© 2016 Beth White
Occasionally I get stuck. I realize nobody else has this problem. But on the off-chance that one or two of my fellow writers find themselves saddled with a story that lies on its fat stomach like a slug on a tomato vine, I thought I might share something I recently had to relearn. For the rest of you geniuses who never have this problem, I congratulate you. Feel free to snicker.
Are you ready? Here goes. The basics work.
I know, I know. It seems like if you’ve written and published seventeen novels you’d be given a pass to skip over that brain-bending stuff like Goal, Motivation and Conflict. You know, cut to the chase and just start writing about Handsome Hero and Smart, Gutsy Heroine. Chuck them into an Inciting Incident and watch them go.
Problem is they kind of need someplace to go when the Incident is over. And it’s pretty essential that they have an actual interesting backstory. In the current case of my Work In Progress (and this happens more often than I’d like to admit), my people get too nice. Now, nobody will root for a disagreeable, petty, unlikeable hero, but at the same time, total nice-ness is B-O-R-I-N-G. I wind up with Mary Tyler Moore and Mike Brady in the starring roles (and if you’re too young to know who those people are, Google them for a truly horrifying look at the Baby-Boomer’s coloring book), leaving me with a plot doomed to sink into the Pit of Beige.
No, no, people. What you want is scars. Bad decisions that cost a man the love of his life. Unfulfilled desires that require a metaphorical (or perhaps literal) plunge into a burning building. Physical, emotional, or spiritual defects that nothing short of a miracle will heal. And those things have to be so carefully woven into the fabric of the story and revealed so gradually as to be almost unnoticeable so the reader is barely aware of them—until she turns the last page and finds herself, days later, still thinking about those characters.
So I hereby preach this to myself (physician heal thyself): take these people you’ve created, plumb their depths—a nautical term with connotations of a lead weight dropped into an ocean of silence, isolation, danger, mystery—and haul them back out again so they actually deserve their happy ending. The payoff won’t be “nice.” But it will be true, and it will be beautiful, and it will be satisfying.
Beth White is the award-winning author of The Pelican Bride, The Creole Princess, and The Magnolia Duchess. A native Mississippian, she teaches music at an inner-city high school in historic Mobile, Alabama. Her novels have won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Carol Award, the RT Book Club Reviewers’ Choice Award, and the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. Learn more atwww.bethwhite.net.