Writing help

Sometimes help comes from an unexpected quarter. It’s an old adage that in order to be a better writer, you must read voraciously. I do. Not quite at the level of Maria Popova (https://www.brainpickings.org). But I read a lot. In my entire life, I’ve only re-read a few books: Dune, some W.E.B Griffin stuff, Ready Player One, and most recently, The Starless Sea. 

Phenomenal Book!

This one is unusual, because I read it cover to cover, twice, with no other book in between. Yes, it’s that good. When I grow up as a writer, I want to be as good as Erin Morgenstern (https://erinmorgenstern.com). 

So, when Erin Morgenstern included a very, very brief shout out in The Starless Sea for a book on writing, I jumped on it. A character asks another, “How’s the book?” She tips her martini at Katarina Hawkins’ copy of The Kick-Ass Writer. Hawkins replies, “It’s for class.”

That’s it. End of shout out. Except that it’s a real book. The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig. I bought it.

On her website, Morgenstern names another book by Wendig: Damn Fine Story. I bought it, too. Both are great and are highly recommended.
 
One of the best bits of advice (for me) Wendig gives is on character agency. I’d had at least two readers and one editor comment that they wanted more agency out of one of my characters. Okay. Fine. What the hell is “agency?”
 
Wendig put it in terms I could understand in Damn Fine Story, and, incidentally, in his blog post here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/06/03/just-what-the-humping-heck-is-character-agency-anyway/
 
I had to google the quote I’m using because, sadly, I’m moving, and have already packed up my copy of the book.
 
Here’s the bit that caused the light to come on for me:
 
“Character agency is, to me, a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive. She pushes on the plot more than the plot pushes on her. Even better, the plot exists as a direct result of the character’s actions.”
 
Sometimes my characters were essentially plot puppets – just doing things I needed them to do to advance the story. Once I started thinking about what a character would actually do, and why, the comments about lack of agency went away.
 
Progress. At least a bit.

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