Friday, July 20, 2012

Character Needs vs. Wants

A huge part of figuring out who your characters are is figuring out what they want most in life. And also, what they need most. These are an integral part of your story. In fact, it's really the only reason you have a story at all. It's hard to write a book if you don't know what your character wants, and how far they'll go to get it.

At some point during your writing, I highly recommend you sit down and do two things. I recommend doing this before you even start the book, but if you're having character troubles, it's also a good way of straightening them out. You should write down the answers to these two questions:

1) What does your character want most?
2) What does this character need most?

These questions help you with character development. Actually, they help with plotting too. I'm convinced you can't have a book without having answered these questions in some way or other.

They're more complex than they seem, though. And no, they aren't the same question. What your character wants and what they need can often be two very separate things, sometimes conflicting. Here's an example from my book, Secrets of the Legend Chaser. Once again, I'll use my ever-willing (Haha, kidding, he has no choice! Love you, buddy! Yep, he'll be making me pay for this during revision tonight.) guinea pig, Davi.

What Davi wants: to find the dragon eggs (he's searching for a legendary bunch of them, a treasure allegedly stolen away by humans hundreds of years ago). A desire which, in turn, comes from a desire to feel responsible, to feel like he's able to accomplish something.
What Davi needs: to go back to his home and forgive his father.

What Davi wants and what he needs are two very different things. What he wants is completely controlled by him, something he feels he must achieve in order to prove himself.

He's actually not even aware of his need. It's there, in some deep part of him, but he doesn't know it. In fact, the last thing he wants is to go back and face his father. It's something he's been avoiding for five whole years.

What he doesn't realize is that he has a forgiveness problem. And a guilt problem. Both of these would be solved by returning to his father, but of course, that's the last thing he wants. But the guilt lurks at the corners of his mind, never leaving. It haunts his every step. It's slowly getting to him.

At one point in the book, Davi has realized that what he wants doesn't exist (which may or may not be actually the case, as he finds later....). He's crushed. Having been denied the one thing he wants, he's left with no choice but to return to his father. Where he finally gets his needs met.

Throughout the book, though, his wants and needs are at constant odds with one another. Davi pushes away his needs because he fears them, which creates more conflict. And your goal as a writer is always to create the maximum amount of conflict possible.

There's a good chance your character's wants and needs will be different. Sometimes they'll overlap, but often times they won't. Take advantage of this. Exploit it, because it has countless wonderful conflict opportunities to offer.

What your character wants, and what they need, are integral parts of your story. If you know them, you have a solid handle on who this character is, what what the plot will be.

You tell me: Do your characters' needs and wants differ? How do they conflict? How do you use this?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to Not Write A Good Pitch.

This post was originally posted on Birds of a Writer.

Book pitches (or blurbs, but I like to call them pitches) are very important. One could argue that they're the most important factor in whether or not someone will buy your book. I'm sure everyone here could say that they've bought or picked up a book because those 250 or some words on the inside flap or back cover sounded interesting. But I think that most authors end up having pitches that ends up sounding like a bunch of other pitches. So what does and what doesn't make a good pitch?

This has been annoying me a lot lately. Mostly because it seems like I see it on almost every book pitch I read. And I'm sure you've seen lots of these too. And guess what, they're not unique or exciting anymore. Here's what I mean:
  1. (Insert character name here) was a normal (girl/boy) who just wanted a normal lifeOr something like that. Guess what, people don't read books because they want to read about someone who's life is probably just as boring as their's. And characters who may have had a normal life in the beginning, their lives usually end up never being normal ever again. So why have it? 
  2. And nothing is as it seems... Blah, blah, blah. Yeah I get it, in every book nothing is as it seems. And do I really care? Probably not unless it's something really good. My advice: don't even put that in the pitch. It's boring and used way too much. In the book I'm writing, Night Lies, literally nothing is what it seems, but I say that no where in the pitch. Because I want it to be a surprise, something that my readers weren't suspecting. 
  3. Nothing will ever be the same... We got that already. Especially when you began the pitch with (Insert character name here) was a normal (girl/boy) who just wanted a normal life. In what story please tell me, is anything ever the same afterwards?
  4. (Character name) will learn some startling truths but not only everything else, but him/herself...Really? I had no idea that was going to happen! *sarcasm* 
  5. (Main Character) will have to choose between two men/women.Something like that. I've already had this talk about love triangles. They aren't cool anymore. 
  6. In a race against time...Doesn't everything end up being a race against time?
Now I'm not saying that you can't put these in your pitch, but when you're writing one, try to be original and not use the same thing we've seen over and over. People want something exciting and fresh, and while these are certainly exciting, they're just used all the time. 

But let's face it. Trying to fit your whole book into 250 (more or less) words is hard. And I'm sure every writer will tell you that. Sure some have it easier than others and some books have easier pitches than others. I've written several pitches for my unpublished books where I came up with a great one in a day while others took me a long time to get it right. 

Oh and the best way to make an especially bad pitch is to write a really good one, but then have the book be something totally different. 

Yeah I saw that once. 

No lie.

Well it wasn't in anything published, but I saw it once on Inkpop. There was this awesome pitch but when I went to read the story, it ended up being something totally different. I wasn't sure if the author meant to do that on purpose or if it was an accident. Because for all I know, the author could have just uploaded the wrong story and have not noticed. Although whatever the case was, it story wasn't all that good anyways. 

The point of that was, if you're going to write an awesome pitch, make sure it has something to do with the story. Because your readers will know that you lied and they will tell all their friends and you'll have lost what could have been a great book. 

Another tip, don't copy another book's pitch just because it's similar to yours and it sounds awesome. You'll most likely be found out and sued for all your worth because you stole some one else's work. That or people will assume that your book is a rip off of another great book and won't read yours. 

So what other things about pitches annoys you? Have you seen any other common pitch sentences? And have you ever read a book where the pitch was different from the story?