Your Friends, Vice, Ego and Pride

When you’re writing a character, don’t make them too perfect–even if they’re the good guy. I have seen a lot of fiction cross my desk lately wherein the heroes are too good. Too smart, too knowledgeable, too flawless. This mistake makes them boring, and worse: it keeps the reader from sympathizing.

We all know we have our own vices, our own pride, our own egos, our own flawed selves. We can sympathize with a main character who makes mistakes, not by accident, but because of issues they’re carrying around unnecessarily. Because we’re all that way too.

So don’t make your characters be who you wish they were. Get out of their way and let them be themselves.

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Eeek! Plot! Kill it!

I don’t like trying to plot. For one thing, what an awful word. PLOT. Sounds like someone just dropped a big wad of something sticky on a tile floor.

Okay, silliness aside, I think plot is a negative buzzword in my head. I have often thought that I don’t know how to plot. I read these blurbs on the back of good books and they say, ‘Tightly plotted!’ But the books have very little in common, in terms of structure. Some of them are just sort of episodic wanderings, some are comedies where everything comes deliciously together at the end, some mysteries where obviously the author had everything figured out before she started, some are just one thing after another. Maybe nobody else really knows what plotting is either?

And truly, it wasn’t until I got sick of trying to learn and just wrote stories instead that I started to get good. Maybe, for me, plot is an emergent property of characters plus situation. But I think there’s at least one more element.

Characters in a situation is a start. What moves things along is conflict. For a good story to happen, characters have to need and move and act and do, and they won’t be bumped out of their comfortable lives until they have conflict. Between one another, between them and their environment, them and their dreams or nightmares. They need something to save, something to run from, something that hurts them so they can try to make it stop, something to do.

So: characters plus situation plus conflict equals a story. And the first time someone puts ‘tightly plotted’ on the back of one of my books, I’m gonna laugh so hard.