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Why Our Characters Must Fail

Why Our Characters Must Fail By Jill Kemerer

This post was originally published on November 28, 2011 at https://jillkemerer.blogspot.com/.

I recently read a novel but struggled to get into the story. Each time I put it down, I had no desire to pick it back up. Tempted to stop reading, I decided to forge ahead and figure out why it wasn’t grabbing me. I made a list of its strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths:

– Excellent writing. The author balances dialogue, thoughts, action, and narrative with ease.
– Modern, relatable characters. The hero and heroine (it’s a contemporary romance) are realistic and have believable conflicts and goals. Plus, I liked both of them.
– Logical progression of plot. The story arc made sense and proceeded in a way I would expect.

Weaknesses:

– Too many characters introduced in first chapters. This book is the second or third in a series, so extra characters should be involved, but too many too soon only confuses the reader.
– Sunday drive pacing. While the plot progresses logically, it does not progress quickly. There doesn’t seem to be any urgency.
– The hero and heroine do not share enough scenes in the first half. They are in scenes together, but they rarely interact. How are they supposed to fall in love if they don’t talk to each other?

Not every book is perfect, and the strengths in this one more than offset the weaknesses. However, I pinpointed one major area that needed work.

Each scene had a point, but the stakes were never high enough for me to want to read the next scene. 

Jack M. Bickham discusses what an effective scene accomplishes in his excellent book, Scene & Structure. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically each scene should be told from one character’s viewpoint, and the character must have a clear goal, which is obvious from the beginning of the scene. The character will then experience conflict in reaching that goal until the scene ends with the characterfailing to meet the goal.

Summary of Scene Essentials:
1. Introduction of the viewpoint character’s scene goal.
2. Conflict threatening the character’s ability to reach goal.
3. Failure of character to meet goal.

But…the character has to win sometimes, right? Yes. This is why it’s important to be clear about the character’s scene goal. If the book requires your heroine to convince her coworker to attend a wedding with her, you might choose to split the section into two scenes. The first scene will be told from her viewpoint. She gets the courage to ask him, he puts up a fight, and the scene ends with him refusing.

1. She asks coworker to be her date for wedding. (Goal)
2. He gives lame excuses. (Conflict)
3. He refuses. (Failure)

But…he has to agree. It’s a vital plot point. Okay, no problem. The next scene will be in his point of view, and his scene goal will be to get out of the wedding invitation. But the heroine is very convincing, and he finds himself saying yes when he wants to say no.

1. He must not agree to this wedding invitation. (Goal)
2. She has lawyer-like convincing skills. (Conflict)
3. He accepts. (Failure)
If we ignore the scene essential of the character failing, we waste an opportunity to keep the reader on edge. We could have written the previous scene in the heroine’s point of view and had her ask the hero to the wedding. He could still put up a fight, but in the end he agrees. The problem with this is that the heroine wins. 

As readers, we like to watch our heroes and heroines suffer. We love that gnawing feeling in our gut when things go wrong. We need the hero and heroine to fail repeatedly for us to keep turning the pages. If they only win, what’s the point of reading more? Our goal as writers should be to provide a sense of urgency–regardless what genre we write–and have the reader constantly ask, what comes next? How is the main character going to handle this? I’ve got to find out more!

How do you keep readers on edge? Share your tips!

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

I’ve been eagerly anticipating Cal Newport’s new book–Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. I finished reading it over the weekend, and it lived up to my expectations.

Learn more about DIGITAL MINIMALISM at calnewport.com.

Basically, the book underscored what I already know to be true–social media, various phone apps, online browsing and being available 24/7 have decreased the quality of my life.

The instant I feel a twinge of boredom, I reach for my phone.

Scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and various news sites often eat up precious evening hours. And I couldn’t tell you what I’ve gotten out of all the mindless scrolling!

Another problem I have? If I’m working on my laptop and check in on Facebook, I feel anxiety over unanswered private messages (I don’t use Facebook Messenger on my phone and only get private messages from my laptop). Ditto for unanswered emails–even if I get them at 10pm!

What happened to my free time? I willingly give it away and get nothing in return.

In chapter one, Cal Newport spells out how the technologies we rely on (texting, social media apps, online news sites, etc…) are designed to trigger our addictive behavior. Yes, he cites studies and sources. And it all makes sense. The longer we’re “on” or using a site, the more ad-revenue the site can potentially make. These sites/apps are designed to keep us there.

Scrolling through Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram feels harmless, but it isn’t. Our phones and apps have an addictive pull, keeping us from exerting the energy to do activities we deeply value and enjoy.

We signed up for these services and bought these devices for minor reasons–to look up friends’ relationship statuses or eliminate the need to carry a separate iPod and phone–and then found ourselves, years later, increasingly dominated by their influence, allowing them to control more and more of how we spend our time, how we feel, and how we behave. – Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

The book provides a solution, and it makes sense.

Basically, we can choose to minimize our digital life.

  • The first step is to do a 30-day digital detox where you cut out all non-essential apps/sites/services and set rules around the ones you consider essential.
  • At the end of the experiment, you decide which of these you want to keep and set rules for how you’ll use them.
  • During the detox, you commit to aggressively fill your time with high-value activities. Think hands-on projects, actually being social (coffee dates, visiting friends), reading, returning to a hobby or starting a new one, even watching television or movies is fine as long as you’re enjoying them and not just zoning out.

Why is this important?

We only have one life. Our time is valuable. Using technology to relieve boredom can drag us into an unsatisfying cycle where we no longer have the “time or energy” to do things that add meaning to our lives. When we invest in activities that are meaningful to us, we’re less likely to feel unsatisfied with our lives.

What am I doing about it?

I haven’t started the 30-day detox, yet. But I already set rules around my cell phone usage.

  • I deleted about half the apps on my phone–many of them were there by default anyhow.
  • I also set times (and limits) when I could check in on my favorite sites.
  • I have an auto-reply set up in Facebook Messenger to let people know I don’t check my messages after 5pm or on weekends. They’re welcome to email me, though.

I also jotted down a list of activities I can replace my scrolling with. This will be the hardest part for me–sticking to things that require more effort than a quick swipe of the phone. One particular chapter in the book really stood out to me, and it was about physical work. It’s convinced me to add 30 minutes of cleaning, baking or organizing on weeknights. I hope I get the satisfaction promised!

If you’re at all conflicted about your digital life, I urge you to buy the book. It’s terrific and timely and needed.

Have you gotten sucked into the digital life? Are you conflicted about the way it’s changed your free time?

By the way, the fourth novella in the RESORT TO ROMANCE SERIES launched yesterday!! Try Moonlight Match by Kristina Knight!

Our mega-giveaway is still going strong! If you haven’t entered yet, go to my HOME page and scroll down for the easy entry options!

What Are Your March 2019 Goals?

March Goals 2019 Jill Kemerer #ww

March is here! Does this mean spring is coming soon? I hope so! It regularly snows here through mid-April, so I won’t hold my breath! In the meantime, I’ve been busy writing. Let’s review and set goals.

Jill’s February 2019 Goals

  • Revise and submit Wyoming Twins Christmas Reunion
  • Promote A Meddled Match
  • Health: Track calories, meet fiber goals, exercise 5 days/week

How did I do last month?

  • Revise and submit Wyoming Twins Christmas Reunion – CHECK!
  • Promote A Meddled Match – CHECK!
  • Health: Track calories, meet fiber goals, exercise 5 days/week -NOPE–NO CHECK.

In addition to my goals, I revised a novella and worked on art sheets for a cover. It was a very productive month! I let my health goals slide (again), but I still exercised three days a week, added fiber, and kept my calories in line.

Jill’s March 2019 Goals

  • Copy edits for Christmas novella
  • Expand plot for book 2 in the Love Inspired cowboy series
  • Draft proposal for book 2 in the Love Inspired cowboy series
  • Set up promo for His Wyoming Baby Blessing
  • Health: Track calories, meet fiber goals, exercise 5 days/week

How did you do last month? Do you work well this time of year? I usually get a lot done in these cold/rainy/snowy months.

What are your March goals?

The 10 Weeks of Romance Giveaway is still going strong! A winner is selected each week, and the prizes accumulate. The grand prize is all ten Resort to Romance novellas and a $150 Amazon gift card! Go to my HOME page and scroll down for the entry options!

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