Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Living on the Edge: She Didn't Fall? Inconceivable!

When you look up "motivational posters" in Google images you get a lot of quotes including phrases like, "push yourself to the edge," and, "you don't know where the edge is until you get there," and such. This can be good advice for those who take advice as it should be taken: in moderation and in consideration of one's (honest) limitations. However, if you have a death wish, step right on out there to the mossy, wet, sloped surface and plummet to your death if you want to. Be my guest.

But we readers have this habit of losing interest in characters if they aren't pushed to the edge. (And honestly, writers lose interest in writing about them, too!) We want them right up there with the nose of danger breathing in their face. Why? Only trouble is interesting.

Perhaps that's why so many of us step out on limbs of our own. We want our lives to be interesting. Sometimes it gets too interesting. For example, I said "yes" to too many projects this year and had mental and physical repercussions because of my desire to please people. (Yeah, yeah. I know. Those of you who know me know I was mental already. I'm just more so now. ;-)

The trick to good writing is to take your characters TO the edge, but not beyond. Not unless you're doing parody or farce. This is a tricky balance. We've all read books, seen movies and TV shows that tried to be serious about all the horrible things that were happening to the characters when, instead, the readers/viewers were rolling in their chairs, laughing at all the ridiculousness. Taking yourself seriously when your audience thinks your material is funny is bad. Really bad. As in you've just lost readers/viewers and may not get them back for your next project.

Critique groups are a great way to gauge this phenomenon. It's difficult to see what others see in your writing, so why not take advantage of your literate friends and family who are willing to suffer through your stories and give you honest and helpful feedback?

So get your characters into trouble, but just enough. Take them right to the edge, but not over. And for goodness sake, never trust a Sicilian when death is on the line!