Monday, June 28, 2021

Bad Things and Good Characters

 Writers are told to make things hard for their characters.  They must heap on the problems so that moving forward toward a goal becomes increasingly difficult for the characters.  That’s good advice, but there are problems, then there are problems.

The problems presented should be logical within the plot, as well as reasonable.  If a character is on the way to rescue his girlfriend from a bad guy and his car won’t start, you should have shown that his car was prone to starting problems or he’d been in a car chase being shot at earlier, and, unknown to him, his gas tank had been slightly nicked, and now a puddle of gas is on the ground.  

An occasional problem may come out of nowhere, life is like that, but try to keep these down to a minimal. 

Bad things out of nowhere as plot stalling tactics simply don’t work.  Let your hero face obstacles that mean something, that stand legitimately in the way of his goal.  Your character defeating a true obstacle means something to the reader.  A false obstacle means nothing.  

Monday, June 21, 2021

We Foreshadow Our Own Futures

 At a writing forum I hang out at, Quora if you are interested, a newbie asked if writers put foreshadowing in while we are writing or when we are editing.  The answer is both, of course, but I have found as I start editing my books that I have added foreshadowing of things I wasn't even aware that I was going to do until I did them.  My subconscious knew that an important thematic and plot element was the darker self, and there were images and metaphors of mirrors, shadows, moonlight, and twins sprinkled from the first page.

All this to say aren't we all writers long before we know we are, and the writer in our brain has been busy taking notes?  Yeah, now I've stopped everyone here who decided to write late in life to consider that question.

From the first bedtime stories my dad invented on the spot, I always wanted to be a writer, and stories were flowing through my mind, but putting them on paper as a book was some day, not right now, while I'm worked on my college degrees in literary analysis and teaching.  

When I finally started putting it on paper, I realized that many of those long analysis papers I wrote were as much about figuring out how to create the stories I wanted to write as figuring out the metaphoric structure of a novel by James Fenimore Cooper.  

So, I’ve always been a writer and a reader, plus a writing teacher, and my subconscious has known my whole life.  How about you?

Monday, June 14, 2021

Finding Your Character's Weakness

 According to Greek myth, Achilles' goddess mother dipped him into the River Styx to make him invulnerable to injury, but the heel she held him by wasn't dipped.  As fate and story would have it, he died when someone shot him in that heel.   

Most people and the most interesting fictional characters always have an Achilles heel, that one weakness which will defeat them unless they overcome it.

As a writer, you must figure out what your main character's weakness is and attack it through plot.

That weakness can be fear of some physical danger.  If like Indiana Jones, your character is afraid of snakes, then snakes he must face to achieve victory.  

A better weakness is an inner one.  If your character prides himself on his dignity and fears ridicule, he must find the strength, at his high school reunion, to race across the room in his bunny underwear to protect his girlfriend from the same bullies who just stripped him.  

If he fears death, he must find the strength to risk dying for something or someone who is more important than life.

Minor weaknesses and disasters can add conflict to a scene, but that one Achilles' heel of your character and his attempts to overcome it are the heart and soul of a good story.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Selfish Goal

 A powerful novel needs a main character with an important goal he must achieve by the end of the novel. At all costs, the main character must achieve that goal or fail utterly with devastating cost to him and those around him.

A recent novel I tried to read reminded me of when that goal won't work.

Here's the premise. The heroine is the standard urban fantasy woman-- incredible supernatural abilities, snappy leather outfit and dialogue, sharp weapons, and a supernatural boyfriend. So far, so good.

Even better, she is the prophesied warrior who can stop the supernatural baddies before they can start the Apocalypse by opening the gates to Hell.

The Big Bad holds her innocent kid sister hostage, and the ransom is the keys to open all of Hell's gates to Earth.

She must decide whether to save her kid sister by helping the demons of Hell wipe out human life or lose her sister and save everyone else.

A no-brainer, right? She'd choose to save humanity.

Instead, she chooses to help the demons end life on Earth with the very faint possibility she may be able to stop them.

At this point in the novel, I said some rude things about the stupidity and selfishness of the heroine and stopped reading because this wasn't a heroine I could root for.

When you are thinking about your main character's goal for the novel, remember that it must be a goal the reader can root for. Saving a sibling is a good thing but saving a sibling at the cost of everyone else's life is a bad thing.

A hero's goal is selfless, not selfish.