Why a Writer’s Favourite Animal should be a Goat

10 Jun

Don’t forget about the Kim Harrison Book Giveaway!!

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by Biljana Likic and Julie Eshbaugh

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Joint Post!!

Acting Theory can be applied to any creative process where character exploration is needed. When people think of acting techniques, not many of them think of goats.

Not that kind of goat! Ha ha! Ha…

What we’re talking about is GOTE, an acronym for Goal, Obstacle, Tactics, and Expectation.

This useful acronym was devised by Robert Cohen and was introduced in his book Acting One, one of the most popular Acting Theory textbooks for college students in North America. Even though Cohen used this theory to help actors bring characters to life on stage, nothing stops us writers from using it to bring characters to life in the pages of a book.

So what does he mean, exactly, by GOTE?

Well, let’s take a look!

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Goal: Each of your characters has an overarching goal for the entire story. Provided that your character isn’t a two-dimensional cutout, they’re going to have many smaller goals to achieve in order to reach their final prize. The G in GOTE stands for exactly that. Depending on what’s happening in the story, your protagonist’s goal might change from scene to scene, or even during a scene, and these switches of interest can make your story much more compelling. Goals can switch for a variety of reasons, some of them being their completion, and others being…

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Obstacles: Obstacles are the sources of that great big word Conflict. There is no story without conflict. Any story-telling art, whether it’s drama, television, or writing, thrives off the use of obstacles to push against or pull forward the action of the story. However, though conflict is awesome and obstacles are great, the character’s response to those obstacles should be moderated. Just as we wouldn’t want to read about a character that has no problems, we wouldn’t want to read about a character that focuses only on the problems. Because let’s face it, nobody likes a whiner. The character should focus at least partly in how they can solve that goal that is prevented by the obstacles, which leads us to…

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Tactics: We already talked about tactics in some of our past articles, two of which include Kat’s “Finding the Hate” and Biljana’s “Finding the Love”. Tactics are what’s at the core of the actions your characters take in order to pursue and meet their goals. Tactics are active verbs. You should never flat-out say what the tactics of a character are. This makes it boring. A way you can make it interesting is by taking out the active verbs and replacing them with real actions. If you’ve ever been told in critiques of your manuscripts to “show, don’t tell,” this is what it means:

Telling:

“We’re going home,” she said, challenging him. [The goal is to get your way, the obstacle is the person not wanting to listen, to Challenge is the tactic used to achieve the goal.]

“We’re going home,” she said, seducing him. [The goal is to win love, the obstacle is perhaps another woman or lack of attraction, to Seduce is the tactic used to achieve the goal.]

“We’re going home,” she said, punishing him. [The goal is to attain respect, the obstacle is a child’s brattiness, to Punish is the tactic used to achieve the goal.]

Showing:

“We’re going home,” she said, squeezing his hand and pursing her lips.

“We’re going home,” she said, lips pouting around the words, voice husky.

“We’re going home,” she said, grabbing him by the ear and dragging him away from the arcade.

And finally…

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Expectations: What will happen when the goal is achieved? What does the character expect? Do they expect to attain their goal? Do they care? Without expectations, there are no stakes. No stakes, no obstacles, no conflict = boring. Have you ever come across a person who’s doing something for no reason? Well if they tell you they don’t have a reason, they’re probably lying. Even if they’re trying to make a point that not everything has to be done for a reason, that’s still a reason. They still expect a reaction; something that comes out of what they’re doing. An example in a story would be a hero, whose goal is to kill the villain, which is slowed by barriers like armies, which are crushed in battle, until the villain is killed and the hero then receives a reward, which he had expected all along or else he never would’ve gone on the stupid quest. So basically, expectations are one of the reasons for why the characters do what they do.

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So now, consider your main character of your current WIP. See if you can pinpoint their purpose by using GOTE. If you can’t, think about ways you can apply GOTE to help you make things clearer.

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And now for a challenge! Here’s a short paragraph, not the greatest writing, with so much telling it sounds like an instruction manual. Take it, use GOTE to improve it, and show us what you can come up with!

The only rule is you cannot CANNOT change or add to the dialogue!! It defeats the purpose of trying to use just actions and narrative to make it better. However, we will give you this: If you do change the dialogue, Justify It.

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“Are you ready?” she asked, scolding him.

“Yes, just let me get my keys,” he said, pacifying her.

He went up the stairs hurriedly, leaving her waiting at the door. She waited impatiently. He came back even more harried than before, still with no keys.

“If you were neater with your things, you’d find them by now,” she blamed.

“I know, I know,” he said, annoyed, then found his keys under a scarf. “There they are.”

She opened the door and left. He followed.

“You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he admonished.

“Whatever,” she said. “Get in the car.”

They drove away.

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Have fun!

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Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.

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24 Responses to “Why a Writer’s Favourite Animal should be a Goat”

  1. Harmony June 10, 2010 at 12:08 AM #

    “Are you ready?” she asked, glaring as he stumbled down the stairs to get into the kitchen. She sighed.

    “Yes, just let me get my keys,” he said, waving his hand in the air and kissing her cheek.

    He went up the stairs hurriedly, leaving her waiting at the door. She tapped her fingers against the glass door, rolling her eyes and mummbling to herself He came back and rummaged through the cupboards, his hair disheveled.

    “If you were neater with your things, you’d find them by now,” she huffed, shaking her head

    “I know, I know,” he said,rolling his eyes. He closed the door and looked to the side, his keys hanging on a thumbpick to the wall. “There they are.”

    She opened the door and walked out, him trailing behind her

    “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he wagged his finger, putting his hands in the air.

    “Whatever,” she mummbled. “Get in the car.”

    The engine roared to life and she drove down the streets. She was going to be late for sure.

    Ahh, yes? no? Maybe-so? I added the end because it seemed like she was gonna be late to something with the way she was hurrying him. 🙂

    • Biljana June 10, 2010 at 12:22 AM #

      Hahahaha yes! That’s great! The one suggestion I would make would be here:

      “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he wagged his finger, putting his hands in the air.

      The combination of wagging his finger and throwing his hands up in the air gives me a funny image of a senile old man patronizing his grandkids, or something :P. Keep the action simple, and separate things that might confuse the meaning when put together. So you could say something like this instead:

      “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he wagged his finger.

      She smacked his hand away, scowling. “Whatever,” she mumbled. “Get in the car”

      He threw up his arms, looked to the sky, and blahblahblah…

      Then you have her getting annoyed not only at being late, but also at him patronizing her with the wagging finger, and him getting exasperated about her lack of a sense of humour. Be careful you don’t stereotype strong words like ‘admonished’ with typical actions like a hand on the hip and a wagging finger. Does that make sense?

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 10, 2010 at 12:27 AM #

      Okay, Biljana gave a really good response here, but I just want to say that my favorite part was definitely when you casually mentioned that SHE was the one driving! You did a nice job of showing the GOTE components, but her taking the wheel was definitely a very nice touch in terms of “tactics” as well as “expectations.” 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 10, 2010 at 12:31 AM #

      Hey Harmony! I forgot to add a big THANK YOU for so willingly jumping out there and being the first to take a stab at the challenge! 🙂

  2. Aurora Blackguard June 10, 2010 at 7:11 AM #

    “Are you ready yet?” Her eyes were already sparking with the beginnings of temper and her finger went tap tap tap against the doorjamb she leaned against.

    He rolled his eyes and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Yes, just let me get my keys,” he said, silencing her with a sharp glare, inviting her to argue with him.

    With no invitation to her, he shoved the door open and entered. She cursed and leaned against the aforementioned doorjamb, arms crossed as his boots clunked on the staircase, the hollow sound coming in quick succession; one after the other in a cantering rhythm. Pushing off from the doorjamb, she began pacing, muttering obscenities underneath her breath. Her fingers tapped against her thigh in an agitated manner. Finally, after five harrowing minutes, he appeared in the doorway, hair more ruffled than usual and his jacket slightly askew. His face was flushed and his hands clutching only the air.

    She crossed her arms and leaned back on the balls of her feet; the stance of a predator preparing to chew into her prey. “If you were neater with your things, you’d find them by now,” she snapped, jabbing a finger at his corduroy-clothed chest.

    With an irritated grunt, he swatted her finger away and felt something poking his neck. His mouth stretched to a grin and he reached under his scarf, pulling out a pair of keys, held between his thumb and index finger. “There they are.”

    She huffed, the cold air visible in the winter, and swung around, making her way towards the car. He jogged a little to catch up and pulled her shoulder to turn her. Her face was flushed – with anger or the cold? She shrugged off his hand and kept trudging towards the car. He threw his hands up and called out, “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything.”

    She paused for a moment. They stood like that for what seemed like eternity, frigid wind pinching their skin and she spun around. “Whatever,” she said. From where he stood, he could see her eyes were suspiciously bright but still caught in a frown. She walked that last stretch to his ’98 Mustang and pulled the door open. She slid in and slammed the door close. “Get in the car.”

    He cursed under his breath and went to the driver’s seat. Inside, he gave a look and she glared back. Without a word, he jammed the key into the ignition and backed out of the driveway. The fallen autumn leaves spiraled in the tailwind that his car created as they sped off.

    -.-.-.-

    Ah, that was long. I think I overdid it! I wasn’t too sure 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 10, 2010 at 10:01 AM #

      Hey Aurora! Great job! What I really liked most was the way their goals were opposed and then (if I’m getting this right) almost came together outside. When she spun around and he noted her face was flushed, I felt a near reconciliation… You did great with GOTE, especially the Goals and Expectations. (I have to say, I would guess he didn’t get his expectations met 😉 )
      If I had a suggestion, it would be that the early part about the doorjamb was a bit confusing. I think you could cut some repetitive words in the opening, if you were ever to revise this LOL. All in all, definitely a nice stab at this challenge! 🙂

    • Biljana June 10, 2010 at 11:26 AM #

      That was really great! Fantastic detail.

      Same suggestion as Julie though: for a moment I wasn’t sure if she was inside or outside. Other than that, great tension!

      And don’t worry about the length. I didn’t notice while reading it. Take as much space as you need :D.

      • Aurora Blackguard June 21, 2010 at 5:13 AM #

        Truth? I wasn’t really thinking about GOTE. I was really just writing. I sorta get what the both of you said about the doorjamb. I couldn’t resist. Well, weird thing to not be able to resist but yeah. It just appeared out of nowhere.

        Thanks for this! It’s really fun and cool!

  3. Renate June 10, 2010 at 7:34 AM #

    “Are you ready?” She asked with arms crossed, tapping her foot.
    “Yes, just let me get my keys,” he answered. He glanced at the offending appendage in its designer shoe before offering her a tight smile.
    He took the stairs two at a time, leaving her to wait at the door. By the time he returned, the foot tapping had ceased in favor of what he liked to call her “impatience dance,” wherein she shifted her weight so rapidly from one leg to the other that the constant motion could actually make a person nauseous if they watched her for too long.
    She uncrossed her arms to thrust her watch at his face, and he lifted his hands in surrender—his empty hands.
    She was quick to notice this.
    Letting out a loud sigh, she glared and pointed an accusing finger at his chest. “If you were neater with your things, you’d have found them by now.”
    “I know, I know,” he replied. He didn’t want to have that fight right now—again. They were already late.
    Moving to the table they kept by the entryway, he started shuffling through the debris of two years’ worth of comings and goings. “There they are!” he exclaimed. He held the keys aloft like a champion displaying his trophy and ignored her rolling eyes. The scarf that his elusive keys had been hiding under was thrown back onto the table from whence it came, where it promptly latched onto several unopened envelopes and pulled them to the floor in its fall.
    She opened the door and stalked out without a word, heels clicking on the concrete path. He followed.
    “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he said. His voice was low, but his tone was sharp, and she paused before opening the passenger door.
    She drew a deep breath, and he braced himself. He could already predict was she would say.
    But all she did was shake her head. “Whatever,” she said. “Get in the car.”
    Neither of them said another word as they buckled seat belts and settled in. The tires squealed when he pulled out into the street, and she gripped the hand bar so tightly her knuckles turned white as they drove away.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 10, 2010 at 1:29 PM #

      Hey Renate! Great job! I could really see these characters, so you really got them across with their behaviors and the small descriptive details (designer shoes, the unopened letters, etc.)
      As far as GOTE goes, I’d say your shining moment was the shift of her tactics from foot tapping to the “impatience dance.” It not only told us something about her, it told us a lot about him, her expectations of him, and their relationship. I also liked the way you revealed his expectations of what she would say, then showed that she had shifted her tactics once again.
      The only line that “took me out of the scene” was the mental image I got of the “impatience dance,” because it seemed a bit unlikely for such a chic woman. But that might just be me. 🙂 Thanks for taking the challenge!

    • Biljana June 10, 2010 at 4:10 PM #

      I really loved the Impatience Dance too, but I actually disagree with Julie about it being distracting for me. Chic or not, if she wants to show her annoyance, she’ll do it in a way that she knows will frustrate him as well, and since they seem like they’ve known each other a while, she’s probably aware that he hates her Impatience Dance.

      I also looooved the total shut down he got when “held up the keys like a trophy”. Her rolling her eyes and stalking out made any chance of this being random bickering disappear and gave me the impression that they fight a lot and aren’t happy with each other.

  4. Renate June 10, 2010 at 7:36 AM #

    meh, that’s what I got. it’s 4am. oh, um, forgot to justify the change I made to the dialogue: frankly, it just drove me crazy that the verb tense was off 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 10, 2010 at 1:31 PM #

      Ahhhh! Biljana and I co-wrote this post over a skype call late one night and we kept getting the tense messed up! I guess we let something slip when we looked it over. Sorry! 🙂

    • Biljana June 10, 2010 at 4:13 PM #

      Oho nice catch! And it’s true; the whole time we kept accidentally writing it in the present instead of past.

  5. Renee June 10, 2010 at 9:15 AM #

    Here’s what I could come up with:

    “Are you ready?” she folded her arms and scowled, her stiff back to the door, seeming ready to leap through it should he give a suitable response.

    “Yes, just let me get my keys,” he raised a placating hand as though to ward off her temper.

    He dashed up the stairs, leaving her waiting at the door. She tapped her foot, pursed her lips, watched the clock chiming at the end of the hall and made every effort not to hasten after him and help him in his (she knew) less-than-thorough searching. He returned panting and frazzled within moments, still with no keys and with a bit of a red flush starting across his forehead.

    “If you were neater with your things, you’d find them by now,” she snapped, arching an imperious brow as he began to root through the hall closet—for the fifth time.

    “I know, I know,” he muttered, rolling his eyes, then found his keys under a scarf. He held them up triumphantly. “There they are.”

    She opened the door and stomped out without acknowledgment to his victory. He trudged in her wake with a grunt, rubbing his brow.

    “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he clenched his fist around the recently-discovered keys and glowered at her back.

    “Whatever,” she flung open her door. “Get in the car.”
    They peeled out in a squeal of tires and sped away.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 10, 2010 at 1:40 PM #

      Hey Renee! Nice work! I love the vibe between the two of them! In terms of GOTE, I’d say her goals came bursting through early on with the line “her stiff back to the door, seeming ready to leap through it should he give a suitable response.” Great mental image of her goal! And his obstacles… you’ve given him fear of her temper as well as his inability to find things. (As far as their expectations, they were quite clear, and I honestly have to say, I don’t give this couple very long at all!)
      Thanks for taking the challenge! 🙂
      Now I’m really starting to wonder if this dialogue can be written WITHOUT the woman being the meanie and the guy being powerless? I wonder if different characterizations could be brought out by these same lines?????

      • Biljana June 10, 2010 at 4:19 PM #

        I think it’s possible, at the end when he finds the keys, to turn the tone teasing. I also think it’s possible to reverse the roles, making her meeker with her actions if not her words. You could also make the man be the one getting more and more frustrated because not only can’t he find his keys, he has a harpy mumbling nonsense in his ear, you know?

        But you’re right, we may have confined them too much with the tactics we’ve given them.

        Lesson learned!

        And nicely written, Renee :).

  6. Aly June 10, 2010 at 4:36 PM #

    “Are you ready?” she asked, drumming her fingers on the railing.

    “Yes, just let me get my keys,” he called over his shoulder.

    He bounded up the stairs with the agility of a herd of elephants, leaving her standing at the bottom scrutinizing the nails of her right hand. She sighed and rolled her eyes toward the second floor. He tried to skip a stair and slipped, landing on his knees at the bottom, still devoid of the ring of keys.

    “If you were neater with your things, you’d have found them by now,” she said snarkily, fiddling with her wristwatch.

    “I know, I know,” he said, waving away her comment with his hand. After several quick dives through the closet by the door, he surfaced with a scarf in hand which the keys dropped from into his palm. “There they are.”

    She sighed and wrenched open the door, striding away down the front walk. He narrowly avoided being hit by the door as it smacked against the doorframe and followed so hastily that he had to return a moment later to shut it.

    “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he whined, catching his breath.

    “Whatever,” she sang rudely. “Get in the car.”

    He tossed her the keys and did so, barely having time to buckle his seatbelt before they rocketed away.

    ————

    Not bad… maybe? 🙂

    Oh, and something tiny in the dialogue bothered me so I changed it… “you’d find them” to “you’d have found them”.

    P.S. More things like this for us to practice with? Please?

    • Biljana June 10, 2010 at 4:56 PM #

      Lol what a klutz!! Your approach seemed a lot more brother/sister, which is a great and fresh interpretation. Loved the slapstick in it :D.

      This little section was confusing though:

      “She sighed and rolled her eyes toward the second floor. He tried to skip a stair and slipped, landing on his knees at the bottom, still devoid of the ring of keys.”

      Because she rolled her eyes towards the second floor, at first I thought he tripped on the top stair and fell on the landing, but then I realized he was actually at the bottom, and /then/ I had the mental image of him somersaulting down the stairs lol. Then I finally figured out that he missed the /bottom/ stair and fell on the ground there. So that could definitely be cleared up.

      And once you do that, you can also add a little “he landed on his knees at her feet” and then the image of her power and maturity is complete.

      And yeah….lol that “You’d have found them” thing is haunting us. Totally legitimate.

      I’m so glad you like these practice things! We’ll see where we can slot them in in the future.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 10, 2010 at 6:14 PM #

      Bravo Aly! Despite Biljana’s confusion, I thought the part with the stairs was crystal clear! 😉 This was a fun, comedic take on the challenge and it made a very enjoyable read. My one little knit-picky suggestion would be to change the line “he surfaced with a scarf in hand which the keys dropped from into his palm” to “…scarf in hand from which the keys dropped into his palm.”
      I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the challenge. I love this kind of thing, too, so we’ll definitely try to work more “mini-assignments” into the blog. 🙂

  7. Caitlin June 13, 2010 at 11:50 PM #

    Sorry I’m reading this so late, even after Julie advertised the post so well! The two of you are wonderfully hilarious and informative. I liked the examples of telling vs. showing because this is probably my most common complaint as an FP reader.

    I was joking with Julie that I have a ton of random Goat facts (which is true) but I think there is one that’s mos appropriate here:

    Goat pupils aren’t shaped the same as humans (or dogs, or cows…) the pupils of goats, horses, and deer are slit shapes, almost like a panoramic picture. Anyway the point of this being that because of their pupil shape (and eye placement) Goats see the world differently than people do. In a similar manner I think authors see the world differently than your average person.

    so yes, not my most exciting or funny goat fact, but this one is more relevant I think.

    • Biljana July 7, 2010 at 7:06 PM #

      Very wise, about goats and writers :D. And likewise, sorry for the late reply!

  8. Meim June 25, 2010 at 11:28 PM #

    Rated T(?)

    “Are you ready?” she called up the stairs. Her hands were still bound, and she was fiddling with her bondages, still absently trying to loosen their unrelenting hold. When no answer came, she frowned.

    She turned to walk into a chest. Slightly terrified, she jumped with a gasp.

    “Yes … just let me get my keys.”

    He brought an arm around her waist, pulling her struggling body flush against his length. His other hand delved into her gown, deliberately slow, to search through her pockets.

    /Was this why he kept the keys on her?/ She was flushed angrily.

    “If –if you were neater with your things, you’d find them by now!” she said through grit teeth.

    “I know, I know,” he said, murmured lowly. Then his fingers grazed the metal and he reluctantly pulled it from her pocket. “…There they are.”

    She murdered a shiver that ran up her spine

    “You don’t need to be so uptight about everything,” he smirked, releasing her from his warm embrace. She scowled balefully at him.

    “Whatever,” she said. “Let’s go.”

    LOL of course my perverted mind who immediately think SEDUCTION when I read your exercise. embarrassingly, my first idea was ten times more intense than the above. *cough*
    and I changed the dialogue in places … ahhh sorry >_<
    This was a really nice writing exercise. Thank you for the tips!

    • Biljana July 7, 2010 at 7:16 PM #

      Ohoho! Très sexy! Lol I love it :D. Although I’m curious about the ten times more intense scene ;).

      The only thing that struck as out of place was the use of “baleful”. Felt a touch too angsty and even made her a bit pathetic for the tone you established, you know? Otherwise, glad you enjoyed the exercise, and thanks for still participating even though it was much later than when the article was posted!

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