The Rules of the Game

Authors know that they must make each part of their novel align with what goes before and after. This effort often requires several rounds of revisions, especially if a major cog in the plot is changed, requiring that all of the related elements cohere as well. The end result is seamless, with no repetition.

While getting all of the “facts” straight is difficult, and time-consuming, many authors accomplish that task more ably than one related to the characters involved in those scenarios. If Ted imbibes too much office Christmas party punch and becomes obnoxious, you can draw logical inferences from that plot incident. He might get fired, or put on probation, by his boss. He might face charges for the sexual harassment committed while under the influence. But these repercussions are plot issues. If you really want to strike gold with Ted, you should follow another sort of logic. What does he feel afterward?

Writing from that perspective requires a different level of concentration. To use a metaphor, it means stepping onto a court in an arena, where the outcome is bound by the rules of the game. The aftermath of Ted’s drunkenness is not a one-time deal. That’s what I see most often as an editor. Okay, he got drunk, and presto, this happens. Issue over, let’s move on. Notice who is ruling that decision: the author, not the character. The author isn’t involved enough to be on the court.

In the game that is your novel, the rules of Ted’s behavior keep holding all the way through. After the initial response, his office mates are still smirking behind their hands. His wife isn’t letting up on him for weeks, honey, if ever. If you’re really involved, you’ll think through the reasons why Ted would get drunk there in the first place, and how they were exacerbated by his foolishness. Add to that the ongoing shame he feels, and now the aftermath has the potential for future explosions that are even worse.

That approach will take you so much deeper than the one-click method. Ted’s obstacle is not a problem to be solved at the first opportunity, getting it off your checklist. It can be an outgrowth of problems he’s had before and will keep on having until you provide the poor guy resolution.

Exercise: Speed is not your friend when immersing yourself in your book. When you have a significant occasion, don't merely consider the ripples that spread toward the future. Let your imagination devise the reason(s) the stone was thrown. When you work backward as well as forward, you may find new causes as well as new results. Take the time to write down all the tangents that come to mind both at the time and when they pop up later, out of the blue.

“This is my sport: it is my life. I study it; I think about it all the time. Nothing else matters.”
—Conor McGregor

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine

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