Wednesday: In which Julia is exhausted and stressed and has far too much to do. (Welcome to winter semester, 2014.)
I’m actually not doing too bad right now–it’s just that a lot of things that should have been easy this week have turned out massively complicated and I’ve kind of just given up on them at this point.
(Por ejemplo, I ordered almost all my text books off Amazon this semester so I wouldn’t have to go out in the cold to get them–because COLD–but between my own stupidity and Amazon having a glitchfest, we managed to mess up my shipping address to the point that it was unrecognizable and they shipped everything to various, different wrong addresses, and now the shipping companies are all doing different things with my packages to try to fix it. So while I’ve managed to get two of my text books by correcting the messed up address with UPS, apparently USPS is sending another of them back to the seller, so I don’t even know if I’m going to end up getting it or if I’ll have to buy a new book and still pay for the old one or what, and WOW this is messed up.)
Anyway. Outside of all the unnecessary stress, this semester’s going pretty well so far. I like all my classes, and I am SO HAPPY I decided to do choir this semester. I haven’t done anything performance-based outside of Youtube videos in over a year (incredible, I know), and while I’m sure I’ll talk about the reasoning behind that decision someday, finally getting back into the rhythm of rehearsals and learning music and performing was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself this year.
The thing I was most excited for yesterday in choir, weirdly enough, was group warm ups. We had our first group warm up in class last night and I had so much fun with it and it was just so relieving. As dramatic as it sounds, it was like not realizing that I’d been drowning until I had air again. I’ve known that something was off, not having a performing-related activity in my life here at college, but I didn’t realize quite how much so until I dove back into it (I’m mixing up my water metaphors now–lo siento).
So yeah. I’m pretty happy about choir (and truly, all my classes in general–this semester’s going to be a lot of work, and not all of it is going to be fun, but it should also prove interesting).
One of the better things that happened this week: Hannah, Emily, and I got to meet Laurie Halse Anderson! She’s the author of Speak and a bunch of other books, and seriously, if you have an opportunity to go to a Laurie Halse Anderson event (tour schedule is here), GO. She’s such a great speaker.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about keeping a story interesting all the way through.
(Warning ahead of time that if you don’t do well with stuff that’s a little bit graphic, don’t watch this video.)
This video is from The Dark Knight, one of my favorite movies (available for purchase here). In this clip, the Joker tries to convince Harvey Dent (aka Two Face) to become an “Agent of Chaos.” Basically: don’t let things go according to plan, and see what happens.
As writers, we find ourselves with a similar task. Nobody’s going to read a book in order to watch everything go according to plan–that isn’t interesting. No, they want to see those plans fail. And the bigger the failure, and the more significant the change in direction for both the plot and characters, the more interesting the reader will likely find it.
Remember that a character (or at least a driving force) has to fail in any given situation–when you get to the point in the dramatic structure at which the hero (temporarily) gives up? The hero’s plan fails, then, while the antagonist wins. When the hero DOES win, overall, at the end? Then it’s the antagonist’s plan that fails.
It’s the failure of something to happen as we believe it should that causes interest, which then causes someone to sit up and pay attention. Think about the news–plenty of wonderful, “normal” things happen constantly, but we never hear about them in newspapers or on TV. Instead, we hear primarily about the sensationalized horrible stuff, and then occasionally something that’s good, but in such a way that it’s unexpected–so say a someone puts on a really kickbutt marriage proposal. That’s something that ultimately hasn’t gone by society’s plan, because most proposals aren’t Youtube fodder. Therefore: interesting.
In this way, your story should function like the news: lots of bad things for the majority of it keeps tension high, followed by the really super good thing (saving the world or whatever) at the end. And by keeping your protagonist, and therefore reader, on his or her toes for the majority of the story with all the protagonist’s plans failing, you also ultimately make the good guys’ success at the climax seem like an unlikely (although, of course, expected) outcome; when enough bad is present, it becomes harder to not sensationalize the good (which is a good thing to do in stories), because such a sharp contrast exists between them.
Be an Agent of Chaos in the lives of your characters. While you don’t want your story to go completely off the rails, you also don’t want to let your protagonist keep everything under control all the way through. Several separate lines of tension should run through a story at any give point in time in order to keep the reader hooked, wanting to know what happens next. When you resolve one problem, you should always create another. It’s when someone succeeds against the most impossible circumstances that a reader gets the best payoff at the end.
A really great example of events not going as planned in order to lead to a satisfying ending can be found in the first Back to the Future movie (purchase it here).
This clip shows just one part of the chaos that ensues during the climax of Back to the Future. Literally NOTHING goes as planned, and it gets my heart pounding for just that reason every time I watch it. Marty and Doc have to overcome SO MANY obstacles to get Marty back to the future and solve all the subplot problems–if it were easy for them to accomplish all this, the movie would work, but it wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling and entertaining.
Within our own lives, the general human instinct is to crave control. We like it when things go according to plan and when we have reasons to be happy. Fiction is our opportunity to face obstacles and find lives thrust out of orbit without actually having to experience any of it first-hand, ourselves–and when the hero’s plan does work out in the end, after how ever many obstacles he or she finds blocking the path, this offers us a sort of relief, and hope for ourselves: that although things do sometimes spiral into chaos in our lives, like the protagonists of our favorite stories we can succeed despite the obstacles and regain our control and happiness. While bad things make the news, good things do too.
So, make things interesting in your story. Be an Agent of Chaos. Introduce a little anarchy and see what happens.
Note before you vote in the poll: If you vote for “writing process,” please, please, pleeeease give me ideas in the comments to write about. If you vote for this option, I assume it’s because you want me to talk about something writing or publishing industry-related, but I have no way of knowing which topics you want me to cover unless you tell me. I love doing these posts, but I’m sure they’d be much more beneficial to you if they were actually about, you know, what you want them to be about, right?
So give me suggestions. I’d love to hear them. Thanks! [End of PSA.]
PS. Yesterday was Hannah‘s 20th birthday! Please join me in wishing her a great year. 😀