Writing: Bring on the Peril

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. -The Prophet

I’ve been reading about writing and really enjoying the process of learning and growing as a writer. I picked up a book from the library without realizing it was written for adolescents. (Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine author of Ella Enchanted). I enjoyed reading it and the one thing that she said that really stuck in my head was that we as writers have to be cruel.  Who knew?  She went on to say that readers first have to engage with the protagonist but once that’s done, it’s important to keep the protagonist in peril so the reader is engaged to continue turning pages. Hmm.  Does that mean all writers are sadists?  Probably not.  However, if you look at some of the books that have been very popular lately, the one thing they all have in common is that the protagonist is in constant danger.

For example, Twilight series (girl in peril), Hunger Games (ton a people in peril), Harry Potter (boy and his friends in peril).  Readers, like me, keep turning the page because we care about the characters but we also want to know they come out of the story safe and undamaged. In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort was the overlying danger that pushed the story forward but there were also other perils along the way Harry and his friends had to face (failing classes, muggles, spells gone awry, quiddich, magical creatures, and on and on).

She also said when the peril or danger has been managed, that’s when the story ends.

So in looking at my own stories which are mostly, YA dystopian girl in peril, I can see areas of my story that need a little more peril.  It doesn’t even have to be something that happens – really just the threat.  Think of Twilight and the constant threat of being so close to a vampire. Even though it’s not mentioned over and over (although if memory serves it might have been), there is a sense of foreboding shadowing the entire story.

I thought it was kind of interesting.  I highly recommend reading this book.  It took about 2 hours (I skipped over the exercises) to read and it has a great view on writing.

I also read Janet Evanovich’s book, How I Write. It was interesting despite the fact I’ve never read any of her work.  You get a real feel for her characters and her love of writing.

I’ve also been writing and editing a ton!  I’ve discovered one of my brother’s hidden talents.  He’s an excellent beta reader. He loves reading, he is always enthusiastic when I’m telling him ideas for stories, he has excellent instincts and is great for bouncing ideas off of and talking through problematic scenes with.  Even when I’m talking all around something, he can cut right to the point. It’s exciting to be working with him and his input has been invaluable! What I love most is that he can disconnect from the story.  He doesn’t take ownership of it and try to force me to change anything. He knows that I have my own opinions about the story and that I will listen carefully to what he has to say and then do what I think is best for the characters. I am encouraging him to think about becoming a beta reader and offering his services to other writers.

We as writers get to be gods while writing. We create worlds, characters, places and things. We put our characters through hell and hopefully our stories end well leaving the reader with a sense of accomplishment of having survived with the protagonist. We can leave them with joy or we can leave them with sorrow.  B


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