How can it already be Wednesday? Wow.
I’m taking a brief break from today’s writing work to tell you guys about the amazing discovery I had this morning. Seriously. It kind of rocked my world, and I don’t know how I’ve written so much without it. Ready?
My villain scares me. Like, scares me in a Hitler-meets-Voldemort-meets-Benjamin-Linus kind of scary.
And yet, I pity her, in that I’m-so-sad-you-went-through-those-awful-life-experiences way, where you start to understand and feel such sadness for her, it almost excuses her horrible actions. Almost.
Before this morning, she was sort of shadowy, lurking around, posing a halfhearted threat. Now, she’s more relatable than I realized, more menacing, more driven. She’s a danger not only to my main little guy, but to everyone around him. It’s imperative that she not be allowed to succeed, yet what’s scary is that not everyone in the story can see her danger.
Having larger, scarier consequences automatically makes everything else more important. Really, you can make tension about anything – not that you should. For example:
Emma drove to the fabric store on a rainy Thursday night. She splashed through the parking lot, soaking her new jeans, and walked the familiar paths of the store’s fluorescent aisles. Anticipation churned in her stomach as she rounded the corner to aisle twenty – and relief! Emma plucked the last of shade #1061 from its bin, not even checking for quality, and took it to the counter. “Lucky you!” the clerk exclaimed, “This shade of violet’s been discontinued! You got the last one!” Elated, Emma drove home through the flooded streets. She tucked the plastic bag inside her rain coat as she raced across her apartment parking lot. In the dim yellow light of her living room, she opened the door of the display case and smiled. Pristine rows of embroidery floss, untouched and still in their little paper wrappers, lay in rows on the glass shelves. Tonight, the last empty space would be filled. Tonight, years of searching would end. Emma pulled the violet thread from the bag. Her hands shook; she flung it to the ground. Frayed at the ends, it lay at her feet, flawed and rumpled, useless. Years of searching for perfection, and for what? She grabbed the display case with both hands and hurled it at her apartment wall. It shattered, scattering tiny shards of glass everywhere. Emma stood in the midst of her mess and stared. Years of ambition, over, just like that.
My point? Probably obvious, but just in case, you can draw the drama out and infuse tension into any problem cared about by anybody. To this crazy lady, a collection of perfect embroidery floss is a huge deal. To everyone else? Not so much. It seems like a trivial problem, and it’s not really a threat to her overall well-being, whether physical or financial. Emotional, perhaps, but it seems she has emotional problems already if she’s gonna get so worked up over the frayed ends of embroidery floss, or if she’s setting out to collect something like this in the first place.
This is obviously an extreme example of a “who cares?” plot. Lots of drama (and, um, melodrama) over something so unimportant. Big deal if her thread is frayed! Big deal that she’s collecting in the first place! My novel wasn’t teetering anywhere near this cliff of stupidity, but it wasn’t exactly calling for everyone to drop what they were doing and care.
Now that I’ve figured out what my little guy is fighting against, and fighting for, his trials feel much more important. There is a lot at stake if he fails. I’m afraid of my villain, of what she can – and will – do. Vicious opposition, terrible consequences – they give me a much stronger reason to care about the plot’s outcome. My little guy is definitely not going through so much pain and consequence for a victory equivalent to rows and rows of perfect, un-frayed embroidery floss.
How did I ever expect to write something compelling if I wasn’t even afraid of my own villain? Or, if I didn’t pity her – and kind of relate to her? If I wanted my little guy to suffer minimally on his way to conquer a problem that was tepid, lukewarm, instead of lava-level boiling?
Things are heating up, and I’m excited. Poor little hero. He’s about to have to learn some tough – though valuable – lessons the hard, scathing, painful way. He might not thank me for it, but I’m pretty sure my readers will, one day.