Sunday, November 8, 2009

Guest Post: Pat Bertram author of Daughter Am I

Pat Bertram, author of the book Daughter Am I, stopped by to share with us a piece she wrote.

Life is often disordered, but fiction cannot be. We read fiction to make sense of life’s disorder, and we demand that things make sense. No matter how well ordered the rest of the plot, when a stranger comes and simply hands the hero the one element he needs to complete his mission, we feel cheated. The hero should have to work for his goals.

This same order must be inherent in every bit of the book, characters as well as plot. Foolish and spontaneous actions, arbitrary decisions and behavior make the story unbelievable. A character can’t simply wake up one morning with a desire to change jobs, or go on a quest, or hunt for a murderer. While such whims are a part of our lives, they are not part of fictional characters’ lives. All their decisions must be motivated.

A character can wake up one morning with a desire to change jobs, for example, but the author needs to add a few words to explain why: a quarrel with a boss, a promised promotion that doesn’t materialize, a backbiting co-worker. If a character must quit on a whim, the author has to establish motive from within the character. Perhaps the character always acts on whim, in which case the author needs to show that. Or perhaps it’s June; the scents seeping in the open window remind the character of the long summer days of childhood, and he has an overwhelming need to experience that freedom again.

Readers will believe almost anything an author wants them to believe, as long as it is motivated.

In my new novel Daughter Am I, twenty-five-year old Mary Stuart inherits a farm from recently murdered grandparents she never knew existed. Armed with an address book she finds in a secret room in the farmhouse, she goes on a journey to learn who her grandparents were. Along the way, she accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians -- former gangsters and friends of her grandfather.

Perhaps it seems foolhardy for her to allow these shady characters to travel with her, but she is so obsessed with finding out the truth, that it overrides her natural caution. Later in the book she admits that she never used to be aware of old people as real persons. It’s entirely possible that at the beginning she did not even see the dangerous characters that resided in the feeble bodies of her companions.
The entire story depends on the believability of Mary’s motivation. It gives meaning and depth to what might otherwise appear to be a spontaneous and arbitrary decision.

About the book:

When twenty-five-year-old Mary learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents--grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born--she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. Along the way she accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians--former gangsters and friends of her grandfather. She meets and falls in love with Tim Olson, whose grand-father shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. Now Mary and Tim must stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret.

About Pat:

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Daughter Am I is Bertram’s third novel to be published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. Also available are More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Beth! Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog today. It's a pleasure to be here.

A. F. Stewart said...

Some excellent motivations to get your main character into trouble.

Sun Singer said...

Mary's motivation was believable to me because I know full well that if I heard from a lawyer that my long-dead grandparents just got murdered, I'd be beating the bush trying to find out just what the hell was going on.

Who were they? Why was I lied to? Who knows anything about them? Who killed them?

Those seem like sane questions to me.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hello ladies! Just me... all posted at Win a Book for you. Another good piece, Pat!

L. V. Gaudet said...

I love how she comes to realize that she never before saw old people as being the people they are inside.

That's something a lot of people don't even think about - whe are those people inside those age palsied limbs? Who were they when they had their youth, strength, and energy?

Anonymous said...

Malcolm, I'm glad Mary's motivations were believable. It kind of spooked me when the editor said they needed to be stronger. I've read books where the characters' actions were poorly motivated, and the stories just crumple like houses built on sand.

A.F., getting the main character in trouble is the name of the game!

Sheila Deeth said...

You're right; motivation keeps the reader involved, instead of letting them wander off and question. It's always interesting after watching a movie with the guys - they'll start with what they enjoyed, then slowly the question of motivation comes in. We've decided movies work with shaky motivation as long as they move fast enough. But books move as fast as the reader reads.

Anonymous said...

Sheila, I hadn't realized that, but it's true. With movies, especially if I like them, I don't question the motivation so much -- or if I do question, I give them the benefit of the doubt. With books, which move so much slower, giving me more time to think, I often question the motivation.

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