September 22, 2017 / 5 Comments

Hitting The Fan

            Running a little late this week. Sorry.
            Truth be told, I don’t have a ton of time so this is going to be a bit short. So’s next week, honestly. Right now I’m trying to do a bunch of pre-publicity stuff for the release of Paradox Bound next week, and next week is… well, four signing events with about five hundred miles between them, plus some other stuff, plus getting ready to go to New York Comic Con..
            I’m going to be busy, okay?
            Plus, I have a bad habit of over-preparing for things. A holdover from being dirt poor.  I just assume everything bad is going to happen and try to cover all my bases.
           Of course, inevitably, the bad thing is something I didn’t plan for. I mean, if I’d planned for it, it wouldn’t be that bad, right?  It might be annoying, a minor obstacle at best, but it’d be tough to think of it as some kind of crisis.
            I wanted to talk today about the moment in a story when things go wrong and our characters suddenly have to depend on their wits to make it through.  They’re in a position they didn’t intend to be in.  I’m a big believer in that moment.  I think it’s what seperates a lot of average-to-good stories from great ones.

           Let’s use a heist as an example.  We’ve all read a good heist story (or at least seen one of the Ocean’s Eleven movies).  In a heist, we usually see our heroes and/or heroines go through lots and lots of planning, working out every detail. They know when the guards change shift, how long the elevators take, how much weight sets off the pressure plates, and more.

            But then—always—something goes wrong.  There’s a new alarm system.  They’ve changed the guard rotation.  There’s a power outage before our power outage—one we’re not in control of!—and Jake doesn’t know!  How’s he going to get out of there?!
            This is the moment we grow to love characters. When they have to think fast to get themselves out of a tricky situation.  When they’ve got to do something they weren’t prepared to do.
            Now, on the flipside of this… there’s a show I’ve been watching, and I really want to like it. It’s got a lot of elements I usually enjoy.  But nothing ever goes wrong for them.  I mean, they’ll hit problems.  Have thing they need to deal with.  Sometimes major adversaries to overcome.
            But again and again, they’d hit a problem, figure out what they needed to do in order to beat it… and that would work.  I need to do this.  I did this.  The end.
            Sounds kind of unsatisfying, doesn’t it?
            Spoilers—it was.
            This all ties back to something I’ve mentioned here before.  When someone’s so over-prepared that nothing’s a challenge, my story is boring.  My characters aren’t being pushed in any way, so it diminishes whatever’s driving the plot.
            Likewise, if my characters barely even need to be prepared and nothing’s a challenge… well, then my story’s still boring,  It might even be more boring.  Because now, no matter what this week’s crisis was, it’s clearly something that takes minimal effort to deal with.
            And let me take a quick minute to clarify something about effort.  Effort doesn’t just mean gritting my teeth and sweating.  If we know the hatch Wakko needs to open weighs three hundred pounds and he heeeeeeeaaaaaves it open, that’s just planning to do something strenuous.  What we’re talking about is when Wakko goes to heave open that three hundred pound hatch… and somebody padlocked it since yesterday when he scouted the place.  And he’s still only got ninety seconds to get it open before the zombie horde reaches us.
            That’s going to take some effort.
            And impress the hell out of my readers when Wakko does it.
            Speaking of readers, hopefully I’ll see some of you next week during my crazy California signing tour.  Or next weekend at NYCC.
            Until then… go write.
            And put some effort into it.