I’ve just finished reading an indie story that ticked all the boxes except one - the writer was too kind to his hero.
Nothing stood in the way of the good guy winning and so it turned out to be a leg-cramping long-haul economy flight rather than a stomach-bouncing, thrilling, aerobatic swoop through the clouds.
(Editor: You can make too much of a metaphor – ease off the throttle.)
You’ve got to have a nasty side to be a writer.
First stories by newly-fledged scribblers are often short on conflict and tension – the stuff that makes us turn the page.
Will our main man win his bare-assed uphill hand-to-hand scrap against armed hordes from hell?
or the nail biting, will she won’t she? – regain her sight, save the planet, get the guy, return from the future/past/secret world?
Lots of us still have trouble getting the balance right but better too many hurdles, potholes and baddie barriers to the main protagonist’s gallop along the road to ‘happy ever after’ than too few.
Glass half full or half empty?
On every major issue the world is generally divided into two camps
Pessimist – Optimist
Omnivore – Vegetarian
Thinkers – Doers
Smoker – Non-smoker
Republican – Democrat (US)
Rangers – Celtic (Glaswegians)
Big-enders – Little enders (If you’re of a Swiftian bent)
There are those who see difficulties where others only see challenges.
Some ask, “What’s his angle?” while others think, “He’s being very kind.”
In the latter case, which one are you?
Do you first see the good in people?
Is your initial thought always charitable on considering an action?
Do you always give the benefit of first doubt?
If the answer is yes to one or all, and you’re a writer, then STOP IT!
You’ll be apologizing for your bad guys even as you introduce them. What you need is conflict. The villain has to be BAD. They must yearn to smack your hero all round the story and prevent them getting what they want. Your instinct must be “How can I make them more evil than they are?”
Train yourself to regard the world with a jaundiced eye. Seek out motives and underhand tricks. Always look for the worst in someone. When they wave you forward saying, “After you.” Think, there must be landmines in the road.
Do this and your baddies will be a lot better, or in this case a whole lot WORSER.
This is where the ‘mean streakers’ win out. They have no problem giving their hero the equivalent of a good thumping in a dark alley every chapter or so, or making life difficult for their heroine by losing her in a spider- and snake-infested swamp, or giving her a gentle nudge off a small cliff.
Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, they marry and have kids is rarely an engaging story, unless the meeting, getting, and marrying feels like a roller-coaster ride; preferably with the car flying off the tracks a few times.
Motorway driving is boring; take your people on the narrow, ravine-edged, unlit, unpaved, ice-covered, dead-end track through bandit country in a junker to get them where they’re going.
This doesn’t have to be physically – just do the mental equivalent and yank their emotions through the mud before giving them a good wringing-out.
Develop your dark side, let your favourite characters jog on for a few gentle paces, then whip their legs from underneath them.
Then you’ve got a page-turner.