Friday, February 25, 2011

Things Do Change, Don't They?

When I started writing - a century ago - we were told you must first show your characters in their normal life situations, doing their everyday thing. Then we plunge them into unforeseen problems that have them over their heads in trouble, on an adventure/quest that they should be reluctant to undertake, but MUST in order to restore the balance in their lives. (And it makes a better story if they are reluctant heroes instead of anxious to take on the quest.) We were to show our readers how much unbalance there is now in their lives - how precarious things have suddenly become for them. Then we had to turn up the tension.

But now the word from the publishing world is that we must plunge our reader into the action in the first paragraph, or at least the first page. There is no showing of the normal world before our protagonist's world is turned upside down. Like our own life today, things have sped up. There doesn't seem to be time to relax and enjoy the moment.

I had a list of questions to make sure I increased the tension by several degrees:

1. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to my protagonist?
2. How can I make it even worse than that?
3. How could my protagonist turn this into a good event?
4. Could they think it's turning out better than they thought - and suddenly it gets even wore than they first suspected?

How like life that seems to be today. The worst things we could possibly imagine - suddenly do happen. And before it gets better, it frequently gets worse. We try to turn it into a learning experience, and just when it seems things may be turning around, the bottom falls out again.

In our creating process, plot twists and turns keep readers on the edge of their chair and turning pages. Our agile minds must stay just one step ahead to keep the reader guessing at how the horrible situation will turn out for this character they've become involved with.

That mirrors my life today: my daughter is set to travel to Mexico next week and I usually go stay at their home to help her husband with the little ones. Then my son and his wife planned to travel to the far east and I had promised I'd be available to stay at their home and get my three grandsons to school and all their activities for ten days. Conflict. Schedules changing every other day. Plans made, fall through, plan again. I feel like a reader in a novel where the author couldn't quite make up her mind where she wanted her characters to go!

Back to our creating: Growth must happen during this quest. Throw in conflict: Nothing moves forward without conflict and readers will lose interest without conflict. I was taught that we need some sort of conflict in every scene so the reader can mark the growth of the character:

1. Our protagonists must overcome the conflict facing them, and as they do, they exhibit some growth.
2. As soon as our characters are doing good on one level, they need conflict somewhere else in their lives: personal, social, or on a world level.
3. Complications must increase in magnitude as story/quest builds to its climax.

Again, that seems to mirror life today. I just get one problem solved and another appears on its heels, and more often than not, they come in clusters, all at the same time. Am I remembering something out of a dreamy past, or was the reality of life when I thought it was less stressful just like it is today and "less stressful" a figment of my imagination?

So now we have our main character at the end of the quest: she has withstood the conflicts and challenge, she has solved the problems and mysteries, she has grown and evolved because of her actions and decisions. Her world, changed because of her involvement in this situation, will never be quite the same again. And readers will need a nice easy let down from the emotional rollercoaster you've just taken them on.

It would be wonderful in our lives to have that nice easy let down, to have all the threads of the different problems and conflicts neatly tied together and leave us in the warm glow of accomplishment and satisfaction that we are supposed to leave our characters and readers in.

Will it happen in this lifetime? Certainly not today in my life. I do hope you get some of that warm glow in yours.

1 comment:

Valerie Holladay said...

Thanks, Lynn. This is just what I need. I have a manuscript from a new author and I'm going to pass this along. Thanks!