Shake It Up

By: Aryanne Ferguson

I haven’t done the dishes in 3 days. I had rum and a half a leftover cheeseburger for dinner. I haven’t cleaned the bathtub since I moved in. My real life dating prospects are so slim, I’m almost positive something’s wrong with everyone else. As Leo Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This goes for the people in your stories too. You don’t have to start off with an entire family – focusing on your main character is enough to get you off to a good start.

Start small. Maybe your main character isn’t a death row inmate who has five days to stage a prison break or hang for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe your main character is a twenty-something woman who had the same problems I do, created an online dating profile, wound up dating the man who committed the crime the death row inmate was framed for, and now has a much more serious problem.

My point is, Reader, be wary if you can’t bring yourself to make something bad happen to your characters, because where’s the fun in writing about a happy, well adjusted, emotionally satisfied person? Or, go all the way and get so attached that you can’t bear to cause your character pain, and then cause your character pain (physical or emotional, literal or figurative).  If you feel strongly about your writing, then you’ve made something worthwhile. Show me how much you love your character, and I’ll love him/her too. I can tell you the titles of the novels/stories that have made me sob, stories I’ll never have any problem forgetting, and authors I have respect for, just because they wrote them.

So, Reader, do you have any problems shaking things up? Do your characters face life or death stakes? I struggle with being too nice to mine. Meanwhile, I need to seriously consider cleaning that bathroom.

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