This photo has nothing to do with this post. I just think my baby girl is gorgeous. We dressed her as an angel/fairy princess for Halloween. So. darn. cute.
I’ve often heard plotting advice somewhere along the lines of, “Think of the worst thing that could happen to your MC and then make something worse than that happen.” To me, I’ve always been a bit stumped by that. I mean, isn’t death really the worst thing that could happen to someone? Or the death of someone close to them, like, heaven forbid, a child? And if that happened to every MC then wouldn’t that make for a whole slew of reeaallly depressing (and in the case of the first, really short) books?
“Confessions of a Shopaholic” has taught me that actually, each character has their own "worst thing." In this book, the main character, Rebecca Bloomwood, is, as the title suggests, a shopaholic. Her shopping addiction has put her under great financial strain, and, as is her nature, she attempts to mostly talk her way out of it. She fudges the truth, she tells what should be little white lies, she tries to pretend everything is fine until suddenly, it all starts to converge on her and her entire world spins out of control.
You’d think that the hideous embarrassment she faces when the truth comes out would be the worst thing- but then it gets worse. As I read it, I heard myself saying, “Oh no. Ohhhh no. Oh, no, no, no, no, NOOOOOO!!!!” It was like watching a car wreck in progress- the author did a really bang-up (excuse the pun) job of just really pulling the plug on this girl and making the reader get sucked down the drain right along with her.
The best thing is that the story wouldn’t have had that kind of effect unless you really liked the MC. Sure, she’s a bit of a delusional narcissist, but she’s just so darn likable! The author gave her depth and a heart. She began to feel like a friend. A really sad and kind of pathetic friend, but a friend nonetheless. I felt like if she died and someone were to ask me to speak at her funeral I would have something meaningful to say. Weird, right? But to me, that’s the sign of great writing. I feel like I really know the character.
So back to the plot thing. What happened to Rebecca Bloomwood was the worst thing that could happen to her at that point in her life. Truthfully, at a few points she was so mortified by her situation I think that death would have been a welcome relief. Rebecca Bloomwood’s rock bottom is different from Harry Potter’s, and Isabella Swan’s, and Percy Jackson’s. The point is, you have to know your character, and you have to make sure your audience gets to know your character, and you have to let your character show you what their worst nightmare would be. As a matter of fact, that’s a good way to figure out their “worst thing.” Whenever I’m stressed out over something, I usually have nightmares about it- like showing up at school in my underwear and realizing I haven’t studied for the Big Test. What kind of nightmares is your character having? What are they afraid of? Is it failure? Losing their honor or their family’s honor? Having the truth come out? Never amounting to anything? Losing a chance for true love? We all have different fears, and our MCs will too.
Then make it happen- push them to the brink. Then find a way to bring them back- or better yet, a way for them to bring themselves back, because the thing that makes great books really great is when a reader can watch a character grow and be their own hero.
How’s NaNo going for y’all? Anybody pushed their MC to the brink yet?