I need to cause more trouble!
I’m a sucker for The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s adventures drew me in when I was a kid and they still do. I just never imagined that the story of a little girl from Kansas could teach me so much about the how to make novel I’m writing now stronger.
I’ve been working toward having my manuscript completed by the end of this year, but my gut kept telling me the first chapters weren’t going to grab readers and force them to keep reading. In a quest for perspective and answers, I put the first 50 pages of my novel into the hands of total strangers this past week at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.
Imagine my surprise when, on the first day, workshop facilitator Rebecca Johns plotted the story arc of The Wizard of Oz. She demonstrated how time and again Dorothy faced obstacles that stood in the way of her getting her heart’s desire: to get away from Kansas, to journey to Oz, to acquire the witch’s broom, to go home. Throughout the journey, Dorothy had nothing but trouble. It was all those troubles and how she overcame them that kept me watching.
I could see at once that this was my problem. Therefore, when it was my turn in the critique chair, it was no surprise when I heard my fellow novelists’ main criticism – “You’re not causing enough trouble for your main character.”
Knowing what the problem is and knowing what to do about it are two different things. Fortunately, the workshop format not only identifies the problem but also helps you see ways to overcome it. I learned that I rushed too quickly past scenes with great potential to thwart my character’s desire: an unplanned pregnancy, a heart attack, even society’s expectations. As they talked and I listened, scenes raced through my mind. I could literally see in my head how to cause more trouble.
In the following days, more lectures and critiques of other manuscripts helped me see other areas of my novel I can strengthen. More depth to my characters. More detail to make my character’s desire vivid and believable. More time to let the action play out. But most of all more trouble.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to stay out of trouble. I grew up ‘the good girl.’ I know that I’ve been letting my desire to stay out of trouble guide my characters down the straight and narrow – and frankly – boring path. They need more trouble. And I’m committed to giving it to them.