As a writer, I tend to write “organically”. This means I only draft a brief outline of the story and characters I’m writing, then allow myself to just fall into the story and let it, and my characters evolve. I find myself getting lost in the process of creating, and enjoy letting the characters lead the way. Sounds strange, I suppose, but it’s how I seem to work best.
I’ve attend a couple of workshops where other writers talk about how they detail almost every move a character makes, and every step along the journey is mapped out. Some actually even include detailed maps to help them along the way! I’m stunned and amazed, and impressed. I also know I couldn’t work that way. I’d get so caught up all that planning, that I don’t think I’d get to the actual writing.
What I know for sure is this; we each have to find our own way. For me, learning what method works best for me as individual is a private journey to be discovered through trial and error. But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from others and adapt what they do into what works for me. I do that all the time. It’s why I’m so interested in learning how and what other writers and/or artists of any nature do. I listen, and if I think there’s a nugget of inspiration for how I might make something work for me, I’ll use it. That’s my agenda for attending the workshops; I want to learn something I didn’t before. It’s a take-away I can shape and mould, or discard, as I see fit. I know there are no right or wrong ways to write, paint, create music, or do many of the things we all do each and every day.
In fact, each day we open our eyes, we have an agenda, which can be different from a goal. I might wake up with the goal of writing a certain amount of words that day, or fit grocery shopping and house-cleaning into my schedule, but my agenda is slightly larger. I want to get words written down so I can move the story along, and therefore, move that much closer to the conclusion, or to allow me the time to fit in some internet marketing and promotion. I might need to get the grocery shopping done that day, so we can have the necessary ingredients for the dinner I’ve planned. I do the house cleaning to ensure I feel comfortable and at ease during the evening hours when I’m relaxing. I simply cannot relax when a place is unkempt and dirty.
When I used to work in real estate and mortgage sales, or as BDM for a small incentive marketing company, everything work-related I did, I had an agenda. I had a reason for the tasks I assigned myself. As a commissioned salesperson, I had only myself to rely on to get the job, and tasks done. I hated cold calling. Hated it. But, I also knew that sometimes I just had to get it done if I had any hope of gaining that next bit of business. My task making those cold calls, but my agenda was to ensure I had income down the line.
It’s the same with my writing. I write five days a week, essentially from 9-5. I write because I love to write, but I set goals for my writing to fit my agenda; to get a book published within an established period of time. I might edit all day for days at a time to allow the publisher to continue with the next step, and hence, get the book published and in reader’s hands.
Marketing and promotion via social media also has a hidden agenda. As much as I love interacting with online family and friends, and I do, I also need to get the word out about my work, and to do that, I need to allow them to connect with me as well. So, I go to various forums, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even this blog, to create content that allows people to find me, learn a little about me, connect with me, and perhaps even discover my latest book. Dare I hope they’ll be intrigued enough to even purchase an ebook or print copy? Yep, I do.
I’ve learned, through years of reading avidly, that my characters also need agendas. They have to have a reason for being. They have to serve a purpose, whether as a main protagonist who is on a quest for love, justice, or whatever, or as a supporting character. The supporting character’s job is to provide someone for the protagonist to interact with, bounce things off of, and provide third party insights into the protagonist and the situation they’re dealing with. It’s an important job, and one not given much credit. Even villains have to have an agenda, one that moves the story, and the character along.
If my characters lack an agenda; that spark of why they’re doing what they’re doing, what motivates them and drives them to the conclusions they make, I’ll lose the interest of the reader. Characters, even paranormal ones like a handsome ghost, have to embody human elements a reader can relate to. They have to have reasons for being there, and reasons for wanting to achieve the goals and tasks set before him. Without that, they’re just going through the motions, lying flat on the page and providing no excitement or momentum to the story. Readers are going to tune into that, get bored, and close the book, which is definitely not the point of any story.
Not all agendas as positive ones though. Just as with people, characters within a story can have agendas that are harmful to themselves or other characters. They can be motivated by greed, jealousy, evil, and a host of other not so nice motivators. We all have and experience those feelings, and our agendas can sometimes be self-serving. So as a writer, I try to remember that. People, even good ones, don’t always make the right decisions for the right reasons. It’s what makes us human, and it makes for great story-telling. Characters who exhibit human flaws and skewed agendas are great, since they allow them to seem more “3D”.
It’s not easy to create characters on a page that will resonate with readers, but it is fun. As a writer, you have a vision in your mind of what the characters look like, sound like, and what drives them. Then you have to find a way to put that vision into words so you build a story, and a world, where the reader can get lost for a while. After all, the agenda of anygood fiction writer is to allow the reader to forget the outside world and settle in for a little dose of unreality. Still, not every writer gets it right every time. Ever read a story by a well-loved author and been disappointed to discover you just couldn’t connect with the characters and/or story line? That’s because writers are human, and there is no “one-size-fits-all.
Same is true for non-fiction. When dealing in facts, it’s equally important that the writer finds a way to do it in such a way that the reader will want to continue turning the pages to discover the wisdoms the book promises. Make it too dry and uninteresting, and you’ll lose people to boredom. They’ll look for something else that gives them what they need, in easy, enjoyable bites. Of course text books don’t need to be entertaining, and most of them are as dry as butterless toast, but they have an agenda; to teach and to share information. That’s it. The author of those texts though, has to ensure the information they provide is accurate to the very best of his/her ability, or risk being challenged on it. So, the agenda behind all the research a non-fiction writer might go to is to ensure the finished product delivers what’s promised; accurate information.
In fact, it occurs to me that virtually everything we do is with an agenda, with few exceptions. But we can, as human beings, do things “just because”. For example, I might compliment a woman in a grocery line for her lovely scarf and expect nothing in return. I might agree to help an artist title a new piece of artwork, which I did this weekend, just because she admits she struggles with finding the right words to put to her work, and not ask anything in return.
We can all do small acts of kindness for no reason other than, “just because”. The characters in a book can do it too. It’s a human quality that, when done right, comes off as genuine, but I believe the writer also has to see it as genuine. Of course you can argue that the writer might have an agenda when creating a scene where a character does something altruistic. The hidden agenda might be to create a picture of who the character is.
In real life, it’s argued that people engage in even small acts of altruism because they get something back in return; a smile, an acknowledgement, a feeling of “being good”. Maybe that’s so, but I don’t let it stop me, and please, don’t let it stop you. In writing, our book characters will benefit from engaging in that very human behaviour, and make them easier to relate to.
When it comes to those of us living outside the pages of a book, if doing something altruistic makes you feel good, and you want to feel good about yourself, I’d call that a great agenda!