Monday, August 27, 2012

Overcoming a Good Day

by Matt Sinclair

You ever have one of those days when everything goes right—until you realize that everything went horribly wrong?

The kids love every moment of daddy time at the park and hiking in the woods, but the next morning mommy discovers the tick bites. Or maybe the day after the date with the most amazing person you ever met you discover a closet full of skeletons, some with the flesh still wriggling.

How often do your characters have those good days? If you’re like me, you love posing problems for your characters to overcome, but I don’t think I often give them great days. Or if I do, I might skimp on the details. Why? Because good news is boring.

Look at it another way: Many of us complain about how we hate news of child molesters in the neighborhood or the thief who beat a grandmother nearly to death. I complain too. It’s awful, awful stuff. But do you remember the name of the autistic kid who shot the game winning basket a couple years ago? Do you know where he is now? Me neither.

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with you for paying closer attention to the bad news. In a sense, it’s healthy. We note it because it’s aberrant.

Fine. Use that. Now give your character a great day. Show what made it great. Spare no mental expense. Maybe one of the kids says something that changes dad’s day. It seems at the moment to be such a minor comment, but it later turns out to be ominous. Or maybe the skeletons in that person’s closet include a mutual friend or maybe a mutual ex? And maybe the only reason those details come out are because the date went so well in the first place.

Ultimately, whether characters have a good day or a bad day, they need to overcome the challenges life tosses their way. Because if everything is just good or just bad and no one ever learns from the struggle. Well, that is boring.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, recently published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, which is available through Smashwords, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. It includes stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette. He also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

11 comments:

JeffO said...

Interesting point, Matt. I think we have a tendency to treat good days as boring, until the end of the book, when we give our heroes a happy ending (sometimes). Stephen King is really good at giving his characters a happy day--right before he does something really, really bad.

Come At Me Bro said...

This is great!

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jeff; thanks Bro.

Jemi Fraser said...

We are kind of nasty creatures, aren't we. Love, sunshine, happiness... BAM! Great post, Matt :)

Matt Sinclair said...

Thank you, Jemi.

Lynn Proctor said...

fascinating issue here---it reminds me of a snowy day years ago when robyn was little--we had played in the snow and had such a good time--i even gave her cherry jello to eat on the snow--- only to go inside where she proceeds to vomit all over the bathroom----she won't eat cherry anything to this day :)

Matt Sinclair said...

There ya go! Perfect example :-)

Jean Oram said...

Plus, if you show the great days it makes a great contrast and gives context for what is 'bad.' :)

Jess @ The Secret DMS Files of Fairday Morrow said...

Sort of like we all do- good and bad are so subjective, it's almost a waste to exhaust too much emotion towards either concept. Just experience them and then let them go. What's good one day, can be bad the next, depending on who is judging the situation- it's much more interesting to be aware of what's happening and accept the moment as it is- whether good or bad- I find that it all works out how it is supposed to. I actually love to give my characters a good time and enjoy reading the parts in stories where everything is going great- for instance- when Harry Potter takes the Felix Felicis potion given to him by Professor Slughorn and heads off into the day- what fun! But, there has to be the bad and the drama, otherwise where would the story be? ~ Jess

E.B. Black said...

There has to be good stuff balancing out and pacing the bad in a story so readers don't get overwhelmed with all the non-stop drama, but those are always the hardest parts for me to write. Because they aren't as exciting. It's also why it's harder for me to write a sad ending than a happy one, but I'm forcing myself to get better in this area.

Matt Sinclair said...

E.B., good point: pacing is crucial in this. I think pacing trips up a lot of writers. It really is something that gets addressed more fully during the self-editing and revision process -- and presumably again if you successfully sell the manuscript. Thanks again, everyone.