Sunday, September 15, 2013

Make it worse

by: Joelle Charbonneau

If you ever read tweets or Facebook posts by writers you will often see the phrase “I have no idea what comes next.  Maybe I should kill someone.”  Or something similar.  If you follow me on social media, I know for a fact you’ve seen many variations on that theme.  Not that I actually bump off that many characters.  (Well…at least not in my adult mysteries.  In my young adult stuff—well, the body count does tend to rise more than might be expected by the term young adult.  But that’s another story….)  When I post that kind of comment, I don’t always kill someone.  However, I do exactly what that kind of sentiment implies.  I make it worse.

What’s “it”?  It is the story.  The character’s personal conflict.  The motivation of other characters.  The emotional investment of the main character. 

When in doubt make “it” worse. 

Story is about conflict.  No one wants to read about someone getting up in the morning, making coffee (although if you have some extra I’d take a mug about now), going to work, eating dinner, going to bed and doing it all over again tomorrow.  Fiction is about story ideas that are bigger than every day life.  It is about conflict that keeps us turning the pages. 

So, when in doubt as to what comes next, you need to up the stakes.  You make “it” worse.

This week, I had to remind myself of this rule.  I’m writing something new.  Brand new.  Nothing like anything I’ve written before.  It requires huge amounts of world building and tons of research and a plot that is filled with ideas that fascinate me.  But something wasn’t working in the book.  All the ideas were there.  The world building was there.  But something wasn’t quite resonating no matter how many tweaks I did as to the order of events or the layers of world building and motivation.

That’s when I realized.  I wasn’t making it worse.  So, that’s what I’m doing.  I’m upping the stakes.  I’m making it worse for the main character who becomes more and more real with every tweak I make. 

Will the book be any good?  Got me.  Will a publisher want to buy it?  Here’s hoping.  I guess I need to finish making “it” worse to find out.


Scott D. Parker said...

This current WIP of mine has a team of investigators that, up until now, have been very friendly. Just this morning, before I read your piece, I thought to myself that I need some of them to start arguing with each other. There is a set up for that, and I'm hoping that the irritation they'll have with each other will lead to something more dramatic.

Thomas Pluck said...

We've all said "well, it can't get any worse than this" and then had ourselves proven wrong. That's all it takes.