hey, this could be fun,” rather than, “this situation could illustrate this theme.” In working with Holly’s revision method, I came up with a theme for this book, but it’s more of an afterthought and wasn’t something that drove the creation of the story. The story just came out that way.

This idea of needing a theme got me thinking about other things I’ve read about writing, about how the character should have a goal at the beginning of the book that he/she solves by the end. I’ve read so many guidebooks that say the key to a good story is creating a character with a goal then putting him/her in situations where it’s difficult to attain that goal. Sounds good, but for my plot-driven stories, that’s not how it goes. My protagonists have goals at the beginning of the book, but then something happens (the part that launches them into an adventure) and their goals change, then something else happens in the adventure and their goals change again. They’re constantly finding new goals, and they couldn’t possibly have had these goals at the beginning of the book because at that time they hadn’t been accidentally transported to a different planet, or whatever the situation is. Their goals become more of the how to get out of this situation kind, and they couldn’t have had that goal before the situation happened.

All this thinking gives me pause. Am I doing it right? Am I missing something important? Am I over-thinking things? I think about the books I read, which tend to be similar to the kinds of stories I write, and I see the same patterns in the plot-driven ones as in mine. Take the Percy Jackson series, for example, his goal at the beginning of the first book is to just get through a year of school without being expelled, but when he finds out he’s a demi-god, his goals change. He retains that same goal from the beginning throughout the series, even if it takes on new meaning after his world changes, but that goal isn’t what the story is about.

And that’s how it is with my books. My characters have goals at the beginning, and by the end of the book, those goals might or might not change, but that’s not the crux of the story, because the story is about the adventure, and the characters’ initial goals change or don’t change because of the way the adventure changes the character’s outlook on life or his/her world. And in between, during the adventure, the characters formulate new goals that are about getting through the adventure.

Hmmm, I think I’m starting to figure it out as I write this.

What do you think? Do you write with goals and theme in mind? Does the goal or theme come first or the story come first?

Write On!


One Response

  1. Iapetus999 says:

    Jeez, it sounds like I could have write this blog. GMTA 😉

    So far I’ve been doing it your way…character starts out, stuff starts happening, goals change along the way. Then I got deep into revisions and I realized, “my entire book doesn’t work.”
    Some of my critiquers noticed that my characters had no overarching goals, and simply reacted to whatever was going on around them. By not having deep outer and inner goals, they simply became reactors instead of actors in their own lives. I had 150K words that were just descriptions of one event after another. No matter how I gussied it up, used Deep POV etc etc, nothing fixed the fact that it was all broken. I finally put aside (abandoned) the project as unfixable. It requires a total rewrite.

    So I’ve started a new project. The main character has one overarching Outer Goal that she will walk through Hell to achieve. She also has a nascent Inner Goal that will eventually outweigh this Outer Goal, but not until the very end when she must choose give up the Outer Goal to achieve the Inner.
    I’ve started with that, and I keep building and building on it. I plan to write this WIP during NaNoWriMo, so I have three more weeks to work out all the outline details.

    So I’m interested in seeing how this works out. Definitely different than how I’ve done it before.

What do you think?