Monday, November 7, 2011

Be more like your characters

You = Hobbit
Getting Published = Destroying the ring in the fires of Mount Doom

In general, people shouldn't act like book characters.  Way too much conflict.  We'd all lose our jobs, our marriages, and probably our lives...because real people actually die in fiery explosions.  But in our writing journey, it wouldn't hurt to act a little more like heroes.

I started thinking about my own heroic writing tale when I wrote this post.  I was reminded of a brief section in Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (check out my review of his companion workbook here) where he asks the reader to think about their own personal stakes.  He says, "In writing the breakout novel, it doesn't matter what purpose motivates you.  It matters only that you have a purpose.  Without it, your novel has little chance of breaking out.  Its stakes will be too low."

That section really resonated with me.  The story of a person writing a novel works great as a heroic tale.  The goal is clear.  The goal is hard to reach and a happy ending is not guaranteed.  The goal is not likely to come easy.  There is lots of internal and external conflict to grapple with.  And plenty of room for a flawed but heroic MC (yep, that's you).

Ask yourself these questions:

Why are you writing this novel?  This question comes from Maass's book.  In my opinion, one of the best answers is, because I can't NOT write it.  If you're truly passionate, not writing the book is not even a viable option.

If I stopped writing this novel, why would it matter?  This one is also from Maass.  Obviously, it's normal to have some non-heroic answers here, like 'I wasted my time' or 'I'll have to admit to my friends that I couldn't do it.'  But that shouldn't be the whole story.  Stopping writing the novel should feel wrong a deep level.

What are your personal stakes?  Don't be afraid to admit that they're high.  That's a good thing.

What is your antagonist?  What stands in the way of you and your goal?  

Are you being beaten by the bad guys?  Come on now, hero, that just won't do.  Heroes aren't beaten by the bad guys.  You wouldn't expect your MC to reach their goal without facing lots of obstacles first. Guess what, the same is true for you.  Don't stop when the going gets tough, your MC wouldn't.

Are you being a hero?  A hero keeps their eyes on their goal throughout the whole novel.  Are your eyes firmly on the prize?  A hero never gives up, never surrenders.  What about you?

Of course, life is far more complicated than a novel, but personally I believe that you can and should live your life heroically.  All you have to do it set goals for yourself and never give up.
Onward, heroic writers!  May your long, arduous journey have a predictable story book happy ending.  :)

P.S.  Thank you to Alex at for the One Lovely Blog Award.  Check out her lovely blog too!


  1. What a powerfully moving post, Sharon. Believing in my manuscript on a deep level is what has kept me going through writing and now shopping it. I am going to be tweeting this post as well as saving a copy in my Motivation file.

  2. This post just rocked my world. Love your attitude about writing. :)


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