Why Oh Why? Oh Me. Oh My! (...times seven)

It's hard to keep track of topics when you're on a variety of soap boxes. I've written in two different live journals, hosted a podcast, and now how this blog/journal. Sometimes you think you've written about a topic when you haven't. Or, you think you've written about it in one place when really it was in another and no one is going to see it. Today's post may or may not be a redux. I'm not copying/pasting, but I know it's at least a topic I've covered on the PodgeCast, so we'll call it a redux nonetheless.

I have been pondering the rewrite of HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE for awhile now. An agent who read the manuscript suggested I change the main character from Nashau to Bastin, the latter being more energetic and overall more likable. I was unsure of this, because the story I was telling was most certainly Nashau's, but since I already had multiple POVs, it seemed a better way to hook the reader into the overall story. Once I made some cuts, I saw that he was right.

But something happened when I changed the main character. All of a sudden motivations I never had to explain to the reader became necessary. And those motivations seemed pretty thin. You might get away with a second character coming along because of a curiosity or amusement or the adventure of it all. Main characters need more depth than that and Bastin was my main character. So I needed to articulate the reasons he was doing what he was doing.

Now, keep in mind, I'm not making up excuses for why he's doing what he's doing. If you get to that point, your plot is too thin and you need to back up and really take a hard look at things. You should never make excuses for your characters. They do things and they do those things for the reasons they do them. You may feel it, like they do, but given enough time, you should be able to adequately articulate the psychology behind it without making an excuse. If you ever say "just because," you are required to slap yourself in front of a mirror. If your reasons make someone's eyes roll (especially our own), you have to let that person slap you.

But you don't want to be slapped! Neither do I. So it's best we find a way to articulate our characters' motivations. How do we do that? you ask. We ask the Why Tree.

The why tree is not some ancient being of untold knowledge, it is the question "Why?" asked over and over and over again. (I generally recommend seven times for those people that need a rigid number to properly implement such a stratagem.) Write the question why then draw a line to possible answers. Draw a line from those answers to another question why and so forth seven times. The ever expanding list will take on a Christmas tree-like shape. It's a Why Tree.

Bastin is my main character
Bastin will participate in the quest the prophets claim he is chosen to complete
To make amends to his adoptive father
Because he betrayed his adoptive father
He was young and dumb and didn't trust anyone
His mother was a prostitute and he ran with a street gang
His mother died, leaving him on the street
She had no family to care for him and didn't know who his father was

This has given me all the information I need. When the prophets coming looking for the descendent of a famous count, I have a con man who also doesn't know who his father is. He may or may not be the actual chosen one, something to reveal at the end.

It also gives him the motivation to pursue this quest if you throw in a well-placed "How?"

For all the whys, the HOW? is the really important question. How does all this stuff influence Bastin so he decides to go on this quest? And that's what was stumping me on this rewrite. What was Bastin's motivation that he would risk his life? Amusement? Boredom? May play for a secondary character, but you need something better for a main character. And that's when I keyed on to his adoptive father. I already show Bastin trying to make amends, repaying the money he stole that landed Jin in debtors prison where he eventually died. The thing Bastin can't do, however, is restore Jin's reputation. But here he is being offered a chance to participate in a prophecy. All he need do is tell people it was Jin that did the deed instead of him and all of a sudden, boom! reputation restored. The one thing he cannot do he now can. This doesn't just offer him motivation, but the level of emotional attachment to brave dangers without quitting and an end goal that is worth the risk.

Get excited!


Because this story is gonna rock your face!