Once again, Terry Odell is here to share some tips on writing. We like her so much we are going to let her keep coming back. Thanks, Terry.
Even though we write fiction, it has to come across as reality. One technique I use to make sure things seem “real” is to ask myself WHY a character would do or say something.
If the answer is "Because I need it for tension/conflict/humor/plot advancement," it's probably wrong. When I was writing DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, the first major error I spotted in my opening draft was having the hero appear while the heroine was looking in her car's trunk for her tool kit. WHY didn't she hear him drive up? Well, he left his truck at the top of the drive, and she was busy looking for the toolkit. But WHY did he park the truck there? WHY did he come down without a toolkit of his own? So she could be surprised and scared is contrived and cheating.
All these WHY questions require answers. Answering all the WHY questions drives the story forward for me. My thought processes might not end up on the page, but (and this is most prevalent in the early chapters, while things are taking shape) the results do.
So, where it ended up: The hero’s son is asleep in the truck. It's a quiet rural area, one he knows well, and he's not concerned that someone will come by and Do a Bad Thing. But that's a bit weak, so I added a dog who would take the head off of anyone who tried anything. (Note to self: don't forget you've now saddled yourself with yet another 'character' to keep track of).
More WHY questions. WHY not go all the way down the drive? It's steep, curves, and riddled with potholes, and he doesn't want to wake the kid. Weak. What if he's not an experienced father? WHY not? Because his wife left him, took the kid and remarried, and he hasn’t seen the kid since he was an infant. WHY does he have the kid now? Because the ex-wife and the boy's stepfather were killed in a Tragic Accident? Works for now. (Note to self: revisit this before Grinch has to tell anyone about it.) Also, having him a new and inexperienced father allows for more conflict between hero and the Very Caring Mother who is our heroine.
More notes: WHY doesn't the hero work for Blackthorne, Inc. when the book opens, since the other books in the series open with a scene of a Blackthorne op. WHY does he live conveniently near the heroine's new digs?
By the time I'd written the scene, answers to my why questions gave me more insight into my characters. I realized that the hero’s friendly demeanor and magnetic grin weren't consistent with a man who's worried about leaving a young child asleep in his truck. I ended up tweaking that scene, which in the end added to the tension, because the heroine sees someone who's in a rush, who keeps looking over his shoulder. She extrapolates from her own secret-keeping life, and it seems logical for her to worry that this guy might be out to get her after all.
If you don’t want your story to seem contrived, try asking yourself “why.”
Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.
Posted by Maryann Miller who is asking herself why she got into this wacky business in the first place.