Raising the Stakes

Yeah, this one is really soon after the last one.  What can I say, sometimes I just do things.

This one’s going to be one about the craft of writing … which I try not to talk too much about, because otherwise I’d never shut up.  Also, I told myself I wouldn’t try and act like I’m an authority on the subject until I’m published.
This post I’ll give a pass, though, because it’s about how monumentally I deserve a slap upside the head, so I figure: Onward!

Yesterday, I arrived at one of those convergences of events that just snap something in the brain into place, usually something that should have done so months (sometimes years) ago.
The first of these events is the imminence of a truly daunting editing cycle.  I’m about halfway, or maybe just over halfway, through my current WIP.  I aim to have it finished by the end of the year, latest.
That’s the easy part.
When I’m done, I’m putting all the WIPs I want to polish through a cycle of editing.  Now, originally, there were going to be just two; one that’s just back from my alphas, and this one that I’m just finishing.  But there was a WIP I put aside in September-ish due to an authorial dummy-spit, a character who refused to be interesting, and several scenes that never failed to make me want to stab a pen through the darned thing.  I’m picking it back up and having another go, however, because I just couldn’t leave the other characters languishing in my drawer.  They’re just too fun to toy with.  So now there are three.
ANYWAY.  Tangent over.  One of the things my alphas said I need to concentrate on is the tension.  A lot of the time, things just come easily to my characters, and the book suffers for it.

I was rather surprised to hear this.  I’d always put myself in the ‘sadistic author’ category.  I usually start my books with an excellent idea for how to make my characters cry.  Some of my favourite scenes are the ones that involve mental breakdowns.  At least one of my WIPs, the point has been “how can we make this character hate the world now?”
But then I reread the sections they were talking about, and they were totally right, because I choose good alphas.
Some of the solutions were quite easy.  One of them involved fixing the bits where I’d messed up the economics stuff (shush, I’m a language enthusiast and a uni student.  I know not of your monies and spending), which will add some nice tension.  But the really difficult stuff is the nagging feeling that just not much is happening.  Sure, there are complications, but the plot just seems to be dragging for some reason.
I’ve started to pick this one up in the current WIP.  And for a long time it was stumping me.  But there’s like, five things happening! I thought.  There’s a flipping war making things difficult for the main characters!  Am I overreacting because I’m too close to the story?

This brings us to the second event in this convergence.
Dear readers, I have failed as a nerd.  I had not, until just last night, watched The Dark Knight Rises.
Yes.  I know.  I have remedied this situation, don’t worry.  Moderate spoilers to follow, in case someone is in the same boat as me after all this time…

During this movie, Batman loses just about everything.  Being Batman has taken its toll.  He has no cartilage in his knees and brain tissue damage from being punched in the head so much.  During the course of the movie, he loses Alfred, his fortune, his status, his company, then Bane takes his armoury and damn near kills him into the bargain.

OK, spoilers over.  We’re all good.

Here’s the thing, though.  This revelation should not have been a revelation.  Nearly everywhere you go for writing advice, you see people decrying books where the characters breezed through things.  Most writers will give the advice that you should make it as difficult as possible for the characters.  Myself included.  I’ve frequently told people I believe in making characters suffer for their happy ending.

Apparently, I’d just heard this enough that it had become background noise.  I had known it, and just kind of assumed I had applied it.

The first thing I did after this was to grab a notebook and write down the worst things that could possibly happen in each of the plots I’ll be editing soon, and the one I’m currently writing.  Not just the worst escapable things – the worst possible things.  Hopefully incorporating some of those will make the next round of edits much better.

And thank you to The Dark Knight Rises for the swift kick in the pants.

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