Sunday, November 29, 2009

Zinovy's Deepest Motivation

The last post talked about the two motivators that drive the conflict at the beginning of Zinovy’s story. Today I want to delve deeper, to go below Zinovy’s body and his mind, and even his psyche, to discover what drives him at the most primitive level.

All humans have a deep desire to worship. Ingrained in us is the hope that there is actually something more than we find in our own psyches. Something bigger, or wiser, or more righteous than we are. Something, or Someone, we can look up to. Someone we can bow before, knowing at the core of our being that the allegiance we are giving is right and good.

At first Zinovy isn’t aware of this personal, spiritual need, because he’s oblivious to spiritual reality in general. As the new environment he finds himself in begins to deconstruct his naturalistic worldview, he’s forced to consider spiritual possibilities. It is then that the first glimmers of the deeper conflict begin to emerge.

The motivation of Zinovy’s spiritual need is buried so deep it takes the whole second part of the book for him to discover it’s there and do something about it. In the end, his strong need to be in control of his own destiny clashes with his even stronger need to give the control over to a higher Being, and the resolution of this struggle constitutes the central conflict in the story.

So it is in my own life. The longer I walk with God, the more completely I am driven to analyze my motivations. And the more I analyze, the more dissatisfied I become with my own rule over my life. I am a selfish being, but I was created to be a worshiper. The whole of my spiritual journey through this life revolves around this struggle between my human desire to control my own destiny and my desire to bow before my Creator.

The struggle is a universal one. It’s the story of humanity and our relationship to the God who is with us, but also above and outside of us. It’s the story of a Creator who loves so deeply that He gives His all to make peace between the two deepest opposing motivators that drive our lives.

As Zinovy journeys from Canaveral to Jerusalem, he becomes spiritually aware. He learns the meaning of his name. He learns that all his life he has been walking with God. It’s a discovery we all need to make.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Zinovy's Struggle

I’m following some interesting chatter about Zinovy online. ( Readers are discussing Zinovy’s need to be in control. They identify with that drive. It’s a common human desire. The discussion is leading me to consider my character’s motivation.

Every protagonist must have a motivation, or a need, strong enough to make the story important to the reader. When the need is thwarted by an antagonist, or an antagonistic situation, conflict is created, and the story develops out of that conflict.

Now that I know Zinovy’s story (I’ve read the book!), I have a much clearer idea of what motivates him and how the conflict develops than I did before the story was fully created in my mind.

Zinovy’s immediate need, in the beginning, is simply to survive. At the beginning of the book, the whole crew is focussed on surviving. This is Zinovy’s “felt” need. But beneath that felt need is a stronger motivator that defines Zinovy. It’s connected with his need to survive, but it comes from a deeper place in his psyche. This need is the need to be in control.

All humans, if they are sentient at all, feel the need to be in control. This need is what prompts the two-year-old to say, “I can do it myself.” It’s what drives all human accomplishment, in the end. It’s a selfish motivator, based on either fear or pride, or usually a combination of the two.

I need to be in control because I need to protect myself from the threats that come from the fallen world around me. My desire to be in charge of my own protection, rather than trusting to the protection of another, is driven not only by fear but also by pride. We say (to God, or anyone else who will listen), “I can do it myself.” We write songs stating proudly, “I did it my way.”

When Zinovy’s life is threatened by forces he cannot control, the conflict that develops creates an even deeper tension than simply the tension created by the need to survive. His independence (from God and others) is challenged. His pride is hurt. He is no longer the master of his fate.

So Zinovy experiences tension on both these levels. He needs to survive, and he needs to be the one assuring his survival will happen. The physical and the psychological meld in this immediate conflict.

But all humans are also driven by a deeper need than even the need to be in control. And this is what makes the story so powerful.

More on this topic next post.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Marcher Lord Select

I’ve been having fun with the Marcher Lord Select contest.

When I went to Denver in September I met with Jeff Gerke. He’s the editor/publisher of Marcher Lord Press, a new publishing company specializing in Christian speculative fiction. He asked for my manuscript and invited me to participate in an innovative venture he’d just begun to help him decide what novel he would choose as his third selection for the Spring 2010 list. He posted blurbs and synopses of 36 manuscripts on line and invited readers to select which one they wanted him to publish, based on that information.

The contest is in full swing. It runs in three or four phases, each phase eliminating manuscripts until, in the end, one will be selected as the winner. While I’m sure mine won’t be the final winner, it has been fun to participate, and I was pleased that mine was one of the 18 that survived the first round.

Now we’re in round two. Readers can only select six of these 18 competing manuscripts, and the selection is based on a reading of the first 500 words of the manuscript.

I’ve talked before on this blog about the importance of beginnings, so I should know better. But seeing my first 500 words in print next to the first 500 words of the other first phase winners has been a disappointment.

My first page needs some working over. I need more action and less inner dialogue if I’m going to compete with great writers like the ones who are in this contest. I found (alas) at least seven other manuscripts that have better openings than mine.

Yes, I will vote for my own manuscript, even though it means I have to (shame-facedly) eliminate two of the seven I feel are the best. But if I’d taken my own advice more deliberately I might have been able to vote for my own with a clear conscience!

If you really want to know how your beginning stands up, it helps to see it next to the competition. And if you want a great beginning, you need to look at no more than the first 500 words. Some faithful readers (like your mother) might be willing to hold out for more than 500 words before they put your book down, but many potential readers will be browsing the bookstore shelves. They’ll read the blurb on the back, for sure. Mine has a good blurb. Good enough that 70 voters in the contest wanted to read more. But the next thing readers will judge your book by is the first page. If you don’t hook them there, you’ll miss them completely. It’s those readers I want to try to reach with my beginning.

So, no matter how the contest turns out, I have learned something that might help me get published in the end—somewhere, somehow. If I can perk up my first page a bit, it could make all the difference. I’m going to go back to the beginning again, literally, to take a look at how I can make it a big enough hook to drag readers into the heart of the story. It’s worth doing, because I’ve got a great story to tell.

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about Marcher Lord Press, check out the contest at:
You have to sign into the forum to see the entries and vote, but the sign in is free and safe, and it’s fun to take a peek at what crazy ideas Christian speculative authors are thinking up these days. You'll find the entries under the top board, Marcher Lord Select. There are two contests--a main contest and a premise only one. My manuscript is in Phase 2 of the Main Contest.