Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Never Write About Wimps

Song Playing: Soldiers of the Wasteland by Dragonforce

Deep confession guys. Bearing my soul over here.

Did you ever read a book or take a class, read a passage/hear a statement, and think blithely “Nope, that’s not me.”

You read a part about characters think, “I might have issues with pacing and length, but definitely no problems in the character department.”

I think we’ve all done that to one extent or another. Pass over some advice because you think it doesn’t apply to you.

BUZZ! Wrong!

Hubris was the fall of Dr. Frankenstein, and hubris will be the fall of a great many writers. Sometimes you read a book about writing, or talk to another writer, or a helpful blog post (like this one!) and they mention a problem. A problem you think you already have covered.

You could be right.

But you could be wrong. Very wrong. It could be a part of the problem with your manuscript that you were vainly searching for.

There I was, reading my book in the break room at work. It’s called “Thanks, but This Isn’t for Us” by Jessica Page Morrell. I almost skipped this chapter, honestly. It’s called “Never Write About Wimps.”

I have many failings as a writer. Many. There are plenty of areas that I struggle with. Characters is not one of them. I am confident in that. I can create vivid, realistic characters that have three dimensions (my blogfests may or may not reflect this depending on how much editing I have done). It might take several tries and some time to develop said characters, but this is one of the areas of writing I really love. It’s actually the reason why I write: to give my character somewhere to play.

So yes, I almost skipped that chapter, thinking I was A-Okay. My main character for my WIP Masquerade is a lot of things—arrogant, high maintenance, shallow—but weak isn’t one of them. She is not wimpy.

And yet, something was off. The scenes just weren’t working the way I wanted them to. And *gasp* my other secondary character was more interesting.

For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why.

Then I read that chapter, and this passage “Motivation, based on a character’s beliefs, family, and environment and cultural background, provides a trajectory for characters to act and grow on. Motivation compels action, create goals in scene, and drive characters to achieve goals. Thus, motivation provides characters with credible reason for their actions, and they should carry out those actions with plausible skills or acquire skills along the way.”

After I read that part, I did a quick check with my characters. I asked myself what the motivation of my main character is, and then I asked myself what the motivation of my secondary character was.

It hit me like a lightening bolt then, putting the motivations right next to each other, that the motivation of my secondary character is greater than my main character. My secondary character had more at stake, at least at first, than my main character.

How the heck did that happen?! (behind my back, while I wasn’t looking)

No wonder I have been having problems with my main character. My secondary character is more interesting than she is!

This is a good news/bad news situation for me. The good news is now I know what’s going on, I can fix it. The bad news is it’s going to take some rearranging to implement said fixes. And figure out what those fixes might be.

My point? Go over your manuscript with a fine tooth comb and question everything. And I mean everything. Even if you love the character, and the plot, still run it through the wringer.


  1. Wow, I wrote about this not long ago. My secondary character was taking over my WIP from the primary one. I had to do the same thing you did and think about her passions and her motivations. Also, the secondary character was more flawed, which made her more interesting.

    Great picture to go along with the post!

  2. Thank you for the excellent post. I completely agree with you. I am occasionally guilty of skipping over sections I should most likely read. I also loved the photograph and the word hubris.

  3. I added a second POV, that of the antagonist, and now I find him more interesting and procrastinate writing my MC. I'm a terrible writer. *sigh*

  4. Great advice! I've had this happen to me as well, when a secondary character started to take over my story. I had to toss out a couple of chapters, but finally got back on track. I hate it when that happens. :0)
    Great post!