When you develop your characters, you want them to be consistent so that readers can understand and perhaps identify with them. Your characters’ actions don’t have to be smart, but they must be done for a reason.
Most writers, sooner or later, will hit the problem of the Sagging Middle. The story pacing slows—the plot might even bore you a little bit now—and you don’t know what to do about it.
When I was a small child, it didn’t take me long to realize music could be used to tell powerful stories. I’d pop on a 78 record and listen till my parents would cry. I listened to songs like: “Blue Tail Fly” or “Jimmy Crack Corn and I Don’t care,” “The Big Rock Canady Mountain,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,”
“…the bearded merchants in furred robes conversing quietly as they picked their way along the slimy stones above the water, the fishermen unloading their catch, coopers pounding and shipmakers hammering and clamsellers singing and shipmasters bellowing, and beyond all the silent, shining bay.”
There are multiple kinds of truth, in fiction as in life. As fiction writers, we move as close to the truth as possible without ever quite veering into truth entirely (otherwise we’d be writing nonfiction). One kind of truth emanates from a realism of scene and detail. By identifying with familiar settings and character traits, readers are pulled into a story and become personally attached to it.
Some writers enjoy the process of rereading and combing through each word, looking for ways to strengthen sentences, remove extraneous detail, sharpen plot and develop characters. But for many it’s pure torture. Editing can feel like it lacks the punch and excitement of the initial writing, too analytical and uncreative.
For all those who have interacted with small humans in the kinder-to-third grade arena, you might be familiar with Flat Stanley (also known in some cases as Flat Lizzy). For those who haven’t had the joy of meeting this illustrious character, a quick introduction.
A writer I know recently asked for song ideas to build her writing playlist—the music she’d play while she worked on her latest WIP, a fantasy adventure tale. She wanted songs that would speak to the acts of the book—her heroine on a mission, in trouble, fighting her way out, and resolving her issues. I thought of “I Need a Hero,” sung by Bonnie Tyler, who asks for a street-wise Hercules.
I recently had the opportunity to do a beta read on a novel and provide a critique. The experience was both sad and depressing. Everything was off—pacing, character development, and conflict. Keeping all those ponies in harness pulling their weight and working together is complicated. But this is your job as a novelist.