Electrocuting Your Stories

Copyright Universal Studios


Something I’ve learned over the years of writing books is that you can have a cohesive plot, a researched or well-thought-through setting, and characters with detailed backgrounds, but if there’s no emotional urgency the story just won’t come alive.

It’s kind of like Dr. Frankenstein zapping his creation with electricity until the monster jolts awake.

Without the sizzling energy of emotional urgency, you won’t be able to sit at your keyboard and scream, “It’s alive!”

So where’s the jolt going to come from?  Animating the characters means giving them something to be upset about, something to care about passionately and intensely.  In fact, they should be so stirred up, distressed, upset, flummoxed, heartbroken, hysterical, or nearly berserk that they can’t sit still.  They simply cannot remain passive and reactive.  They have to take action.  It doesn’t matter what.  They have to be confrontational.  They have to go on the offensive.  Because to do anything less has become unbearable to them.

How do you get your story people that overwrought?  By pitchforking them into trouble or by setting up story situations with inherent conflict.

Now, in the real world we’re expected to behave like civilized human beings, control ourselves in public, and be civil if not tolerant of each other.  That’s why learning to behave properly and with common courtesy toward others hardly prepares us to be commercial writers of fiction.

Yet I can promise you that if you zap your characters with the electricity of harsh trouble, immediate problems that can’t be put off, and some kind of pressure-cooker of a deadline, you will attain enough emotional urgency to bring them to life.  Like Frankenstein’s monster, they may then run amok and wreak havoc with your carefully planned story line, but that’s something to address another time.

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