Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Better Living Through Friction

Into each life some rain must fall, or it'll be a pretty dull book.

We writers spend a lot of time creating characters. We try to make them real. We try to give them personalities that will engage readers, make the readers care about them enough to follow their journeys. Then, having created what are almost real people, real friends, we heap abuse on them, subject them to every indignity and danger that occurs to our twisted minds.

At least, that's what we do if we're smart. As a filmmaker/instructor I once read noted, nobody ever paid ten bucks to see a movie titled "Another Happy Day in the Village of Comfortable People."

But occasionally we fall in love with our characters. We like them so much we don't want anything bad to happen to them. So we set up phony problems and trivial obstacles, we stack the deck in their favor. And the result is a snoozefest.

I mention this because I was recently asked to review something, and it was just that – a cure for insomnia. Since I can't recommend it I'm gong to keep my mouth shut about who wrote it or what was written. I don't write negative reviews. Even if I hate something – and I have from time to time - I respect the process. I know how hard writing can be so I'll honor the effort even if the result was ... less than it could have been.

And this writer was clearly in love ith his character. They were facing a problem. No big deal, we'll come up with a plan. They decide on their plan and – No big deal! Here are the steps! We'll follow them! Boy, sure glad that's over!

That was the book in a nutshell. If there had been any difficulty in following the plan, if things had gone wrong or new obstacles had arisen or ANYTHING, it might have been worth reading. Danger or difficulty need to escalate. But there wasn't a real problem to solve, and solving it was easy. There was no heat. And then, just when it looked like they'd achieve their goal, they did, without any stress or ado. They were unstoppable, so I had no fear or worry that they might not make it. And that meant I didn't care.

How do you start a fire? Friction. Two sticks rubbing against each other create heat. Two characters with conflicting goals create a story worth reading, or one character chasing a goal but coming up against more and more difficult obstacles. Write your character into a corner where you're really not at all sure how he or she is going to get out of it. Then watch them struggle until they do.

If I ever get another tattoo, that's what it's gong to say, across my left forearm where I'll see it every time I sit down to write.

Put some friction in your fiction.

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