It’s Leap Day here at Worldbuilding Wednesday (just like everywhere else), and that makes it the perfect day to talk about Taking a Flying Leap. Good stories involve characters who are larger than life, and often that means they take risks we’d never dream of taking. As authors, we need to do the same thing. As people, it probably wouldn’t hurt to take a little risk, either. It wasn’t risk-aversion that got us to the Moon, and playing it safe is not going to further your career or your storytelling abilities. Or your plot, for that matter. Even cozy, homegrown stories that center on emotional growth still have harrowing cliffs of emotional upheaval available to them,
I write romantic comedies. Most of the time, rom-coms do not take place in hotbeds of political unrest or war zones or in the midst of tense kidnappings or whilst being stalked by serial killers. They happen to average janes and joes, living mostly unremarkable lives…that is, until that inciting incident that puts them on a roller-coaster of upheaval that brings out the larger-than-life in them. At the beginning, of course they’re just like you and me. But after that inciting incident…they develop superpowers.
Channel Yoda: Do or do not…there is no Try. Characters who take a flying leap take action. They take risks. It may only be the superpower to make a snarky comment that we’d never utter ourselves in polite company. It may only be that these characters have the gumption to try cheesy pick-up lines just for the LULZ (and then have to deal with the consequences of being Cheesy Pick-Up Line Guy and have to come up with better and more outrageous ones every week). But these characters do. They act. They don’t just react.
More action-oriented stories have it easier in some respects. It’s far easier to picture and empathize and sense that flying leap taken when your character is a tough-minded FBI agent determined to take down a ring of video poker cheaters even if she has to cross state lines to do it. The thing is–while video poker cheating rings are much closer to crime than most of us would like to get, it’s part of the FBI agent’s job to bust criminals. Busting crime is still part of her ordinary world. She gets up everyday and brushes her teeth, then busts criminals before taking a lunch break. She’s not yet larger than life…until busting that video poker cheating ring will mean the difference between keeping her job and desk-jockeying it for the rest of her career. Or until those video poker cheaters clean out her sister’s struggling honky-tonk bar and her sister can’t pay rent. Or until she finds out those video poker cheaters are using a smartphone with a piece of experimental gadgetry from a big-name tech company to do their cheating.
Everything To Lose: Characters who have skin in the game have something to lose. Consequently, they cannot play it safe. They cannot continue on with their everyday lives and try to make the situation some sort of new normal. It just won’t work. Our FBI agent can’t keep pursuing leads like this was any other case. She’s got to bring it, before her sister gets evicted and a town full of angry, thirsty hillbillies has yet another reason to hate the Feds.
Back to the King of the Cheesy Pick-Up Line. Our bro’s stylins with the ladies have grown larger than life and attracted the attention of reality show producers, among them a cute production assistant who can’t figure out how this asshole’s own mother can stand him, much less why America will love him. The stakes have been raised in that he’s agreed to letting them film his antics for 12 episodes, each one more outrageous than the last. AND, there’s a lady he has the hots for FOR REALZ, who seems impervious to everything he tries…until he takes the ultimate risk by turning off the pickup lines and opening up to her.
Grow A Pair: When your characters take a flying leap, they land in bigger shoes than they started out with (or roomier undies). Risks net payoff through growth. Characters participate in self-discovery through adverse circumstances. The king of pickup lines can think his true talent lies in comedy writing, but he learns that his comedy comes from a place of great pain and hides a soft, fluffy center that’s afraid of being hurt. By recognizing that–and taking what are the truly biggest risks of his adventure (turning off the charm and being honest even if it doesn’t work out) he learns to tap his place of pain for his comedy and he becomes authentic enough for the production assistant to take her own flying leap and give that bro a hug.
Inspirations for this post came from:
LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” video, because of the wonderfully subversive gender commentary subtext. And the animal-print pants. And the wiggles.
I’ve made my short story The Spelling Error FREE on Smashwords! Please enjoy, spread the word, and if you like, consider leaving a review!
Mira’s Pagan faith has interfered in relationships before, but is Paul Dane for real, or is it just his tween daughter Lucy’s misguided love spell?