The Writer’s Wheel 6/7/2020: Backward Sliding
There are times in our lives when we’re sure we’re moving forward on things, reaching our goals, only to backward slide. We may end up all the way at the beginning or somewhere in the middle. Never at the end. This is part of life. Sometimes we make progress, sometimes we don’t.
Study Your Goals.
Are you where you want to be? Do you take a wrong path somewhere? Land on the backside of your journey? It’s okay. We can correct. First, take a deep breath. Now exhale. Look at what your goals were. Think about what went wrong. The pandemic, for sure, is to blame for us setting aside our writing at the moment. So, check those goals and discover if they’ve changed or stayed the same for now. Either way, you need to plot a new course.
Why? Because if you don’t figure out where things went wrong, you won’t now how to fix them. Life sometimes hits us with a bang as it has this time around. Now it’s our turn to pick ourselves back up, dust off, and continue what we set out to do. If you need to choose family or time off, that’s okay. You can come back to your goals down the road when you’re ready.
Making the Dream Important Again.
Okay, so you’ve had some time to think about things and you’re ready to proceed. How do you begin? First, you make the dream important again. That means taking time for your writing. Do research if you need to. Figure out your setting, characters, and plot. What is it your character wants? What will they do to get it? What obstacles can you throw in their path? I know, I know. You don’t want to torture your characters, but for the sake of fiction, you have to make them both win and lose.
Readers don’t want you to make it easy for a character to succeed. They don’t want to see them brush through everything without getting friction. In real life, people fall down, get bruised, get discharged from the hospital. It should be more of the same in your stories. Katniss didn’t win the Hunger Games by being gentle and kind. She won it by fighting with everything inside her and more. She won it by allying herself with Peeta. Together, they were unstoppable.
Think of It Like Baking a Cake.
If you leave some of the ingredients out of a cake, if they’re important to the foundation, your cake will slump. You want a moist, delicious cake with all the trimmings, don’t you? Then bring trouble to your protagonists. Showcase their flaws. It’ll add a richness to the texture of the story. Someone who walks through their journey without any diversions doesn’t exist. Nor should they in fiction.
Remove your Mary Sues and all such characters like her. Your protagonist doesn’t have to enter the scene sprawled in the grass, blood and snot running from their nose. Give us a problem. Their problem. Something unique to who they are. That’s how you build a character. That’s how you motivate them. I know you like them. But likes don’t make a book worth reading. Giving them pain and watching them get back up and throttle through it seals the deal with the reader.
It’s the Old Adage.
If you fall, get back up on the platform. Steady that microphone in your shaking hand and tell your tale. It’s get easier with more practice. The more you get your character in trouble, the more likely your story will grow into something bigger. Now, don’t do random tackles of things. Unless they’re part of where you’re going with your idea. But then, constantly seeing them mess up in failing to get the trash to the curb, the groceries in the refrigerator, and mail in their mailbox isn’t going to further your plot. Just throwing tiddly-winks at your reader won’t bring them to the pages. You have to have a purpose for that scene, that instance.
If it’s a mystery, maybe they find a clue in the garbage. Or a body. Maybe they forget the groceries on their way to see their son in the hospital. That mailbox could contain a threatening letter. Or an eviction. Troubles pile up as you go. Not all stories will have violence, but they should have a worry of some sort. Not getting to class again on time. Your parents might get a divorce. Bugs may take over the planet. Whatever. Bring the story and you’ll do well.
Backsliding doesn’t have to end in failure. Pick yourself up and begin again. This time be more confident. You’ve been here before. And you know how to climb.