So, a big part of my being-stuck problem on the RSWIP (Romantic Suspense Work In Progress) was not really having an antagonist, which meant my characters were just wandering around bickering for no reason without any escalation of stakes. They had lots of problems, of course, just not the kind of antagonist-driven conflict that makes things, you know… interesting.
I found that it helped to do some outlining – but it also clarified that my lack of antagonist clarity was a big problem. So I did it again!
I treated the antagonist as if she were the protagonist (don’t most antags think they’re the protag anyway?) and went through the same steps.
This was really helpful at showing me where my antagonist was doing things that made sense for her (Act I) and where she wasn’t (uh…. Acts II and III), and helped me think about whether my antagonist WAS my antagonist, or whether she was a minion (still not 100% sure, even though I’m calling her my antag now).
I’m not sure I have many answers, but I think at least now I know the right questions to ask next time my writing partner and I get together.
I’m also a little bit tempted to give my antag a POV – or to write it as a website bonus – like Jenny Crusie did with the Antagonist Monologues on her blog – but for now, I’m going to try to focus on just getting clues about the antag dropped in the MC’s POV pages.
Either way, I suppose I shouldn’t count my chickens just yet. But things are looking up with my whole tumbleweed-mind situation!
So, I decided to try Tess Hilmo’s advice and make myself a foldable outline/plot-diagram thingie, like so:
It was immediately satisfying to have just created the thing, if a bit scary (since it was still all full of blank boxes, and I only had pens). But I figured, if it didn’t work, no harm no foul, right? I would just toss it out.
So I got started, sort of doodling around while some friends played video games and shot the breeze, and eventually the problem occurred to me:
The boxes ask about Main Characters.
My WIP is more or less a romance. That means it’s got two main characters.
I’ve been stuck with a blank mind on BOTH of my works in progress for about the last three months.
And NOW I’m at the point where it’s almost intimidating to go back: what if everything I’ve done is terrible? Or, if it’s good, what if I’ve totally lost the ability to write like that?? Or what if it’s terrible AND I’ve lost the ability to do it?!?!?
Obviously this is brain-weasels running amok but it’s still giving me a hard time.
So, I tried some “not-writing,” per Turbo Monkey’s Sarah McGuire (and added her book Valiant to my TBR pile while I was at it). That… didn’t get me unstuck. I’ve had great success with that approach in the past (especially during college, where my roommates would all watch me playing Snood and ask tentatively how the essay was going) but unfortunately my mental landscape just looked like
Then I tripped over Tess Hilmo’s “Best Plot Help Ever,” a little paper foldable that sounded cute and fun and sort of like those MASH things or a ‘flapdoodle’ (srs education term for a folded-up/cut paper study aid) and I decided I would try one of those for each WIP and see if any gears started turning.
I’ve been in one of those emotional fugue states where very little gets done that isn’t absolutely necessary – so I’ve definitely blown it re: this year’s resolution to blog weekly. Hmm. Perhaps, since it’s the solstice, I’ll have a mid-year reboot?
Or perhaps not.
I’ve been re-reading old favorite books, playing with a toddler, and watching my husband play the video game I got him for Valentine’s Day, so for once I’ve been busy with good things… but very busy, nonetheless.
I’ve also been doing some research for my WIPs and absolutely ignoring the fact that I should be prepping for the fall (I’m teaching English 10, which I haven’t taught in 10 years, so… basically a new class). It’s been great!
I keep telling myself that fallow periods are important for creativity, but it’s still a bummer. At least I’ve got a writing group to yell at me (in a good-natured way) when I fail to produce. Outside accountability is very important to me!
Well, having spent yet another month sick (do not ask me about last week–it was horrifying) I have fallen behind on my blogging goals AND everything else in life… but, on the plus side, I now have a WattPad account and I entered SyFy’s The Magicians writing contest with an entire HOUR to spare.
I just started watching Season 1 of The Magicians (SyFy) on Netflix last week and have been steadily bingeing through all of it with C. Tragically, tonight he has choir and all we have left is the finale and Season 2 premiers TOMORROW and it looks like SyFy lets you watch things online live and that might (MIGHT) be enough to get me to forgive them for spelling their name that way (SyFy? Seriously?).
As we went through the episodes–“This is like if someone was writing Harry Potter fanfic and kept going further and further off course… in the best possible way,” I said, early on–I started Tweeting about it, made some friends via hashtags… I might or might not have followed most of the cast on Twitter. Um… uhoh. Am I joining a fandom??
I’ve been thinking about adding TV recaps to my blogging fodder. I think maybe #TheMagicians might be the show I choose.
Note: This is part of an ongoing series of posts that take what I’m teaching in my 11th-grade American Lit classes and then shows how that could translate into creative writing, using examples of what I’m doing. I welcome feedback, because I’m no expert on American literature–just somebody who’s been teaching it for a couple of years. I would also love to hear how other writers are using these tools!
This week in American lit, students are working in small groups to read Bret Harte’s* short story “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” (1892). This is our first example of literary naturalism, or a story that presents as its theme a bleak worldview in which individuals are crushed and destroyed by an unfeeling world/social order (or, as I tell the students, “if everybody’s dead at the end and nobody cares and nothing changes about the world, it’s probably naturalism”).
The plot of “Outcasts” finds four ne’er-do-wells from the town of Poker Flat escorted out of town: John Oakhurst, gambler; Mother Shipton, who runs a brothel; The Duchess, an employee of Mother Shipton’s; and Uncle Billy, a drunk and a suspected thief. This being naturalism, they all end up dead in the wilderness, but Harte’s focus on their actions between their expulsion from civilized society reveals that “in the end…these seeming derelicts really had hearts of gold” (VanSpanckeren 5). Well… most of them, anyway–Uncle Billy definitely takes the mule and horse and leaves the rest of them to die.
But Oakhurst offers his horse to the Duchess, whose mule isn’t capable of carrying her; Mother Shipton starves herself to give extra food to the innocent Piney, who was running to Poker Flat to marry her sweetheart, Tom; and Piney and the Duchess die huddled together for warmth, equal in death:
And when pitying fingers brushed the snow from their wan faces, you could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them, which was she that had sinned. Even the law of Poker Flat recognized this, and turned away, leaving them still locked in each other’s arms. (Harte 33)
The story ends with Oakhurst writing his own epitaph on a playing card (“who struck a streak of bad luck…and handed in his checks”) and nailing it to a tree–“And pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in his heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow lay he who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat” (Harte 35). As I made several students explain to me, Oakhurst is physically strong, and stays calm, and cares for others–the strongest–but gives up and kills himself–the weakest.
That juxtaposition–the innocent and the sinner, the strongest and the weakest–is, to my mind, what gives this story its punch; and let’s not pretend we don’t all love a noble thief or a charming rogue, right?
One of my WIPs features a romantic-hero-mafioso, and the other a band of rebels desperate to bring down an empire. These things have, like everything, been done before, but I think I can get some good hints from Harte about how to use juxtaposition to create interesting characters, and to do it using indirect characterization.