Save Your Story From Stupid

I bought a big hype book this week, and I was big disappointed.  Y’all know I don’t post negative reviews, so I won’t be naming this book specifically.  BUT, I hope to share some lessons that we can all apply to our writing that will save us from the silly, stupid mistakes I found in this novel.

1.  If I have to suspend reality, give me a believable reason.  Let’s say that people in your book can fly.  There are two ways to make this happen: 1) magic or 2) good science.  If your explanation for flying people is tiny, four-inch long wings that your character hides under their coat, you are stepping into stupid.  Everyone knows four-inch long wings aren’t going to support a human’s body weight.  I’m not saying you need to map out the physics of flight in your story, but if people have to fly give them rocket packs, or anti-gravity belts, or freaking giant eagle wings.  Got it? 

2. I don’t have to like your characters, but I do have to understand them.  Scarlett O’Hara is not a particularly likeable character.  She’s self-serving, driven, and really doesn’t give a crap who she steps on to get what she wants.  But I get her.  She has motivations that make sense in the plot, story, time period, etc.  Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights is another great example.  He’s awful, but by the end of the story you totally understand why.  If you’re going to write an unlikeable character, give us a few good reasons to excuse their behavior. 

3.  If one conversation could resolve your story, then your plot isn’t strong enough.  If someone knows who the murderer is and has thousands of opportunities to reveal it, but they don’t because that would screw up your plot…yeah.  That falls in the Supremely Stupid Category.  Another example:  If your character can call the police, they should.  If they can’t call the police, make it clear why (dirty cops, incriminating evidence, whatever). 

4.  Be consistent.  If something is difficult for the character at one point in the story, it shouldn’t magically be easy later on.  Let’s say your main character can’t run very well.  You spend time describing how hard it is on their body.  Then, at the end of the story this character has to run five miles to survive, in awful conditions, and has done no training.  Don’t expect me to believe your character is going to make it on adrenaline alone.  And if there is an easier escape, say running ten feet, your character should do that instead because it makes more sense. 

Sometimes stupid is hard to see.  As the creator of a world, characters, plot lines, conflict, you may not be able to identify the issues you’ve built into your story.  Do yourself a favor: get two to five other people to read for you.  Listen to their feedback.  Try to apply it.  Save yourself from the heartache of rejection by saving your story from stupid mistakes. 

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