Monday, June 6, 2011

Wrenches! I Need More Wrenches!

Yeah, I know, everyone reads that as "wenches" the first time. I don't write that kind of fantasy.

You ever get that feeling that you just aren't making things rough enough for your characters? Like things are moving along a little too swimmingly and it's time to throw another wrench in?

(I know, it's called conflict. I find I do better if I approach writing in more figurative terms than analytical. I could analyze the crap out of my writing ... and in doing so, I'd analyze the life out of it, too.)

This has been particularly on my mind lately since my current WIP is an expansion of a short story. The short has ended up being just a launching point, more or less, and I know where the general arc is going. But to get this to novel length, I realized I needed to pull several wrenches that were still sitting comfortably in the toolbox. More speed bumps and detours for my MC, all tying together to shape the final conflict. (Hopefully.)

I've also noticed I tend to opt for smaller wrenches when larger ones would be more interesting, powerful, motivating, etc. Why do I shy off from making things really hard on my characters? Maybe because a part of me always wants things to work out and be happy. (Hello, optimist!) Maybe because I get mad at certain writers for doing things like killing off certain characters. (She knows I'm glaring at her right now.)

But a writer's gotta do what a writer's gotta do.

At the same time, I don't want to do things just to emotionally manipulate my readers. Annoyed as I am with that writer, I know she killed that character for a reason. There should always be a reason, even if it isn't glaringly obvious on the surface.

So my goal on this current project is to go ahead and make things hard for my MC. Give her reason to doubt, reason to despair, reason to possibly make the wrong choice(s). Because hopefully doing so will make the resolution that much more satisfying when she finally gets there.

Do any of you have similar struggles with getting your characters to, well, struggle enough? Do any of you tend toward the opposite extreme from me, using a hefty torque wrench when a little half-inch crescent wrench would be more appropriate? (Does doing so result in a soap opera?) Any ideas about finding that balance between way-too-hunky-dory and letting Murphy's Law become more fundamental than gravity?

Please, let me know. My MC is eyeballing the latest wrench in my hand, and I'm afraid she might try to wrestle me for it.


Eli Ashpence said...

I'm the opposite extreme from you. I can't say I ever have problems making a character struggle. Then again, I'm the type to drop a piano on his head if he lets things get boring.

Riley Redgate said...

-Patches O'Houlihan, DODGEBALL

I'm also an insufferable optimist (when writing, anyway. when reading I'm like THEY'RE ALL ABOUT TO DIE). So I lack conflict a LOT. it's a problem.

My favorite part of writing my last WIP was when I was like, yawn, I'm getting bored. and if I'M getting bored, the reader's sure as hell getting bored. So I scrapped a couple pages and threw some wrenches! :) Soon thereafter, stuff stopped sucking (or as much as that's possible with a WIP, anyway... :P).

I feel like half of the hardships have to be generated by our MCs. If outside forces are just ruining their lives all the time, then they're a victim, not a protagonist. If we don't make them do stupid wrong crap of their own volition, they can't learn or grow, and that's sad.

"Maybe because I get mad at certain writers for doing things like killing off certain characters. (She knows I'm glaring at her right now.)"

Is this who I think it is? *angry hiss/yowl*

R.C. Lewis said...

I think part of my problem is overcompensating from reading books where some obstacle feels extremely contrived. So any conflict I throw is has to feel completely motivated and justified ... which isn't a bad thing, but I think I've let it make me too hesitant.

So now I'll try to let myself chuck stuff in there with the hope it'll come together. And if it doesn't, someone will let me know in beta-reading.

R.C. Lewis said...

Riley, good call on the MC-generated hardships.

And yes, I believe you know who I'm talking about.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Yeah I'm totally with you on this. In order to be on board with a plot I need it to feel "real." Not necessarily realistic, but "real." So, if a writer is good enough to sell me on zombies, then good for them. But if the zombies have like, say... Parkinsons, then I'm like, "What, really??"

Contrived, yeah. That's what to avoid.

Oh, and on wrenches. I'm pretty mean to my characters. What you think you're safe - BAM!! You've got polio!!! :)

Paige Foreman said...

Ahhh...Wrenches! Got it now. :-)

I think I'm kind of like Mindy--a little mean to my characters. I try to find the right balance between being mean and nice though. That's why I outline.