I love the show My Little Pony. I’ve watched it since I was a kid and probably watch it now more than my two girls as an adult. If I were a pony from the show I’d be about 40% Pinkie Pie, the obnoxious party pony, 40% Twilight Sparkle, the serious intellectual and 20% Fluttershy, the gentle animal-lover. On my Blog, I main stream Pinkie Pie. FUN! BIG CAPITAL LETTERS! Crazzyyyyy break-the-rules grammar mistakes and spelling! Being Pinkie is way fun on here! But when I write, I’m a mix of Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy. Serious, shy, gentle, earnest—*eyes droop and starts to snore*
Well hey that’s not fair! I have surprises! I have drama! I like to shock people with the unexpected and push the envelope sometimes—
AHA! Keyword there: SOMETIMES. It’s not enough. It’s NEVER enough. 100% of the time when you write you should push the drama, push the conflict, make them hurt, make them cry. (Your characters, of course.) Readers don’t want NICE! They might THINK they do but what do readers know about writing eh? (That was a totally flippant statement and meant to be sarcastic. Please don’t rip me to pieces!) The reason they keep turning page after page is the need to know what happens NEXT. They want to be taken on a journey with a cast of characters they care about and they want to see them safety through dangers untold and hardship unnumbered. So here’s what I’ve learned from my foray into writing:
WRITERS CAN’T BE NICE TO THEIR CHARACTERS. IT’S BORING!
WHOOOMP there it is; the hard truth that every nublet writer must face. We create stories from the pieces of our souls that call out to be put on paper. We become mommies and daddies to these ugly baby stories that we want to protect and cherish. We want our characters to have a happy ending and a good life because that’s what we want for ourselves as well, yes? Wish fulfillment in the form of fiction. Well guess what? If you handed that manuscript to an agent all glowing and shiny and scrubbed pink until it sparkled they’ll do one of two things: Throw it in the trash or stab it viciously with the Red Pen of Ultimate Death numerous times and send it back with a happy face on a post-it note.
You: *GASP!* Oh my baby! My poor murdered precious baby! *cuddles novel dripping with Red Ink*
Agent: Get over it and grow a pair! *smiles*
CUTE is not for adult fiction! CUTE is not even for Young Adult fiction! You want cute, go write lullabies and nursery rhymes for BABIES!!!!! Put on your big kid pants now because we’re about to dive into the Dark Side of writing! The Bright side of the Dark Side.
The reason I’ve been writing one story for 16 years is that I wanted my characters to be content. This was a story about ME, essentially. Who I wanted to be, falling in love with the man of my dreams, having the father I’d always wanted. I didn’t want to wreck that life with….conflict. I’d had enough of that on real life. I figured if I could at least make HER happy, then that was okay for now.
As long as no one was going to see it, then it was okay right? Yes and no. Yes because if no one sees it, then there’s no one to criticize and thus your happy fantasy land stays intact—in a dark corner of your desk drawer. No it’s not okay, dear Summer Child, because that’s not what being a PUBLISHED author is about. Conflict drives a story. Readers want to get tense and sweaty over whether Sally is going to finally be with Harry or if the humble girl is going to survive being hunted in a jungle with 11 other teens. And it’s not just the major climactic scenes either! Ohhh nooo my friends it’s EVERY SCENE. EVERY WORD. EVERY GESTURE. ALL OF IT.
Sally meets Harry. She smiles and there are pepper granules stuck in her teeth left over from lunch. He drops his coffee on her new Jimmy Choo shoes trying to shake her hand. They bump heads trying to clean it up. He mistakenly thinks she’s pregnant when really she’s just fat and congratulates her on the baby and she gets angry and calls him a bald eagle because of his thinning hairline. They part ways, angry, only to meet up again when both of them are interviewing at the same company for the same job. Round 2 DING! FIIIIIGGGGGGGGHHHHHT!
See? Every word has to drive the plot forward and every scene has to have conflict for one reason or another. If Sally and Harry had a nice conversation, the reader would have been let down and disappointed. Might’ve even put down the book. It’s happened to you. Admit it. (It really is a wonder some books made it to print =/) Now I’m not saying that the characters must be driven by ACTION every single scene. That could be just as boring as having a “nice” conversation. There are different kinds of conflict and tension that can be explored and a skilled author can feel by instinct when each kind should be used in a scene to enhance the story. We will get there too my friends. It takes practice!! (ewww…hard work x_x)
It’s really no wonder that writing a book is hard work though. On top of coming up with dynamic original characters and a stellar scene list, authors (that’s you too!) have to mire themselves in a stressful state at all times where their characters are concerned. They have to take their freshly minted protagonist and put them through the fires of hell for entertainment. (Yeah, I guess you can call writers sadists but lets not travel down that road in this particular blog shall we? 😉 )
BE MEAN. If a character is crying because her cat died, make it worse. If the Gallant Knight is bleeding from a wound, make it so that it was his lady love that gave it to him and then make it hurt MORE somehow. Even in the quiet moments of reflection when the characters are turned inward, make them rehash every horrible thing they’ve ever done (make them HAVE horrible things they’ve done!) Make them feel guilt, pain, shame! Give them thirty lashes with the whip of Contempt!! Drag them through shards of broken-hearted glass strewn over a bed of scorching hot Agony!
Why do we do this? Why do we have to put our characters through emotional and physical hell for entertainment? Because it makes a good story. Because we, as readers, need to care about these fictional characters and we want to experience their journey, connecting with them. We want to root for them and find similarities between their lives and ours. And deep down, I believe that we HOPE for the happy ending. It doesn’t have to be the perfect happily ever after and lots of stories DON’T have it. But after a long exhausting trek from point A to point Z, we need to know that it was worth it. That all the hard work paid off. And most important, we as reader, need to believe that WE CAN DO IT TOO.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” At least in theory.
So take a look at your story and imagine it’s an earthquake seismograph, divided into chapters. Wherever the character starts the scene, he or she should end up either above that line or below when it ends. He or she should NEVER be okay at the end. It can be on either side of “okay”. But never smack in the middle or at the same level as when the scene started.
Now these aren’t cut and dried rules. These are just tips and beliefs that I have found along my foray into author-hood so feel free to agree or disagree as you like. But if you find yourself nodding then I’m going to five you one final personal trick that I find helps me whittle down my drafts.
What helps me is to ask myself this one question after every scene: “Is there conflict?” And if the answer is yes, I ask myself a second question: “Does it drive the plot forward?” We can’t be having scenes full of conflict that don’t make sense now can we? No no. Give the scene a make-over or neuter it if you can’t see it working out. Of course, your second, third and seventh draft of your novel will help you weed these little mistakes out as well^^ No worries about getting it right the first time! Just keep those two questions in the forefront of your mind while you write.
So gird your loins my author friends. Don’t be Fluttershy! Don’t be Cinderella! Don’t be Peeta! Don’t be NICE. Nice doesn’t sell books! Unless you really are writing nursery rhymes and lullabies. Then by all means, don’t give kids nightmares like “rockabye baby” did for me. Seriously dude. It’s a NOT RIGHT song.
EMBRACE THE DARK SIDE OF WRITING! Your readers will thank you for it and come back for more. Might even give you cookies…the dark side ALWAYS has cookies….. 😉