Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Potholes in the Writer's Road

Didn't see it coming!

 I don't know about where you live, but where I live the potholes this time of year have been known to eat cars.

At least it felt like it that one time.

I hit a monster-sized pit on the right side of the road one time. I noticed in the glint in my headlights a hubcap careening off into a parking lot. I pulled over to see if I could find it. Walked around to the right side of the car.

I heard a loud "hissing" sound.

It wasn't snake season, so I looked at my car. The pothole was so bad that it caused a flat tire. I limped my car to the closed tire store, parked it, and begged a ride home. It was ready for the nice repairmen in the morning.

I hit a pothole in my writing this week as well.

I hadn't shown much of my latest work to my lovely wife. Seeing as I have a female protaganist, I asked her to read it with an eye for the female aspect, in case I wasn't accurately writing the female mind (tall task, I know). She came back to me last week with a look on her face that said, "I'm sorry."

She doesn't like my main character.

She called her a "poop" actually. Didn't see anything nice about her. I was a little shocked. Jenna is the woman I spend the most time with aside from my wife (writers are weird like that). I couldn't see it. I read through chapters again, observing areas where I could change a few words. I really didn't think of any major changes.

I guess I have a blind spot.

I have a couple of friends looking at it with a critical eye now, giving me suggestions on why Jenna is acting like such a meanie. It makes me realize that writing is an activity that can't be totally isolated. Yes, I do most of the work with me and a keyboard. I still need other imput to help my blind side and avoid potholes. Hopefully I've got my story in with the right mechanic that can help diagnose any problems.

For my fellow writers out there - what are some of the potholes you've hit in your stories?


  1. Oh I've had people tell me my main character wasn't likable before. That was the main complaint I got from agents on one of my manuscripts. What I figured out was that she was completely likable to me because I knew her heart. They were looking on her outward appearance and I was looking on her heart. I knew where she had been--what had made her act this way--and I knew where she was going. I knew where she was going to end up after she'd grown from the pressure the plot was putting on her.

    So I had to take some of her heart and put it into dialogue.

    It also helps if you can do some of this:

    1) have her help someone who is weaker than she is
    2) have someone who is stronger than she is pick on her
    3) have her peers like her and weaker characters look up to her.

    Maybe. I'm really just guessing. I don't know if I fixed my character or not. It seems like I have. Several readers have said I have. But I won't be sure until I get a wider read, I think.

  2. Oh and my pothole now? The reason I'm over commenting after seeing this on facebook? I am stuck, stuck, stuck. My plot is the most confusing, nonsensical thing ever. I hate it.

  3. Sally, thanks for commenting! That makes perfect sense. I know her whole background/biography. I know where her heart is, but I may not be showing it very well. I think your comments are spot on. I think she's very redeemable, but it is frustrating to work so long and think no one likes her (thus making it less likely they would read the whole book).

    I hear you on the plot thing. I routinely get bottled up there. I'm in between a plotter and pantser. I'm in a section I haven't fully plotted, and am trying to wing it through. It has helped me discover new things, but it isn't easy to do it that way.

  4. Jason, trust your wife's evaluation. If Jenna's acting like a "poop", no one's going to care what her circumstances are or what happens to her. Characters make or break a novel, and the protagonist will make your novel rock or sink like one.

    Bring out her vulnerability. Humble her in an ugly way. Bring out a character to expose her at her core. Do something to invite the reader to take her side, to understand her strong will. Break her. Or no one will care.

    You can do this, Jason.

  5. Thanks Nicole. You called this a long time ago. So my question now is: how soon do you have to do this? How long do you have to show the humbling or vulnerability? I think she'll get there, but I don't want people to drop out before it happens.

  6. Definitely don't wait too long. Putting an undesirable protag out there can run off impatient readers. You've got to give us a peek at it pretty quickly because if she keeps up with that prickly conduct, readers will be cheering for her comeuppance.