Guest Blogger: Sally McBride

24 Jun

Are You an Enabler?  Tough Love for your Stories

Do you let your characters get away with doing things the easy way? Do you avoid hurting them now… only to have them hurt more later, when the tale they’re in gets no love from editors or agents?

I write sci-fi and fantasy, and in my novels I have a heck of a time keeping things tense and dark. My natural tendency is to do things in a logical, sane and safe way, in writing just as in life—to fix things, keep an even keel, and avoid confrontation. Bad idea! Though my personal life is pretty good, no one is going to stay up late reading about it.

It’s hard to keep up interest, especially throughout the middle of a novel, if everything happens easily, predictably, without any hard feelings. We all know that conflict is the life blood of any story, no matter the genre. But conflict is painful and hard… why would anyone in the real world go through it if they had a choice?

Okay, here’s the thing: novels aren’t the real world. They have to be more exciting and meaningful than real life.

It’s said that the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. I’m not one to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” In real life, bad things happen to good people, and it’s often impossible to figure out a reason why… but in a novel or short story these same things have to make sense in the context of the tale you’re telling. The bad stuff doesn’t necessarily need to involve physical danger, but there should be heartbreak, stress, and bad choices. Or brave choices. Ones where your character, whom you love as much as a brother, sister, lover or friend (at least while you’re writing them) has to do crazy, dangerous, difficult things.

It takes nerve and a certain kind of mental attitude (at least for me) to go ahead, let loose with some mayhem, strife, arguments and even flying bullets now and then. I have to work hard to keep my peace-making (boring!) attitudes out of the picture.

Here’s a cliché scenario. You probably know how you would react to a suspicious noise from your dark, spooky basement when the news has just announced there’s a killer on the loose. Duh—you wouldn’t go down there. You’d call 911. But your heroine needs to make the—possibly bad, possibly brave—choice to venture down those stairs. It’s up to you to think of just why she would do such a dumb thing. You can’t let her get away with doing things the easy way, the safe way.

But you hate “dumb broads” who do stupid things just to further a plot, right? Well, if you are doing your job devising scenes, thinking of motivation and keeping your eye on the goal, your characters will do things for a reason—their own good reason—and will find themselves in a world of trouble. Exactly where you want them.

A novel, in whatever genre, has a Black Moment, the equivalent to a drunk hitting rock bottom. An addict can’t fight his or her way to recovery until that point is reached.

Bad choices have consequences. The hero and heroine will suffer… but if you dish out some tough love along the way, they’ll get to the end of the story battered and bruised, but happy.


Posted by on June 24, 2011 in conflict, writers, writing


Tags: , , ,

8 responses to “Guest Blogger: Sally McBride

  1. Johanna Harness

    June 24, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    “But you hate “dumb broads” who do stupid things just to further a plot, right?” Yes! Exactly. Motivation is everything. Thank you so much for this.

  2. Janis

    June 24, 2011 at 6:21 AM

    Sally, my first attempt at a novel had a common sense heroine and a wonderful hero, almost perfect. They were logical, normal people trying to find love….zzzzz….oh, sorry, I dozed off. That gem of a story is sitting on my computer. Sleeping, I believe.

    Great article. Thanks for visiting Gem State Writers.

  3. LIz Fredericks

    June 24, 2011 at 9:03 AM

    You hit the biggest challenge about writing. It’s a difficult balance between a realistic plot and taking out all of the staid stuff. Nice job! And I really like the picture on the ski slopes – looks like fun. Thank you very much for blogging with us.

  4. Meredith Conner

    June 24, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    Great post Sally! Thanks for blogging with us!

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    June 24, 2011 at 5:54 PM

    What a great way to think about torturing your characters 🙂 They can make bad choices, but only if properly motivated. Makes sense and tough love is an easy way to remember it. Thanks, Sally! We’re so glad you could blog here today.

  6. lynn mapp

    June 24, 2011 at 9:03 PM

    Sally, Sally, Sally,
    Why can’t everyone just get along? Oh, right. It’s a book. Nobody wants to read a boring story.

  7. Carley Ash

    June 24, 2011 at 9:32 PM

    You are so right Sally. Thanks for blogging today. It was a great one.

  8. Mary Vine

    July 3, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information! Brave or bad choices-love it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: