Monday, February 21, 2011

But What Went Wrong?

Over the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to reconnect with actors I've worked with in the past. Although we spent the majority of our time rehearsing, there were stories told. Actors love to tell stories about past productions; but the stories that get told over and over again are the stories where something went wrong.

Telling a story of everyone getting along, the rehearsals going smoothly, and the show being a huge hit are informative, but also quickly forgotten. Imagine writing a plot in which your protagonist quickly identifies their goal and achieves it just as smoothly. Who would read such a book?

We need to remember to throw obstacles at our characters. Let them slip on a banana peel or fall in love with a poor choice of partner or get stuck at the bottom of a hole. Perfect characters are perfectly dull.

The stories that last, the stories that get retold, are the ones where even though things go wrong, people persevere, wipe the mud off and make it to that final curtain.


  1. Elspeth - Very well-taken point! We really see the stuff a character is made of when things go wrong and they go off on the wrong tangent. In the end, they get there and that part of it is all the richer if the trip hasn't been easy.

  2. There's no growth or learning in perfect. Characters aren't true characters unless they have flaws.
    Thanks for the posting!

  3. Definitely. As Deb Dixon said, "give your characters choices. But make them between "sucks" and "suckier". That keeps things interesting.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. Agreed. How boring is perfect? There's no conflict. And with no conflict, there's no story.

  5. Margot; Everyone appreciates something more if it took hard work to procure it.

    thelongandwritingroad; I think one has to remember not to make our characters too flawed, though. It's easy to go too far the other way.

    Terry; How extremely well put! But I do like to make sure my characters have things turn out well every now and again.

    JeFritz; Exactly. And besides, many times things going badly gives me ample comedic opportunities!

  6. Yes, so true. Hope you had tons of fun.

  7. Perfect is annoying, too. I like to see characters that are just as flawed as I am, or else I start feeling insecure...

  8. exactly - that is what I tell myelf over and over as I resist piling on the obstacles for my protagonist! I think I've got it now.

  9. What a great analogy. I'm an actor too and you're so right. Every get-together involves exchanging stories of the terrible moment when your co-star didn't enter on cue and you had to improvise a monologue for what seemed like hours, or a flat fell down and revealed the naked star in the middle of a quick change. Stories involve stuff going wrong. Otherwise, it's like a painting of a cloudless blue sky: nothing much to see.

  10. Elspeth, we must be on the same wavelength today. My new post today on the All Day, All Night Romance Diva's blog has to do with a similar topic. We have to remember to keep ratcheting up the drama, otherwise we'll put ourselves to sleep as well as the readers.

  11. It sounds like these stories could be the basis for a few fun novels where you just have to add a layer or two. I hope you took notes: )

  12. Happiness doesn't sell, but as for unhappiness, readers can't get enough of it.
    As Harlan Ellison once asked, "Who does your story hurt the most?".


Please leave a comment as I love to hear from you!