Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Stuff For Writers: Manage Your Own Agenda

We all write for a reason, and everything we write has an underlying message.

Romeo & Juliet - Holding grudges leads to death.
Lord of the Rings - Power corrupts.
Hunger Games - Fight the Power!

I'm being facetious, but you get what I mean. Theme is a huge part of story. But please, I beg you, do not let your plot suffer at the hands of your message.

For example, while writing My Superhero Book, I had a major friendship breakup in my real life, and the MC's best friend became this horrible girl who was mean and selfish and backstabbed her best friend. It was therapeutic for me, but it made my main character unreliable and somewhat unlikeable because readers wondered why she would stay friends with someone who treated her so terribly. I explained in the story that the friend hadn't always been this way, and my MC held onto the friendship out of a combination of habit and history, but since readers only saw the friend being evil, they found it really disconcerting for an MC who was otherwise pretty spunky to be such a pushover when it came to this friend.

The lesson - Use personal experience in your writing, but don't let it bully your story.

Another thought - The theme should stay consistent. If halfway through writing your sweet Victorian romance, you catch your real-life boyfriend cheating with your sister, maybe you should work on something else for a few days... There are few things I hate more than starting a light, humorous romance only to get to the end and find that it's actually a dark cautionary tale about drunk driving. Sure, there's a place for those, but if I'm in the mood for something light and fun, and you sell your story as such, I'm gonna be mad when the ending does nothing but depress me. If I want to be depressed, I will go read the news for two hours. There's enough to be unhappy about in real life; most of the time, I want my fiction to be happy.

The lesson - Decide what your story really is, and promo it that way. Surprise is good, but if you've written a dark horror, don't package it as something else to draw readers in. This will not a pleasant surprise. You will only tick them off. And after that, they will boycott you forever.

Join the conversation: Is this just me? Have you ever written something that you realized was too heavily influenced by personal experience? If so, how did you recognize and squash it?

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