Today’s guest author is Joanne Levy, whose funny and sweet book for tweens, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, was released from Bloomsbury in 2012. A survivor of the corporate world, Joanne is also a virtual assistant, providing admin services to busy authors via www.jlauthorservices.com. Joanne lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and a lot of pets, one of whom vomited during the writing of this bio. For more about Joanne, the author, check out www.joannelevy.com.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Back when I was dipping my toe into the writing pond, I took some writing courses at my local college to see about getting some info on the basics. I’d always loved to write, but I knew nothing about craft and how to make an okay story into a GREAT story; I needed help. I learned a lot in those courses, especially as they were workshop based and I could get feedback from my peers (one of the great things about Teachers Write!) but a couple of pointed lessons really stuck with me.
One is that you have to kick the crap out of your main character. Repeatedly.
“Noooooo,” you say. “I love my character! I want only the best for her. Sunshine and light and all things rose-smelling.” But if you’re writing a story, no matter if it’s a short or an epic tome, you need to kick your character a few times. You need her to grow, thrive and shine* and it’s only through overcoming high-stakes obstacles that she’s going to triumph.
So think of the worst that can happen to your character. And then make it happen.
My very favorite example of this is the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks. Give it a watch (you can call it research!) and see how many times poor Tom gets kicked. Hard. And the way he gets kicked is brilliant, too, in that good news/bad news way:
Good news: You survived a plane crash, bad news: you’re stuck on a deserted island, by yourself.
Good news: You found new shoes that you desperately need, bad news: you have to take them off the corpse of your buddy.
Good news: You get the shoes off, bad news: they’re too small (some kicks are big, some are small, but they all still count).
And it goes on and on. But through hardships we grow and show our true colors—these are life’s pivotal moments. These are the kinds of things that make your character human and sympathetic. You love them more for what they have overcome, right? It’s hard to love a character who has everything handed to her (and makes for a boring story). Where’s the grit? The strength, the stuff that makes you root for her?
So today for your quick write, take your character, thinking about her most debilitating fears or faults, and make the worst possible thing happen.
Is your character a terribly shy introvert? Force her to do a speech in front of 1000 people.
Is your character deathly afraid of snakes? Put him in a pit full of them (remember Indiana Jones?).
You get what I mean. Kick the crap out of your character and see what happens. I bet you’ll learn a little something more about her that you didn’t know before—maybe she fails miserably or maybe she can succeed and come out the other side stronger.
And when that happens, you know what to do–kick her again.
Good luck! Feel free to paste some of your writing below; I’ll be hanging out as much as I can today.
*Some characters don’t grow, thrive and shine, but fail and come apart when faced with hardship. But I’m going to assume that many of us are writing for kids where there is a positive or hopeful, if not happy, ending. If that’s not the case, for a character to fail and fall apart, they still have to face hardship, so this exercise is still valid, you’ll just have a less than positive outcome.
We’ll be giving away a signed copy of Joanne’s SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE to one lucky commenter today!