Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Today on his blog, Steven Pressfield talks about raising the stakes in your manuscript in a post called "Have a Body Hit the Floor." In other words, when in doubt, kill someone.

As I read, I kept thinking to myself, Well, great. I'm writing YA Contemporary. I can't kill anyone else off (it would be slightly out of context in this story). Now what?

Then I got to the last paragraph:

"A final note about 'life and death.' The stakes don’t have to be literally mortal. But they must feel like life and death to the specific character...Destruction of the soul. Those are the ultimate stakes."


This got me thinking about the stakes in my current manuscript. What is the worst thing that could happen to Dorothy, my main character? Considering she's a girl with severe social anxiety disorder who impersonates someone else to overcome her fears, the worst that could happen would be getting caught and actually being judged by everyone (which up until this point has been a mostly irrational fear; that's kind of the thing with phobias - they're not grounded in reality. Although if you ask me, it's perfectly legit to be terrified to the point of death by house centipedes. There's no telling what something can do with that many legs...).

Then I thought about what actually happens in my novel. The ending was rushed - I knew that already. But I wasn't sure how to fix it. Right now, Dorothy gets caught, but her fears are only realized to a certain extent. That doesn't really fit into Pressfield's "destruction of the soul" formula. The point of writing a flawed character is for them to grow - to find a way to either overcome their flaw or turn it into a strength. But by some sort of subconscious act of empathy toward Dorothy, I ended up giving her an easy way out.

Now I know what the problem is with my ending: I haven't screwed my character over enough. She's got to hit rock bottom. It's time for some tough lovin'.

On that note, I'm off to destroy my main character's soul. (It's nothing personal, Dorothy. Just be grateful I didn't decide to turn this book into a thriller.)


Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Lol! Maybe this shouldn't have made me laugh, but it did. :) Have fun destroying her soul! (And, of course, putting it back together again.) :)

Jessie Humphries said...

Oh my gosh! That is great advice. I love it. I must write that gem down!