Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Plague of Nice

My revisions are coming to an end, but they continue to kick my butt. I must have made every single beginner’s mistake while writing this thing. Last night I really noticed my tendency to “not go there.” This phenomenon probably has some fancy Turkey City Lexicon moniker, but I’ve always sort of thought of it a plague of the nice.

Here’s what the problem looks like. I set up some conflict, say, the idea that Coyote wants to steal my heroine’s goddess (which she harbors inside her). Anyway, I write a fantastic scene in which he does just that, but then I completely drop the ball in terms of follow-through. In fact, one scene later, without much work on the heroine’s part even, she gets her goddess back. How nice. No suffering.

When I’m too nice to my heroine, the conflict I set up instantly loses any punch it might have had. Also, as an author I completely missed the opportunity to really explore what this crisis MEANS to my character. It’s like I had my heroine walk right up to the edge of a really scary precipice, look over, shrug, and take the stairs. That might work for a funny moment in Indiana Jones, but it’s crappy story telling.

If you decide the precipice is going to be there, you need to not only go right up to it, but also jump. Otherwise why write about it at all?

As has been said by writers more famous than me, the writer’s job is to create characters and torture them. My corollary would be: if you bring out the hot poker, for God’s sake jab someone in the eye with it. And honestly, a good torturer doesn’t offer a bandage right away (or worse, some kind of instant cure-all that makes all the bad disappear.)

I think, in someway, this problem relates to Kelly’s post about writing from sadness/your happy place. It’s a lot harder to metaphorically poke someone in the eye when you’re suffering yourself. When you’re sad, there’s a tendency to want all the bad to go away. This is a great approach to life, but it makes for rather dull, toothless fiction.


Anonymous said...

It’s a lot harder to metaphorically poke someone in the eye when you’re suffering yourself.

I think it depends on your own personal mentality.

For me, when I'm "down", that's most likely the time I'm going to be up for some serious eye-gouging. Writing helps me "cope" (I hate that word). It helps me make sense (or near sense) of what's going on around me and/or inside my head at a given time. One of my characters is a pro at smashing coffee cups (full or not) against her kitchen wall. I've been there. I know exactly the mood you have to be in, the emotions you have to have screaming through your veins to make you throw that cup (even the expensive one!).

I tend to write the best romantic poetry when my lover's just picked my heart out of my body with a sharp pair of tweezers, for example.

Kelly Swails said...

Tate: you could have been writing this post about me. I'm way too nice to my characters--it's something I have to work on. Is there writer-rehab for that?

Kelly McCullough said...




There's no known antidote.