What do you do when your world falls apart?
This is the sort of question that is so open ended that there is no right or wrong way to identify with it.
There is the major falling apart, dealing with loss and grief. The kind that you cannot do anything but mourn for as long as it takes to learn to live with it. Debilitating emotional turmoil. Depression. That is only to name a few.
A middling falling apart of your world might involve being fired from your job, that guy or girl you have dated for the past six months breaking up with you, or perhaps a car accident where the only casualty is that automobile you loved. It hurts. You want to wallow in your feelings of self-pity and loss, but even you know somewhere inside that it is not such a big loss as it feels like at that very moment.
And then there are those momentary mind-numbing mini tragedies. Flash pan moments that bring on sudden extreme emotions that can die heartbeats later. The kind that bring you into a heat-of-the-moment panic. The flash of anger. The moment where tears suddenly burn your eyes and you feel how foolish you must be because it’s not worth crying over and you must be tired. You make more excuses for yourself.
Finally, there are the truly trivial. These are perhaps most often experienced by one in the midst of a severe emotional mood swing, including toddlers. You dropped your ice cream. Your mascara glopped on your eyelashes, sticking them together and it is truly the end of the world because that boy you like is going to think you look like some kind of moronic goon who doesn’t know how to use mascara (note the run on sentence thought of the teenager in the throws of a hot mood swing). You truly are over-tired and you spilled your coffee. These moments of your life falling apart are no less severe in your feelings at the moment they are happening. Later, you might think, “Wow. I really got upset about that?”
The question to dig deep and ask yourself is, “What would I do?”
Imagine a situation. Imagine how you would feel. What you would do. What if you were in a different mood? Experiencing something else, good or bad, at that moment. How you imaging other people you know or observed would handle the situation.
Now place your character in that spot.
Ok, so your character is coming to a red light. Just as they are approaching, the light turns green. The cross traffic has the red. With an internal sigh of relief, your character moves the foot hovering over the brake to the gas, accelerating through the now green light.
Just as they are beginning to sail through the intersection, a car cuts them off. Your character is shocked. Indignant. Panicked. They react too late. Time has slowed to a crawl as they bear witness to the coming accident they feel powerless to avoid. By an almost impossible chance, between lamely groping for the brake too late with that foot, fighting the urge to swerve onto the sidewalk where people wait to cross the street, and the offending driver gunning the gas, your character barely avoids the collision.
Weak with the after effects of the momentary surge of adrenaline, your character has a hot flash pan moment. Anger. Your character swears at the other driver. Looks at the steering wheel and silently swears at themselves for not blaring the horn. Your character drives home angrily, stomping into the house to be greeted by….
A toddler? Your character, still hot and angry, snaps at the toddler, regretting it even as the words are coming out of their mouth.
Hurt, the toddler wanders off, looks at that sparkling pretty round diamond ring, the one your character lost last month, and woefully decides you don’t want to see it. Hurt, angry, the toddler wanders to the bathroom and flushes it down the toilet. Cause and effect.
Maybe it is a teenager. Hurt and angry and in the midst of her own flashpoint of emotions, the teenager stomps off to her room. There, she grabs up her phone and texts her boyfriend. Hurt and angry over some very minor thing he perhaps doesn’t even know he did wrong, she breaks up with him. Breaks his heart. Cruelly, lashing out with the hurt and anger she is feeling against your character. What kind of person is her boyfriend? Do they both wallow in self-pity and pain until they get over it? Maybe he takes drastic action to vent his grief and anger. Cause and effect.
Or, perhaps in that flash of hot anger, your character does something extreme they will regret.
Writing is constantly putting your characters into these positions.
You need drama. You need adversity. Your readers need to be pulled in, desperate to know what is going to happen, what is your character going to do. Can they fix this? Can they at least survive it?
Always think about how you or others might handle the situation you put your characters in. How their actions affect the other characters, how the cause and effect might play out rippling through the story line and the other characters.
Think about how that very cause and effect ripple will come back to hit your character, because, let’s face it, in real life it does tend to.
When you are stuck on where to go next, follow the ripple of cause and effect.
You may end up with word clutter that you will cut from the book. But it can help pull you along to find the key that will push the story’s momentum further.
Like real people, characters need depth.
Depth is making your characters feel real to the reader. By messing with them. Give your character a reaction to some minor thing in a pivotal moment that leads them in a new direction that makes sense for the story. It may not affect the story at that moment, but it can be a foreshadowing of something to come. Cause and effect.
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This blog is about writing, being an author, and life.
This blog is for the fans of dark fiction, those stories that slither softly into your dreams in the night to turn them dark and foul.
Published with Indigo Sea Press:
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