I’m on a daily mailing list from the Universe.
No, really. Every day, I get a Note from the Universe, a reminder of my power, life’s magic, and how much I’m loved.
At least, that’s the slogan offered up by Mike Dooley, who started Notes from the Universe back in 1998. I enjoy these little emails and sometimes get a little nugget of wisdom that I can readily apply to my writing life.
This is what I got this morning:
You’re probably thinking I’m going to take that and talk about how to turn a loss into a win when things don’t go your way on your publishing journey. And I could do that, but that feels too obvious.
I’m actually more interested in applying this advice to your characters.
Now, whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, part of your job as a writer is to give your characters hell. Find out what their worst nightmares are and make them come true. On crack. You’re supposed to make their lives difficult and miserable and make them want to quit. Except, of course, they don’t quit because that isn’t what heroes do. But at some point you have to figure out what happens next (be that in the draft or in outline form).
That’s where this advice can really help you out.
For every setback, disappointment and heartbreak, ask yourself, “What does this create the opportunity for?”
You’ve just cut your character off at the knees. It’s a massive setback. She’s heartbroken, exhausted, and disappointed that plans A, B, and C didn’t hack it. In this miasma of I don’t wanna, you have created an opportunity.
It might be an opportunity to knock your hero down again. It might be a chance to have those inner demons rear their ugly heads. It might be a good time to show a little back story to show the origins of those inner demons. It might be a good opportunity to show some of the world while she’s holed up, waiting for the enemy fire to stop. It might be a good chance for her to reflect on what went wrong and how to fix it. It might even open up a new avenue to take the story in that you as the author hadn’t considered.
The point is that every one of these setbacks, disappointments, and heartbreaks you put your characters through is a crossroads and a chance for you to deepen and enrich your story beyond merely “What comes next.”
So next time you find your hero on his knees (or holed up in a dirty warehouse with the zombies about to break down the door), reflect on what this opportunity allows you to show to make your story even better.
Because in the end, it’s all about hooking the reader and keeping them hooked.