Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Accidents

So . . .hello there :) It's been a while since my last post, and I apologize. In the middle of my perfect plan to finish up my latest book and drive it straight to the finish line, life did not disappoint in providing me with alternate plans, as it often does.

First, my aunt passed away and I found myself on a plane to NYC with my parents to help take care of her affairs. Then, I came home and shifted gears, diving into a revision of BAND GEEK to address some concerns and plug some holes and make it sparkly and shiny, then keep my fingers, eyes and toes crossed as my amazing agent decided where we should send it, who would be the best fit, and delivered it out into the world. As if this wasn't enough, I was diagnosed with a gastric ulcer from taking Advil and washing it down, on an empty stomach, with more or less an entire pot of coffee. Go figure that that's contra-indicated. Who knew? So now I can't drink coffee or eat pretty much anything I normally eat for the next two months.

Right about now you're probably saying, "Wow. That sucks. I feel for you, but . . . why are you telling me all this?"

I do have a point, actually.

When writing our stories, we often have an idea of what we want that main character's journey to be, but just as in life, we must be open to the idea that life is ever-changing, and one small change can cause a ripple effect that changes up everything. Keep an open mind as you write and constantly look at scenarios and think about how they would play out and affect your story if there were just one minor detail that changed. Will it raise the stakes? Would it give the character more depth? Think of a concept like someone leaving the house to go to work, and they are no sooner down the driveway than they realize they forgot their jacket, and the amount of time it takes to make that happen saves them from being in a major accident. Instead it happens to the car in front of them, and they walk away unscratched. Phew! But what if it was slightly different? They blew it off and decided - forget it, I'm already late, I'll just be cold and deal - and now they ARE in the major accident. Are they injured or do they still walk away mysteriously unscratched? How does this make your story potentially more interesting and three-dimensional? The possibilities are limitless.

Life is about change, some seen and some unforeseen. To be authentic and real in our stories, our characters must experience that as well. Their lives cannot just be linear and one-dimensional, because, frankly, that's kinda boring. It's the unexpected, it's the moments that test one's character, courage, resolve and focus that shape who we are and what we become. If a series of events just happen to your character, you risk predictability and the story being flat. Things should come out of left field just as they do in life, and where the reader can root for the character and become invested in them is how they handle these obstacles that are thrown in the path of their journey.

Every character must have something they want, and there must be obstacles that stand in the way of getting it. This can take the form of a person, or a series of events, but here is where you find your stakes, where you learn what your character is made of, and where the reader starts to cheer your hero on. After something happens that's unexpected, it takes a while to re-hone your focus and get back on track. That's real. Make sure that is reflected in the way your hero handles things too. Life is not like a video game, where you just beat the boss and level up. For every action, there are repercussions, consequences, thoughts and feelings. This is your unique opportunity as a writer to tap into those 'universal truths' and make your character relateable. You may never have had to give up coffee (and it totally bites, trust me!), but you can relate to the idea that giving up something you enjoy, or rely on, whether that be a person or a thing, brings an inherent struggle.

So as frustrating as they are, embrace those happy accidents life delivers to remind you how to keep your writing exciting. Don't keep things predictable - your work will turn into a Hallmark card. Life doesn't always tie up the ends neatly, and what keep your work interesting is when you don't either. Keep the reader, and your character, on the edge of their seat, and see if you make one reality tweak if it brings you closer to your real story. Good luck and happy writing!!


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