I realized yesterday that I hadn’t spoken about the craft of writing for a while when I ran up against something I learned while revising Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero. So, with that timely event, I thought it might prove interesting to talk about characters. Specifically about making your characters work for their victories.
One of the mistakes I made when writing Mik Murdoch was I often made things too easy for him. I would throw a problem at him and, knowing how I wanted it to turn out, Mik would get to the resolution with little trouble or effort.
I don’t know about you, but when I succeed at something, it is usually through a series of trial-and-error type events.
My editor, Robert Runte’, told me I needed to have Mik fail a few times before succeeding. It would make the character more relatable and the events more interesting. I guess I learned that lesson through the sometimes painful rewriting I did to get the book to its present state.
That would explain why my writing last night felt off. I wrote a scene that moved fast and basically had the solution (which I already know) being handed to the character. No thought or effort was necessary at all. As I wrote it, I knew I didn’t like it and I wasn’t sure why. As I thought about what was wrong with the scene, I realized it was because it was all too easy. I had gotten lazy and not made the character work for the result. Other characters were going to do the work for him and the conflict would be non-existant and the story much less interesting.
Now, if I do it the way it needs to be done, there will be more conflict, more interesting character development and (I believe this is the evidence of being lazy for me) a lot more writing. The scene, as written tied everything off quite nicely in under 400 words. The way it needs to be handled will take (and this is only an estimate) 2500 – 4000 words.
Quite a difference, don’t you think?
It may, at first glance, appear to be padding the writing total, but it really isn’t. My stories are character-driven and taking the longer route will make the characters more real and the story more interesting (at least in my opinion). The shortcut, while still getting me where I need to go, just isn’t as impactful.
So, how many times is the right number of attempts at something before moving on? I think the magic number is three.
Don’t get me wrong. You can do two or four but don’t get carried away with five or ten. There is a point where every sane person (hmm, maybe that is a key consideration) will say, “I’m not trying anymore. This is silly.” I’m also not saying that your character cannot occasionally do it right the first time.
This kind of fits within the “punish your darlings” advice we have all heard from other writers. I’m just being a little kinder than some. Writing YA means I typically don’t kill or maim my characters. 🙂
So, now that I’ve realized the problem, it’s back to the drawing board. Time to rewrite the scene the right way.