As always, it’s been an exciting week!
Become Your Own Best Partner
This week, the Word of the Day Club was a delight, with amazing new discoveries. The purpose of the WOTD Practice is to help us develop a better relationship with ourselves. It’s hard to break old habits of self-doubt and self-criticism, so creating a new and more appealing self-interaction is what the Practice does instead of trying to fix something that is surely broken. Imagine being able to deal with the worst problem as if you were your own kind, compassionate, and helpful mentor who had the answers you needed. The Practice can help you find that because it’s already inside you and just needs a portal to come into conscious awareness. How wonderful to know that you’ve already got everything you need to take care of yourself as if you were your own beloved partner! Look for a new free webinar this coming Wednesday at 7:00 pm EST.
Keep It Real
I worked with one of my students, a novelist who finally had a major breakthrough! She has been struggling with the story for several years because novels are by their nature complex to create and because I was unable to convince her that a novel, like life, must have a believable history that mirrors life. If your readers and viewers can relate, you can be sure they will want to read or watch your story.
How do you make sure that your story has a believable history? An easy way is to write a two to five-page document in the third person. For example, “A little girl lived on a farm in Kansas with her aunt and aunt who adopted her after her parents were killed in a car accident,” and go on from there until you reach the end. Another way is to do the exercise in the first person, from the main character’s point of view, for example, “My name is Dorothy, and I’ve lived with my Auntie Em since my parents died in a car accident.”
Set a fifteen-minute timer, and reset it until you get through the whole story. All good writing is rewriting. If you don’t get a draft written, there’s nothing to perfect.
What is a Believable History?
A believable history, or “backstory,” is one where the author shapes the imaginary details as if they were writing a biography. This means that whatever happens, how implausible, must be possible. Otherwise, the audience’s suspension of disbelief is broken, and they will put down your book, get popcorn, go to the restroom, and maybe never come back! Your audience will feel cheated and betrayed. Although they may not understand why, they will not want to watch or read your stuff. To correct this, read biographies or histories that are similar to the one you’re creating, so you can check your “facts.”
I’m unsure why this is so hard for people to understand and execute. I believe that since we organize reality into stories; there’s no reason why a writer can’t mimic the elements of everyday life. Please accept that this is a critical element of every successful story.
What Makes a Character Believable?
It’s equally important to every story that the characters behave in a believable way. Characters like people are not consistent, and the goal is to capture these contradictions so that our imaginary characters mirror the people we know in real life. The key is to determine the character’s core belief system, then push them to the edges of their own acceptable morality in order to force them to make impossible choices.
Writers must delve into their characters to find the moral boundaries of each character. Ask yourself, “Under what circumstances would my character steal or commit adultery?”
For example, in the film, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy must choose between saving her dog’s life or her aunt’s. By the way, this is what you need to add to your story when you’re told to “add more conflict” or “raise the stakes.”
The Best Endings
We need endings that encourage us to do the right thing, so in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is rewarded for making the hard choices. We need this reassurance when we read stories since we constantly face dilemmas and must make many hard choices. It’s important to make your audience feel connected to the outcome of your story.
Why Writers Resist
My student has been resisting committing to a specific history of her characters and the world she has created because she fears being rejected when her audience reads about the fabulous imaginary world she’s created. The irony is that her avoidant behavior will guarantee the very rejection she fears! The cure is to research, fact-check, and make sure that her imaginary story is as lifelike as possible.
In conclusion, sometimes writers create the outcome they most fear. Writers who succeed are honest with themselves, accept whatever they have been doing, and make the choice to improve their process to honor the success of their future selves.
Please join me for the next webinar on Wednesday, May 10, via Zoom. Register here.
And writers meet daily for the Word of the Day Practice. Join anytime. Email me for information on the daily meet-ups.
Here’s to your writing success,
Professor Marilyn Horowitz