clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Know This

This is the first of a monthly series this year to share bits of what I know. The caveat is that while I am a very good student, you'll not see me on the podium this spring receiving accolades or awards.

"Struggling" best describes my efforts and - for those of you who do occasionally read this - struggling with myself is a large part of the battle.

Today: What We Like.

I want you to venture back with me over the past six months: what did you read that you enjoyed: that you liked?

Now, as writers we have a fair bit of required reading. Reading about our idols. Reading in our genre. Reading about the industry. Reading for pleasure.

What did you read this past six months that you enjoyed? Thinking of that?

Now - fiction. Let's just focus on the fiction. Got it? Pieces of fiction you read that you very much enjoyed?

Got it in mind?

Let's reflect on the why.

Did the author grab you in the opening with a twist you haven't read fifty times before?

Did the characterization displayed on the opening speak to you? Empathy for the protagonist?

Did you recognize the conflict for the convoluted ball of wildcats you couldn't see through?

Did the language compliment the story?

Were you given an orientation in the first fifty pages that allowed you understand what was at risk, the potential reward, the human cost and some of the implications of the obvious solutions and why those were resisted?

Maybe I'm wrong here, but in the pieces I enjoyed most, these factors above rang for me in each story arc.

I cared.

I was caught up in the conflict. I couldn't conceive for myself of a clear path to the other side because of the changing landscape. The sense of risk for the protagonist remained real and immediate. I knew what they wanted and I knew why they weren't going to get it anytime soon without real work, sacrifice, and probably scarring.

Look at your own pieces. As the author, do you care? Have you painted the conflict as a ball of wildcats (i.e. complimentary risks and contradictory opposition)? Have you adequately portrayed the shifting landscape that prevents the protagonist from picking a clear path across the river of doom?

I like multiple risks. I like character vulnerabilities that require negotiated resolution. I like the "process" to be present in the protagonist. I like to ride along in the chain of sometimes thwarted solutions to the tactical obstacles all of which have strategic implications.

I like the opposition to be multi-faceted and uncertain.

I like ambiguous risk-reward where we don't know the surety in the choice's outcomes when the character makes an informed decision.

Does any of this resonate with you? Are you putting it in your stories?

I'm working at putting it into mine.

I'm writing. You should be as well.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for this, Jack! So true. And you're right--what I've enjoyed reading over the past 6 months is the direct result of the author making me care. About the characters, the story's stakes, the outcome.

jack welling said...

Seems so obvious, doesn't it? My character is "flat" because I didn't do the work to make the reader "care."

Seems a good litmus test for character v plot.

My 2 cents.