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Monday, June 9, 2008

What They Did Right--Rebecca Talley


A common cliche reads: "Love" makes the world go round. Maybe this is true for some worlds, but in fiction, it's not love that propels the newly created world, it's goals/motivation/the characte's personal desire. In an earlier post, I wrote:

Every well-structured story must contain two MAIN goals, or "problems"; i.e., a "surface" problem and an "inner conflict." In simple terms, this means that your protagonist must have a goal she desperately wants to accomplish, and she must grow--emotionally or psychologically--as she reaches for it.

And this is exactly one of the writer's tools Rebecca Talley did right in her latest book, "Heaven Scent." And she did it right from the get-go.

Chapter one of "Heaven Scent" begins with Talley's main character, Liza, in the middle of a dramatic experience (the inciting incident): she's a high school basketball star at the free throw line in the final second of a state championship game. Yet throughout this heart-pumping event, Liza is stressed over something more important to her: her relationship with her father, or more specifically, her father's apparent disinterest in her and her family. And when he doesn't show up for her game, as he'd promised he would, Liza's goal, in fact, the entire book's goal, becomes that she must find a way to bring her father back into her life.

This is an author's best, "opening a story" pattern--inciting incident, problem, character's goal to overcome the problem--but after that, the author must do what she can to keep that goal forefront in the reader's mind. Authors don't want readers to forget, after all, even through occasional diversions, the real reason they're reading this book, which is to find out if the character they've invested their time and heart into really will accomplish his or her goal.

I recently asked Mrs. Talley about her writing process, especially in relation to her character's goal.


Q: How close is your book/story related to your personal life? I mean, you’re tall, and your character is a basketball player. Were you a basketball player in high school?

A. My book/story is related to my personal life in that I grew up in CA and I did play basketball in high school, though I wasn’t gifted by any means. I wanted to play well and, sometimes, I did, but I wanted my main character to be the kind of player I never was.

I think everything we write is personal because we’re writing from our own unique point of view and how we interpret life. Our life’s experiences can’t help but show up in our writing.


Q. Where did you get your idea for your main character’s story goal of trying to reconnect with her father?

A. I know a lot of teenagers who don’t feel connected to their dads. The dads go out and earn the living and take care of things, but sometimes forget to forge a strong relationship with their kids. I think the kids who have a strong relationship with a father-figure do better in life.

My father passed away when I was very young and I never seemed to connect with the father-figure in my own life. I thought it would be interesting to explore that as the main storyline and use the feelings and frustrations I experienced as a teen.

A. Tell me a little about your writing process for Heaven Scent. Did you follow an outline? One of the writing tools you used effectively was giving your main character a clear story goal, regularly reminding the reader of that goal, and finally having your character “achieve” her goal in an “unwanted” way. Did you have this goal and the end in mind before you began your book?

A. I think I did the writing process backwards because I outlined the story after I’d rewritten it several times. I wanted to make sure it flowed and that there was a clear goal in each scene. After it was accepted, I outlined it again and revised it.

I knew the end long before I began the story. I’ve read Dwight Swain’s and Jack Bickham’s books and tried to make sure I followed their advice to keep the story goal very clear. The twist I wanted to put on it was that she attained her story goal, but in a unique, unexpected way.


Q. Now for the “scary” question. One writing “taboo” is to have the main character’s problems “magically,” or in your case, “heavenly” solved; and yet, your implementation of this tool did not seem foreign to me. Perhaps that’s because I, along with many readers, have experienced communications from those who’ve passed on and readily accepted such a possibility. Did you, however, have any misgivings about using this device? Why or why not?

A. Actually, I hadn’t ever thought of that. I’ve never felt the ending was a technique or a device, only what needed to happen in the story. The solution, or the help my main character receives, isn’t fictional to me because I have experienced it, though not in the same way. I know others who have had similar experiences. I knew I wanted my main character to have this experience for many different reasons, but most importantly, because I feel the connection between heaven and earth is so strong and the veil is so thin.
Thank you, Rebecca Talley. I truly appreciate the time you've taken to meet with me and my readers today. But I must also say, I agree with you. The connection between heaven and earth is strong, and the times I recognize that fact most is when I'm helping others reach for their vital, eternal goals. Even when those "others" are characters in my stories. Perhaps it's the same with you?

3 comments:

Rebecca Talley said...

Thank you so much, Ronda, for the review and the interview :)

storyengineer said...

I agree. Rebecca did well at having multiple conflicts in the book that were well balanced. Good review.

C.L. Beck said...

Ronda,
Thanks for the review and interview. You asked great questions and it's always fun to learn more about Rebecca.

I was glad to hear Rebecca outlined after she'd rewritten a couple of times, as I've often done the same thing.