Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What'd Ya Do That For?

In a previous life, I worked as a behavior specialist. Basically, I would teach parents or caregivers how to encourage better behavior from children and adults with developmental disabilities. Think Supernanny, without the accent.

One of the most important things to changing someone's behavior is to understand why they're doing it. There are five categories of motivation to pick from (I refreshed myself on these on the wiki page for "Behavior Modification, functional analysis. Check it out if you want to learn more.) They are:
Access to Attention
Access to Escape
Access to Automatic Reinforcement
Access to Intangibles

I'm going to use head banging (actual hitting of one's head on another surface, not the "dance!") as a typical behavior I've worked with. Then I'll give examples from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix of these same motivations at work.

Access to Attention- Child hits his head on the desk, the teacher comes over, rubs his back. She might ask him please not to do that, warn him that he'll hurt himself, etc. but everything she does/says is giving the child what he wants: attention. (The proper response here is to ignore the behavior.)

Access to Escape- Worksheet gets distributed. Child hits head on desk, maybe even hard enough to start bleeding. The teacher reacts by sending the child to the nurse. The child escapes having to do the worksheet. (A better way to deal would to have the nurse come to the classroom, and to establish a reward program for completing work.)

Access to Automatic Reinforcement- There is a substitute teacher. The child is nervous because of the change in routine and bangs their head on the table to relese this tension. (The best way to do this is to avoid stressful situations, and to give the child a constructive outlet when stress occurs. Having a pillow or stress ball to squeeze would provide a better way to release stress.)
Access to Tangibles- The child bangs their head, and the teacher brings them an ice pack. The child now has what they wanted: an icepack. This is a simple one to stop: don't give the child what they want. The behavior may increase for a time, but once the child is sure that their behavior isn't working, the headbanging will stop. This is why I never ever ever buy whiny kids candy in the checkout line.

Sensory- Child hits head on the desk because he likes the way it feels. Maybe he has a headache, or maybe it's just a strong sensation. Once medical reasons are ruled out, the best way to deal with this is to interrupt the sensation. If the head banging is severe, the child may need to wear a helmet. Maybe it would be better for the child to sit in a bean bag chair or otherwise make the environment unfriendly to head banging. This is, in my opinion, the hardest type of behavior to stop.

Okay, let's look at Harry Potter. I picked this book because most of you have read it, and the movie comes out this week. Yay! (Unfortunately for me, I'll have to wait a week to see it because Nathan is having his hernia repaired on Friday and won't be up to going to the theater for a few days. He claims that it would be desertion if I went without him. And he won't go to the midnight showing on Thursday, even though he's just going to be in surgery and sleeping all Friday. Sometimes I just don't understand him, lol)

Okay, back to Harry and his varied motivations: 
Access to Attention- This is the one that Harry is least likely to do, since he gets plenty of attention just for being the Boy Who Lived, but there are times when he wants attention from his friends. His tantrums in the beginning of the book about having been left alone all summer would be such a time.
Access to Escape-Harry says he's feeling ill so he can leave class and take Hedgwig to the infirmary. All of those Skiving Snackboxes Fred and George make are helpful to students motivated to escape class. Harry doesn't continue with Occlumency lessons even thought everyone around him tells him he should because his motivation to escape Snape is so strong.
Access to Automatic Reinforcement- At the end of the book, Sirius has died, and Harry is raging at Dumbledore. Harry is not seeking attention, he is releasing stress. Incidentally, Dumbledore handles it just as he should- calmly, without yelling back. Dumbledore remains the adult. Good job, Dumbledore! I think this would also be why Harry has a "thing about saving people." It's a reaction to who he is and not a sensory motivation.
Access to Tangibles- Harry does all kinds of things to get things he wants. He enters the Great Hall at the appropriate time so he can get food. He does homework so he can get decent grades and maybe become an auror some day. Note that "behavior" does NOT mean "bad behavior." The behaviors can be good or bad. 
Sensory- Harry has some pretty nasty headaches in this book, and he's always rubbing his head afterward. Kissing Cho has a sensory motivation, as does riding a broom. Avoiding Stinksap also has a sensory motivation.    
The important thing is that there are 5 basic motivations to behavior. You can also count NOT doing something as a behavior, for instance, Harry and Ron often don't do their homework because they want to pratice quidditch. If Hermione really wanted to make them study, she wouldn't give them planners, she'd take away their brooms!

This isn't the only way to look at character motivations, but perhaps it will add a layer as you think about what your characters are doing and why. Anybody have any idea what motivates Voldemort?

And I forgot to link to this fantastic article on pacing and dialogue last week. My friend Teresa Frohock picked the brain of Lisa Mannetti, winner of the 2008 Bram Stoker Award for her novel "The Gentling Box." The book trailer is on there, and it's way too scary for me, but Teresa says it is amazing!

Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pacing in "The Hunger Games"

Each chapter has a story arc. You've heard that, right? In view of some comments about pacing in my own writing, I did some studying in The Hunger Games. Look at these chapter endings-

Me in red and my sister and some of our kiddoes hanging off a cliff. Get it?
Ch 1- Effie trinket crosses back to the podium, smoothes the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And it's not me.
It's Primrose Everdeen.
Ch. 2- Peeta looks me right in the eye and gives my hand what I think is meant to be a reassuring squeeze. Maybe it's just a nervous spasm. We turn back to face the crowd as the anthem of Panem plays. Oh, well, I think. There will be twenty-four of us. Odds are that someone else will kill him before I do.
Of course, the odds have not been very dependable of late.

Ch. 3- Just then, Haymitch staggers into the compartment. "I miss supper?" he says is a slurred voice. Then he vomits all over the expensive carpet and falls in the mess.
"So laugh away!" says Effie Trinket. She hops in her pointy shoes around the pool of vomit and flees the room.

Ch. 4- All of the pieces are still fitting together, but I sense he has a  plan forming. He hasn't accepted his death. He is already fighting hard to stay alive. Which also means that kind Peeta Mellark, the boy who gave me bread, is fighting hard to kill me.

Ch. 5- Peeta is planning to kill you, I remind myself. He is luring you in to make you easy prey. The more likeable he is, the more deadly he is.
But because two can play this game, I stand on tiptoe and kiss his cheek. Right on his bruise.

Ch. 6- I pull the covers up over my head as if this will protect me from the redheaded girl who can't speak. But I can feel her eyes staring at me, piercing through the walls and doors and bedding.
I wonder if she'll enjoy watching me die.

Ch. 7- the arrow skewers the apple in the pig's mouth and pins it to the wall behind it. Everyone stares at me in disbelief.
"Thank you for your consideration," I say. Then I give a slight bow and walk straight toward the exit without being dismissed.
Okay, is that enough to get an idea of what she does?

My big breakthrough came when I realized that if I were writing THG, my chapters would have kept going. On. And ON. Primrose's name is called? I wouldn't have started a new chapter. I would have made that whole scene, with Katniss climbing the stairs and Effie congratulating them one continuous scene.

Suzanne Collins doesn't follow the classic story arc inside her chapters. She is continually cutting us off right at the climax. Then the next chapter finishes the scene up, if necessary, or if the reader can easily guess what will happen, she starts at the next scene.

Her chapters tend to be briefer than I go, also: 17, 12, 13,12, etc. Low teens, not low twenties.

I was giddy as I read through and figured it out. I promptly printed the last page of each chapter with the plan to find those high tension moments and insert a page break! Except the moments weren't there. They were back a page or two...or five.

Sometimes I found that the end of the scene was necessary and kept it. Other times, it was just me trying to wrap up all my loose ends. Which is exactly what I don't want to do! Delete! Delete! Delete!

No loose ends=no tension. No reading on to find out what happens next.

I'm not suggesting that we all have to structure our chapters that way; every story is different. But Suzanne Collins knows how to keep the reader turning pages, and I found it helpful. I hope you do too!

Any other tips on pacing? Any other authors to check out? Thanks for reading.

PS- My kitchen is now pistachio pudding green, and the foyer will soon be a buttercream. I love it. Plus the two hundred bulb I bought are in the ground. Yay!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Opportunity Knocks

Three years ago, Nathan and I moved to South Carolina, intending to stay with the in-laws for a few months while we saved some money and looked for a new house. We'd spent the previous five years fixing up a 90-year-old Victorian, and I was always too busy during my few free hours, caulking and tiling and wielding my prybar. So when we sold the house, I lost a huge piece of who I'd been, Kelly the Remodeler, but I chose to look at it as an opportunity to try something new. 

This picture has nothing to do with anything.
No, wait. I can do this...Ummm...Okay. Here goes.
I like taking pictures of unusual churches,
but I don't have time to pursue photgraphy, either.
It's about choices.
And it was nice. Weekends weren't inevitably full of project after project, and with 3 out of 4 kids in school, plus a few days of preschool co-op, I had more free time than I'd had since pre-kiddoes. By far. I wrote a lot. I read a lot, too. It was heavenly. 

Alas, we are homeowners once more;)
I'm excited to be picking out paint colors and curtains again, but I will miss the closeness we've had with Nathan's dad and stepmom. My youngest has no memory of life without in-house grandparents, so once they close on their house and move out, nuclear family life will be totally new to him. It's definately bittersweet.

I've already cut back on my blogging and internet time, but I'll probably cut back to one post a week, instead of closer to two. I'll still be checking in with you guys, but I may not be on here every day. There literally aren't enough hours in the day, and I am a terrible person when I'm tired. Really grouchy, and prone to crying, and I don't want to be that mean mom.

Though I enjoy writing even more than I did three years ago, I've been able to pull back from being obsessed by the book to being preoccupied with it. There's a fine line there, but on this side, my kids don't ask me why we don't go anyplace fun anymore. And the neighbors don't wonder why no one ever leaves that house. Is it haunted?

I have a paintbrush in hand once more. Left hand, that is. Right hand is holding a pen.

Any tips on achieving balance? On loving the life you have instead of wishing for change? Did anybody else have a special opportunity to follow a "one day I'll..."-dream, as I did?
Glutton for Punishment?