8.16.2016

Feeling Predictable

To varying degrees, authors write from their own experience. Most of them realize, at the same time, that they have to write about unusual people in extenuating circumstances. A plot objective is chosen—Dr. Merle will end up being hunted by mistaken police—and the pursuit of that objective gains its own rhythm over a series of scenes.

Along the way, though, a sense of gloom may start to take over. You blocked out the characters and they’re creating excitement, but somehow, in reading over a section, you feel like your book is so dull. Things are taking too long to develop. Conversations with suspicious characters seem to drag on and on.

It’s not time to conclude the obvious: you’re a bad writer. Think of it this way. You are caught up in a mysterious flow that ranges between candor and entertainment. Your problem may be as simple as not having enough plot events and/or character attributes. Say, you wrote that Dr. Merle figured out that the mysterious extra cache of OxyContin on which his addict wife overdosed was prescribed by a rival doctor. Yet his questioning of that doctor seems bland. Doctors are a blank-faced race in general, so you’re not getting blood out of that stone. In short, those scenes are tedious.

What is the problem? You’re overlooking the vast trove of real-life bizarre events featuring doctors. Just for one example, I edited a true-crime narrative about a desperate Beverly Hills doctor who made his money off of prescribing drugs. What if Dr. Merle snuck into that guy’s office? Ever read News of the Weird? You don’t have to look any further, in fact, that reading your local online ezine. People right in your town are doing bizarre stuff every day. Why haven’t you tapped into that?

Writers in the mystery/thriller genre know that they need to devise a continual series of twists. You can use that practice to your own ends. You need a series of shocking events and/or characters. The evil doctor didn’t prescribe extra pills only for the wife; he prescribes them for anyone with a fistful of dollars. You are taking what is true and toning it down to fit into fiction. Your characters become more lively to match what they’re doing. You see, the whole time you just had to breach your own walls of propriety.

Exercise: You read about shocking news events every day. You’re just not thinking like a writer: hey, that would be good for my book. When you read about odd events—take the terrible results of being diabetic, for instance—you should be wondering: could a character in my novel act this way because he’s hiding X symptom of diabetes?

“Here I am, safely returned over those peaks from a journey far more beautiful and strange than anything I had hoped for or imagined—how is it that this safe return brings such regret?”
—Peter Matthiessen

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine

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