Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Martha Can't Spell Underpinnings

A couple weeks ago when I looked up our calender of future topics so I could brainstorm what to blog, I came upon underpinnings and immediately read:


I thought to myself...oooh...pining! I love angst! I love yearning! I could totally do a blog post about about angsty yearny pining.

But Martha, you're saying to yourself, underpinings isn't a real word.

Hush your mouth! English is my second language, you know-it-all. (But imagine my surprise last week when all the talk of bras arose.)

Ahem, back to UNDERPININGS.

You know my favorite part of a novel? The black moment. When I was a kid, I used to snap the book closed at the black moment and pretend it was the ending. Why bother with happily ever after? How boring. How unsatisfying. What is there for the character to want at that point?

Wanting something gives you a goal.
A person with a goal is motivated.
A motivated person DOES THINGS.

Which leads me to my number one lesson for writing an interesting novel.

Make your character pine for something simple.

I've read a few decent novels with an MC who flounders but the stories that grip me by the throat feature MCs who WANT.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss wants to survive even if it means killing everyone else.

In The Dust of 100 Dogs, pirate girl Emer wants her rightfully earned treasure.

In What I Saw And How I Lied, Evie wants a boy.

Life. Money. Boys. SIMPLE!!!!

While the stories may have other elements they are grounded in a girl who pines for something so much she slashes and burns through obstacles.

So pine, pine away. The author who pines for publication is more likely to write write write. The character who pines for something is more likely to do interesting things to get it.

And if you're big on top like me, get your bra size measured. It will save you a lot of pain in the long run.


Juliet Blackwell said...

I love it! Underpinings is actually a much more interesting word than underpinnings, after all. And I agree with you that it is the yearning, the searching, the determined march toward a goal that makes fiction --and life--most interesting. It's all pine with me ;-)

Unknown said...

I'm a habitual underpiner. Comes with my short attention span.

Pine is so much more evocative than goal, captures the theme as well as the plot, if you know what I mean.

Think I'll use it from now on! Thanks!

L.G.C. Smith said...

Sigh. (Imagine underpining -- emphasis on the under- part.) In life, I prefer my black moments on the grey side. I've had to address that tendency in my fiction.

Evalyn said...

I pine for good underpinnings. But underpine? Now I'm getting all linguistic about the word "pine." What's the source, the root, the definition?

Rachael Herron said...

OMG, I love the image of you snapping the book closed at the black moment. :)

Gigi Pandian said...

I admit I SUCK at putting my characters through the black moment. Yes, it's a problem I'm working on, and I'm making great strides (sorry, characters...).