Today’s blog title speaks of the ol’ proverb. It’s about spreading yourself, your faith, your influence, or your attention too thin. And we can be just as guilty of that in our fiction worlds as we do in our real lives.
Skimming The Surface
Have you ever read a story where the scenery just doesn’t feel real? Or maybe the characters don’t feel like there’s something truly at stake. Now, not all stories have to be about life-threatening issues, but the most powerful stories we read are those that feel real to us. Even if they’re lighthearted comedies where the most critical thing at stake is whether or not there will be a third date. Or whether or not the protagonist will go to the prom, get a minor promotion, or drive south instead of east on the highway interchange. Or even whether or not your heroine will notice there’s a hole in her pantyhose. What matters isn’t whether or not you or anyone can tag the conflict with #firstworldproblems but how much your character cares about the problem.
If your protagonists have a rock-solid sense of perspective, then your reader will, too. Sometimes that’s okay, but most of the time, it’s bad. Without protagonists that care about things–to the point of irrationality–we don’t have that hook that draws a reader into a story. Which draws me into the next phase of the discussion.
That’s You On The Page
In order for your characters to care about something, or your scenery to be more than painted cardboard, it has to start with you. Books at their heart are your own authorial expressions about the truths of the human experience. These truths may be earth-shatteringly vast, or quietly humble, but they are, nonetheless, universal truths as experienced by you, a human, and expressed to another human, a reader. Those truths cannot be truthful unless there’s some of you on the page.
So put yourself on the page. In the characters. For some of us, this may take a few tries–we work on these characters, the last thing we want to do to the poor things is to make them suffer, turn them irrational, but that’s exactly what we have to do. We have to fire them in the crucible of intense emotions and deep-seated feelings for them to harden into creations tough enough to act as vessels for human truth.
If this sounds way above your pay grade, it’s not. I write romantic comedies. In my real life, I’m a pretty rational person–there’s been enough experience to show me that calm and rational approaches to crises keep me from doing stupid things. That doesn’t stop me from wanting things very badly or from having hot-button issues that will send me into a flying frenzy of rage (watch me go Insanity Wolfmother on anything that threatens my kids), it’s just that I know them, I don’t encounter them often or I take steps to avoid them (no, you cannot walk across town to a house with parents I don’t know and a kid you don’t know), and I know in most cases, I need to take a breath before letting the instincts out.
Thing is, I’m not the characters in my books. Even if my characters are in a zany battle-of-the-sexes, there are still things they want very badly, and things that trip their triggers. Since there’s a story in that, my characters will have to confront those wants and trigger trips in order for us to find out who they are.
And so will we.
My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is out now! Please check it out!
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She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.