Writing Q&A 19: Character motivation; copyright protection
Published: March 27, 2007
|Getting the interviews you love has nerve|
With so many characters, you already have an arsenal of potential stories. Now, it's just a matter of coaxing out the conflict. Choose one of those characters and determine his most urgent desire.
While desire often springs from emotion, make sure to stay specific and concrete. Instead of having your character on a quest for love, have him go after a kiss from his date. A character who wants to quell his loneliness may seek out friends each night to go to a nightclub. The concrete desire gives the character something specific to work toward, and in the end the reader will know if he's achieved his goal or not.
As your character goes in pursuit of this goal, obstacles should spring up to block the journey. A character who wants to make the perfect meal for her new in-laws (and, by doing so, gain their acceptance) may find her local store out of the lean meat her father-in-law favors. She might feel frazzled in the kitchen as the hour of their arrival approaches and burn her fingers, rendering her unable to cut the vegetables for the salad. Out of frustration, she might quarrel with her husband, dividing her concentration. And when she hits the point of no return-the baked ravioli burnt and smoking on the stovetop and the doorbell ringing-this character will really show what she's made of.
Make sure to include both physical and emotional conflict. If a character is in the midst of a fistfight, there will be a lot of action but little impact unless emotions inform the scuffle. Conversely, if a character broods over poor grades and doesn't do anything to get himself out of his predicament, the reader may lose interest. Adding different kinds of conflicts can also make a story more interesting. A young woman who flees in her car after an argument with her boyfriend is going to be in even more of a pickle when she gets in a fender bender.
In fiction, character and plot are locked in a cooperative relationship. Beginning with an interesting character can lead you straight into compelling action.
Here's something that might help you find a character's desire. Answer questions about your character. You might even want to use this character questionnaire from the Gotham Writers' Workshop website. By delving deeper into the character, a desire may emerge. One question, for example, asks if your character has a secret. What would he do if that secret were in jeopardy? What lengths would he go in order to keep it under wraps? Viola! An urgent desire.
|Is putting the copyright symbol on my manuscripts enough to protect my ideas?|
First, I'd like to clear up a common misconception. You cannot copyright ideas. You can, however, copyright the sequence of words that convey those ideas.
Using a copyright symbol on unpublished manuscripts that you're sending out for consideration at literary journals, publishing houses, or agencies is unnecessary. In fact, including it on your manuscript has become the mark of an amateur. Your work is copyrighted the moment you write it. The simple fact that the words are committed to the page already lets any reader know that it is copyrighted. Including the symbol offers no additional protection.
Some writers file their work with the Library of Congress'Copyright Office, which offers proof of the date of filing. This could come in handy if you were ever called by a court of law to prove you wrote the work earlier than someone else claiming to have written it. It also allows you to sue for infringement.
However, the theft of unpublished work is incredibly rare. This is particularly true if you send your work to publications and organizations that you know to be reputable. Still, even people out to con writers aren't going to steal manuscripts. There's not a lot to gain from it. They're more likely to set up a fake front as an agency or editor and charge high fees for work they don't do.
Once your work is published and reaches a much wider audience, you will want the benefits that come with copyright registration. And that is often done as part of the process of publishing the work.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University, University of Wisconsin, and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University and edits Letterpress, a free e-newsletter for fiction writers.
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