I have just come back from a holiday in Malta. Thanks to British rule before they became independent, much is like home. The main language is English and they drive on the left. But, in more than distance travelled, it’s a whole different world. I saw many things that could help me with my writing. I will be sharing one each week.
Here is point 1 I learned to help my writing:
Rain is a blessing
In Britain it rains a lot and we complain about it. In Malta it doesn’t rain enough, so they welcome it. The weather was hot every day. I never thought I’d hope for rain. If your story is always sunny it will be boring – you must have adversity to make it interesting.
When I began to write my first novel, like most first attempts, it was awful. One of the major problems was lack of conflict.
The story was about a small ship called the Kestrel, with a crew of eleven who were all good friends. They went off and had adventures, but the story wasn’t gripping somehow. When I learned about conflict, I realised I had a lot of work to do, figuring out who didn’t get on and why. I also didn’t have any subplots, and I realised that some of these can come from personality clashes or the individual problems of the crew.
The adversity in your story can come from many different sources. The Kestrel has a helmsman who was involved in a serious accident. Although it wasn’t his fault, he has lost his confidence, which is personal adversity, made worse by becoming helmsman on the Kestrel before he is ready. Another crewman finds out about his history and requests a transfer, causing friction between them, which is adversity from another. This is even before the Kestrel gets into hot water on its mission. Do you see how you can add all sorts of interest in your story from just one piece of back story?
The fundamental structure of most stories is this: the hero has a goal and has to overcome many obstacles to achieve it. There is usually a villain who tries to stop him, but all sorts of things can get in the way. Even simple things like a change in the weather, missing the bus or mislaying the car keys. Look at each point in the story and brainstorm how many things can go wrong. The more difficult they are to get out of, the better, especially near the end, when your reader will fear all is lost. You need to keep them turning the pages to see how it works out.
Adversity has another use too. In most stories the hero and/or some other main character changes as a result of what they go through. The lazy teenager grows up and learns the value of work, the timid man finds his courage, the quarrelling couple rediscovers the love in their marriage, and so much more. It takes adversity to break them and make them. Hopefully you have drawn the characters well, and your readers will be involved in their struggle and finish the book with a sigh of satisfaction.
One of the other characters in my book is an eighteen year old girl from a conservative planet. She joins the Kestrel as a temporary trainee and is shocked to find the crew are all men. The youngest crewman takes a fancy to her and she has no idea how to handle it. How things work out between them is something I hope will keep you reading. This is a tiny part of the story, but gives it depth and reality.
So give your characters a hard time and you’ll have a better book.