In my last post I said that any and all problems encountered with writing come down to a lack of character. Ouch! Could that be any more harsh? Yeah, if I really tried.
I don’t mean that having a character go rogue or a story line fly off the rails means that the person writing them lacks character, just strength of character. That seems harsh, too, but it’s not because part of character, that ethereal backbone everybody needs to reach a dream, is resilience. Get back up, get a grip on the problem, and strangle it by the throat. Don’t worry, it won’t die. We can be assured that blips, bumps, and misery will always be a part of any kind of art (they’re the walking dead that just keep coming). Without them, there’s never those times when things zip along and there’s a feeling that we’re growing and starting to nail our obstacles to the wall and clear our path.
Until we get to the fork in that path and come up against new obstacles.
Let me put it this way: Would you be interested in reading a novel or watching a movie that didn’t have a character with obstacles? Or a story where the protagonist quits when a problem comes along? I might read that kind of novel, if it were free, because it would be one heck of a short book. On second thought, it would just be more clutter on the shelf or my Kindle cloud (whatever that cloud is).
Action, drama, growth, change, focus, direction, obstacles defeated–this is the stuff that holds our attention in a good story. And it’s the stuff that makes for a good life. If what we’re writing has to contain characters of substance, we need to have a bit of character ourselves, and sometimes the action, drama, growth, change, focus, direction, and obstacles defeated have to be present in our own lives before we can infuse them into the fictional.
I think about some of my most worthless days (there’s nothing worse than wasting time because once gone it can never be gotten back) and how they’d “read” in a work of fiction. Not very well, that’s for sure. If my day doesn’t read well, then it hasn’t been lived well, and if it hasn’t been lived well, then I’m a lifeless character rather than a fully rounded person with enough character to make each day count, even those spent staring into space.
Yeah, even a day spent devoid of busywork can be a day filled with character and substance. Thought is incredibly active, and too much circular thought can leave you trapped in your own tangled weave. Just being quiet and observing the world around you can bring startling insight and recognition of patterns that are infinitely interesting.
But even an hour of self-pity and woe because the world isn’t spinning the way you want it to is dull and empty. I think it’s because we’ve all been there, done that, and reaped the lack of anything of value.
I have no desire to spank anybody because they’re struggling with their craft (except, perhaps myself), but I do want to bring back an old-fashioned word that sums up a lot of cures for a lot of angst.
Character. Get it, live it, write it, and capture an audience. You can’t give what you don’t have, and readers want characters that win.