The quote isn’t news to anyone, I’m sure. But it is truth that we have to consider when we write. No one’s interested in a story without struggle, a character without conflict, a plot without pain.
If I want to move the reader, I think I ought to have been moved in a similar way in the past. Then I need to take that and pour all of it, unvarnished, unprettified, into the feelings and emotions of the character.
At our writer’s critique group, I’ve been submitting pieces of various stories, testing out how to write different magic systems or mechanics. If the non-fantasy-reader Christian ladies can make sense of what I write, and if they enjoy it, then I think I’m communicating clearly.
Last week I submitted yet another “Chapter 1” involving the outcast in a small village. My fellow writers connected with this character. They got her motivations, her feelings, her concerns. All said it was fantastic, a couple said it was the best they’d seen of my work thus far.
I have to think that’s because I borrowed from my real life experiences to glimpse how this character feels.
About a month ago, I had an evaluation at work, and I screwed up a couple of items. The overall grade was a passing score, but it felt like failure. I had to complete some additional training to get back up to speed before being allowed to work on my own.
When I went to work in the days following that failure, I would see grins on people’s faces and wonder, were they laughing at me? If a conversation stopped abruptly, or started up as soon as I left a room, were they talking about me? How did my friends and close coworkers feel about my grade? They all said nice things, but did they really mean it? After all, I’d seen this happen to other people before. I’ve probably talked about those other people.
Voices whispering, judgmental smirks, expressions of disappointment… these haunted me for days. To some extent, I still hear them by default.
I put all of this into my outcast character’s mind. I transcribed my thoughts in italics in her voice and put words to my fears.
And in doing so, I got the best feedback I’ve had thus far.
An assassin that can bend time, sure, that’s cool. Might be fun to read. A commoner thrust into the military machine because he has the power to hear the voice of the Elements, okay, fine. Seems interesting, maybe.
But everyone knows what it’s like to feel alone in a room full of people, to hear laughter and know that it’s about me. That’s a character readers can relate to and understand.
Using painful experiences lets me lock the reader in on the main character’s heart. Then I can throw in cool powers and technology. Or not.
Either way, the critique story is getting a chapter 2 next time, not another chapter 1.