Happy holidays everyone. As we close out the year, I thought I’d share three goals I’m working towards on my next book.
Have characters in community
One thing I’ve noticed is that my books tend to centralize around very small groups of people, often only two or three at a time. And while there’s nothing wrong with a focused story, and there is something to be said for slimming down a bloated cast, I do feel like I have good opportunities for growth in this area.
Of course, as with most things I write about, there are some real-life meditations that have sparked my interest in this. For one, as a (happily) single person who’s beyond the easy-to-socialize high school and college years, connection and relationship outside of the immediate context of a romantic relationship or nuclear family are topics I think about a lot. Second, as an American living in a society that seems increasingly fated to tear itself apart from fear, anguish, and a lack of connection, the idea of exploring what it looks like to live in a community that extends beyond immediate friends, family, and co-workers has a strong appeal.
It’s not all just personal meditations though. There have also been storytellers seeding this into my brain. For example, Patrick Willems recently released a video essay about how crucial the New Yorkers are to the Raimi Spider-Man movies (and, arguably, Spider-Man himself). Likewise, Rodrigo Lopez, GM for the Critical Hit podcast, reminisced a while back about the classic 90’s cartoon Gargoyles and how it was the first show he watched where the villains had lives or took actions outside of their interactions with the heroes. In the past, I’ve struggled both to have active antagonists and to place my heroes within the larger social context of their world, so I’m excited to give it a whirl.
Have characters with secrets
Another thing I’ve noticed is that most of my characters lack guile. I’m not a particularly secretive or crafty person myself in those ways, and I think that’s reflected in my characters. By and large, they say and do what they mean, tell the truth, and are who they say they are.
However, characters, plots, or settings with secrets can be one of the easiest ways to amp up tension and intrigue, particularly when readers know secrets the characters don’t. If you’ve ever experienced the thrilling dread of seeing two characters or subplots hurtling towards inevitable collision or felt a rush of fear at seeing the character you know is a traitor walking behind the unknowing protagonist, knife-in-hand, you know what I mean.
As to how that will play out for me, I’m hoping to have a secret for each of my main characters as well as to have more autonomous and active antagonists. I’ve also been noticing secrets building within the larger story world itself, all on a slow boil toward future events. Given my previously stated goal of improving my world-building, it looks like I’m already seeing those fruits.
Have fun and joy in the process
When I was younger, I remember being able to write and edit for hours, thrilling in all the tinkering and polishing and the magic of words. As time went on with little to show for it, however, compounded by my own personal hangups and frustration, this joy whittled away until my once mighty oak of audacity was little more than a fragile spindle. By the time I put my dream project aside, I felt so discouraged and incapable that it was all I could hope to get a book out, let alone to feel proud of it.
Now, I will say I am proud of The Yochni’s Eye and do feel it is very good. But, even in the midst of getting that one out, the self-doubt lingered.
Well, now I’d like to change that. For one thing, because if I’m going to be that unhappy writing all my books, I really ought to find a different profession. Secondly, because I don’t believe that that’s the plan that God has for me or the life I want for myself.
While editing The Yocni’s Eye, I found a lot of places where I had played it safe. Scenes felt boring or flat because I hadn’t pushed myself or just wanted to “get it done.” When I really sat back and thought about it, though, I started asking, how can I make this better? How can I make the setting bigger or add a detail, up the stakes, buck a cliche? I wanted to make the book not just acceptable, but exciting, not just good enough, but good. If you’re looking for an example and have read the book (don’t worry, no spoilers), consider that the forge setting was originally just a dining hall.
Once I started asking myself these questions and putting in the time to make these elements the best I could, two things happened.
- I realized I really am a good enough writer to do this and did have the talent I needed to make it good.
- I started getting joy back again.
Writing should be fun and now I know that I (and you) have what it takes to write stories as big and wild and crazy as we can dream. I want to get and keep that joy again, so rather than coming with an attitude of “Can I do this?” or “Good enough,” I want to start with “How big can I make this?” and “How far can I go?”
So, what are your writing goals this year? Other goals? Let me know in the comments. I’d also love to keep sharing the writing lessons I’m learning with you, including my “Story Shot” craft lessons, so if you’d like to keep in touch, sign up for my newsletter in the sidebar (exit mobile only mode if you don’t see it on your phone). Thank you!