Friday, June 5
Do You Suffer From NWS?: Living With Nice Writer Syndrome
This week's Refresher Friday pulls out one of my favorites, and I try to share this one every year or so. It's a fun reminder that what doesn't kill our characters makes them more interesting.
Do you love your characters?
Do you wish nothing bad would ever happen to them?
Then you might suffer from Nice Writer Syndrome.
This is a common malady. We spend hours and hours creating our characters, interviewing them, filling out complicated character sheets, determining which personality they are on the Myers-Briggs Scale. They become like family, and we can't bear the thought of doing anything bad to them.
But as Dory from Finding Nemo said: "If nothing ever happens to him, then nothing will ever happen to him."
Who wants to read about someone nothing ever happens to?
Stories are fun when readers get to watch the struggle. They want to see someone overcome a terrible problem and win. To do that, you have to put your characters into terrible situations (squeals with glee). You have to be mean, be evil, be cruel. If it breaks you heart to do it to them, then you're on the right track.
Take this quiz to determine if you suffer from NWS
1. Your protagonist has been called to the boss's office at 4:45pm on a Friday. She knows layoffs are in the works. What happens at that meeting?
a. The boss tells her he's letting go of everyone in her department but her, so she'll have to work overtime to cover.
b. The boss tells her he has to let her go.
c. The boss tells her she's fired, and as she gets up to leave, the door bursts open and a disgruntled employee jumps in with a gun, spraying bullets.
2. Your protagonist just lost power to his sub-light engines and is falling toward the spacial anomaly. He has one shot to re-route the power. When he he hits the re-start button:
a. The engines kick in and he rockets away.
b. The engines sputter and give one burst of thrust, and he skirts around the edge of the anomaly and is flung off into space.
c. The engines explode, creating hull breaches in six decks and pushes the burning ship into the anomaly.
3. Your protagonist has found a box covered in funky runes while playing in her grandma's attic. When she opens it, she finds:
a. Antique jewelry.
b. Cursed Aztec gold.
c. X'iltiplix the demon god of suffering.
4. Your protagonists stop at a deserted beach while vacationing in The Bahamas. How is their day ruined?
a. Nasty sunburns.
b. An unfortunate encounter with a school of jellyfish.
c. Colombian drug runners.
5. Your antagonist has just caught the hero. He:
a. Locks her in a room, threatening her life if she tries to escape.
b. Ties her to a table set up underneath the booster rockets of a missile.
c. Chains her to the wall and forces her to watch while he pushes her husband into a pit of razor-sharp spikes, then dangles her children over it until she tells him the codes to the nuclear weapon buried under Manhattan.
If you answered:
Mostly A: You suffer from NWS. The thought of doing anything really mean to your characters is painful to you, so your stories often lack real stakes to compel readers to keep reading.
Mostly B: You have a good sense of author cruelty, but you could go further. Readers find your stories interesting, but they can also set them down if something cool is on TV.
Mostly C: You know how to make your characters suffer. Readers stay up late at night to finish your books and can't stop talking about them the next day.
There's a reason "what's the worst that can happen?" is a writer's mantra. Embrace it and your stories will be better for it.
Do you suffer from NWS?