Yesterday I had a lovely lunch with a group of writing buddies. Naturally there was plenty of discussion about writing: where we're all at in our current projects, problems we're encountering, methods that work for us.
One of my friends is looking over a first draft and considering what needs changing in revision. Her big sticking point is that she can't figure out how to justify that the main character doesn't do the obvious smart thing near the beginning of the story to avoid the conflicts that drive the plot.
This is a common issue for writers. So many books would be over in twenty pages if only the protagonist acted less foolishly, behaved better, or decided that honesty is the best policy. Plots require conflict, and conflict often arises from people doing the wrong thing.
My friend laid out the basic story scenario for us and said how she was thinking of solving it. The rest of us offered a bunch of additional convincing factors that could result in the character's mistake. Maybe he's too stubborn to take advice or too proud to imagine his downfall or too loyal to consider a betrayal.
I'd like to think that our suggestions were useful and that the friend with the plot problem might expand on one of them to strengthen her novel. So many times in the past, I've explained a story problem to friends and been rewarded with perfect solutions. I have brilliant ideas all the time, of course, but other people are surprisingly clever, too.
It's easy to get so lost in your own story that you aren't sure how to find your way out. Talking it over with someone else lets you take advantage of a fresh perspective and spot the right path.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ At the #Amwriting blog, Jennifer Spiller discusses how to Write What You Know and Slaughter the Cat: "My own view is we should write what we know and understand or can imagine vividly, emotionally. Then, if you want to write about a place or type of person outside your experience, you must RESEARCH. A lot."
→ Ian Dudley explains that Writing a novel is like writing a book (or a novella, only longer): "You have to use letters. Preferably strung together into words. Words of a language that, again preferably, you know. Or at least a language your readers will know."