Friday, 29 January 2010

Positive People Planning with Purpose

When I started writing I made lots of new friends. One of them was a woman who was working on an intriguing project of interwoven short stories. I found the theme fascinating and enjoyed it when it was her turn for workshopping. The stories were beautifully written, with lyrical descriptions and such interesting situations, they always triggered good discussions. Over a five year period those stories were always about to be sent out but somehow, nothing ever happened to them. It was as if the talking was enough for her, doing anything other than passively receiving comments wasn't required.

I've met other people like that, both in real life and in student writing, but it's rare to find a passive central character in published work. Let's face it, most of us can do procrastination and day dreaming at home, so the last thing we want to do is read about it. Instead we want to read about characters who do stuff, whatever that stuff may be. We want to read about characters who make things happen. Characters who are active. Characters who plan with purpose.

Suppose your main character is about to lose their job. Do they...cry in corner? Or start up their own business?

They discover their partner is having an affair. Do they...fall into depression? Or stalk the lover?

Their novel is turned down. Do they...rant and rage about how stupid agents are before ripping up the ms? Or reach out for the Writers and Artists Yearbook and send it out to six agents at once?

The second action is always going to be better for a story character, no matter how true to life the first action may be. (BTW Positive refers to the energy of the action, not how morally reprehensible it may be. Scarlett O'Hara is a Positive Person Planning with Purpose. Melanie Wilkes isn't.) Get your characters going. Motivate them. Don't let them be passive victims. If they dream of sailing round the world then they'd better start making it happen from the outset. It took about five years for my real life friendship with the passive writer to wither; it'll take about five minutes for a reader to up sticks and read elsewhere.

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