Just curious: Did anyone join in the Woozworld event? I found it strange and didn’t feel as if I met anyone, really. If you were there, what was your experience?
Here’s a link to an interesting article in The New York Times about the cheerful bias in journalism and, by extension I guess, in humanity: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/science/why-we-all-sound-like-pollyannas.html. I think it’s something to keep in mind as we write stories.
On September 18th or later, writeforfun wrote, I’ve been meaning to start writing the third book in my trilogy for months now, but I’m stuck, and a big part of it, I think, is that I can’t seem to keep my characters interesting enough for a third book. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense. You see, in book one, my MC, Ben gets kidnapped by the five others, grows to accept them, and then gets rescued by them – and he ends up marrying one of them. In book two, all six of them are the MC’s, and they all go on a top-secret mission with a couple of CIA agents to save the world, and learn how awesome they can be. In book three, all six of the MC’s have to track down a mysterious criminal who is trying to capture Ben and his wife’s daughter. This’s where I run into trouble. Half of the book is about Ben’s daughter (that half comes with its own set of problems). The other half is about the six of them trying to catch the stalker, but the whole thing just doesn’t seem new and interesting enough. I mean, we’ve already learned about these characters and seen them reacting in regular life, and we’ve seen them in action and being awesome. What now? I know my characters and I love them like they’re my family, and it’s not that I’m really bored with them; but I can’t think of anything that will really keep me, or the reader, motivated to keep watching them. Is there any way to keep well-known, previously established characters interesting and surprising?
Michelle Dyck responded: First idea off the top of my head is: if you’re getting bored with the characters, maybe they’re getting bored with each other. It sounds as if they’ve been together for a long time. Even if they’re close, so much time together can give rise to conflicts (petty or otherwise). Just think of sibling rivalry.
And Deborah O’Carroll sympathized: I’m having a similar problem with a trilogy of mine… I’m trying to write the second book, but in the first one I already had monsters and trying-to-save-the-world, so going down a step to minor mysteries seems like an anticlimax, and I’m worried about the third as well… PLUS all the characters know each other now, and them not being sure about one of the characters the first time around was the other main source of tension… I’m trying to add some excitement, and keep a little leftover tension between the characters, plus I have some pretty big surprises the character has been keeping from the others, one for this book and another for the third.
And Elisa suggested: Maybe you could add a new member to the group, one that not everyone knows or completely trusts. Perhaps a former criminal who worked with the “mysterious criminal” in your book. S/he could end up being either good or bad, but it would help up the tension whichever way you go.
I’ve said this before: We tend to be a little over-critical of our work, and I wonder if this is the problem now, because when I love a series I don’t mind that the characters are known quantities. In fact, their familiarity is part of what I enjoy, spending more time in their delightful company. For example, I adore the characters in the Discworld series: all the witches, Sam Vines and the others on the City Watch, DEATH. How can I love DEATH? But I do, and I wouldn’t change a bone in his skull!
Or take Sherlock Holmes, who is reliably brilliant, enigmatic, and difficult. If I knew him in real life, I might tire of his unexplained pronouncements, his certainty that what he’s involved with is more important than anything in my life, and his reliance on unhealthy substances. But in fiction? Never!
I’ve now written two, albeit short, series: the three Disney Fairies books and the two books about Elodie and the dragon Meenore, A Tale of Two Castles and Stolen Magic. I don’t count The Princess Tales because only Ethelinda appears in two books or Fairest, because Areida is just a minor character. Part of the fun of reading a series is seeing how beloved characters will be themselves in new situations. Same goes for writing a series. In Stolen Magic, I use Elodie’s mansioning skill to actually save lives; Meenore practices ITs reasoning powers in a different setting, and I discover IT likes to sing limericks; and the ogre, Count Jonty Um, behaves nobly as usual but is appreciated as never before. Returning to them was part of the fun of the writing.
Assuming, though, that Elisa isn’t just being over self-critical, let’s explore some possibilities to create freshness.
• I like Michelle Dyck’s idea of sowing dissension in the ranks of our heroes. Think of rock bands and how often they break up once they’ve achieved success. Think of anybody’s family cooped up together on a long car trip. Charming traits start to irritate, and annoying ones become character flaws as deep as the Grand Canyon. People try to behave and be their best selves, but sometimes– sometimes often–someone erupts. Regrettable words are spoken, and rifts form that take a while to heal.
• We can disable one or two or all of them or make some of them unavailable. Can be simple things. Zeke might have broken his leg. Yolanda may be babysitting her niece while her sister and brother-in-law are on vacation. Wayne is studying for exams in particle physics. Vera is in a running argument with her cousin and can think of nothing else. Uli is on an expedition to Antarctica. Tess is in a long-running chess competition. Whatever. Their attention is divided; they can’t always be there for each other. The problem needs their complete concentration, but they can’t give it.
• Our characters don’t have to stay the same forever. They can develop and change in good ways and bad, and they can do it in the course of the new book. We can watch in horrified fascination as Yolanda loses herself to the world of video games, where she can save universes without ever leaving her chair. Uli can achieve a higher state of consciousness through meditation, which changes his perspective on threats. In the end this higher state may contribute to the stalker’s defeat, but in the meanwhile he may seem lost to his friends. Tess can fall in love.
• Are our MCs, individually or as a group, invincible? If they’ve already saved the world, is a stalker enough of a challenge? Can we introduce some new Achilles’ heels for each of them so that the threat intensifies?
• We make the stalker the perfect villain for our MCs. He knows how to turn their goodness against them. He uses their own strengths to their disadvantage. This may call for more scenes for him and possibly more character development. We show how he thinks; we lay out the resources he has at his disposal; we reveal his despicable plan for Ben’s wife’s daughter. We demonstrate how he spies on our heroes, and the reader squirms as he gathers his data. In both my Fairies books and the mysteries, the excitement comes from the fresh danger, and maybe this is what we need to do here.
• As Elisa suggests, we can introduce another new character, or more than one. The stalker can have allies, and there can be other characters who are trying to bring him to justice. We can have fun developing all of the newbies. The reader will be interested in how we bring them into our plot.
Here are three prompts:
• Remember the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz and how she watches Dorothy and her friends in her crystal ball? The stalker has this actual ball, which he got on a trip to Oz. Write a scene in which he’s observing one or more of our heroes. You can use any of them, from Zeke to Tess, in any of the scenarios I laid out, or make up some of your own. Include his thoughts and his plans as he spies.
• There have been a bunch of TV and movie spinoffs based on Sherlock Holmes. Why shouldn’t we join the fun? Holmes is presented with the problem of a missing heiress and a threat against the life of the chief of chief constable in the English town of Chipping Norton. Write the story and be sure to include Dr. Watson and arch-villain Moriarty. At least at the beginning of your story, keep them as their old selves. If you change them, make sure the reader sees the transformation take place.
• The stalker is after Yolanda, who is addicted to video games. Her friends, our heroes, try one way after another to try to get her back. Following Michelle Dyck’s idea, they start to argue over their friend. Write a scene in which words are spoken that aren’t easy to take back. The band of six is disbanding. Make it happen. You decide whether or not to reunite them.
Have fun, and save what you write!