“I hate my life,” is a common sentiment when we’re having a bad day. On Thursdays, I’m likely to be heard saying, “I hate going to court.” When I’m swamped with book deadlines, “I hate revisions.”
For the most part, I do not hate my life, going to court, or revisions. These sentiments are lamentations, along the lines of “this is hard for me,” stated far more dramatically and less accurately. A lot less accurately.
A recent Goodreads poll identified poor pacing as the primary reason people put down a book they’ve spent honest coin to read. I suspect part of what’s amiss in those books is that the author (or a main character) is to some extent wandering through the pages muttering the equivalent of “I hate werewolves,” or “I hate the duke; he doesn’t deserve to inherit everything.”
For the characters, as for us, more action and energy would result from trying to state the problem in its most accurate form, rather than making a generally unhappy noise.
Behind “I hate my life,” is often, “I can’t ever seem to feel rested, on top of things, or relaxed,” (which was certainly the case when I had a minor child underfoot!)
Well, all right. Now I can look at concrete steps to manage sleep and the to-do list, to reduce anxiety, and find ways to relax. I can hire a cleaning service, make a budget, schedule mini-vacations, meditate, burn relaxing incense, exercise, vent to a friend, and on and on. Until I’m specific about the problem, it’s nearly impossible to come up with an optimal solution.
Similarly, I’m going to have a much more interesting book if “I hate the duke,” is a shorthand for, “I hate not having the options he has socially and financially, because I’m a Regency female, and my ability to develop options on my own is next to none. I feel responsible for my sisters and can’t look after them. I’m a foot shorter than the duke and not taken seriously as a result. Worst of all, he had a chance to help me once when I was eleven years old and stuck in a tree, and he ordered his footman to help me instead.”
The specifics admit of actions the characters might take—sabotaging the duke’s marital prospects, cutting down his favorite tree, impersonating a man to amass a fortune gambling, wearing high heels at all times around the duke—that can propel a book forward.
Getting specific about a real problem can propel a life forward to a better place, too.What’s one problem you’re getting clarity about, and one step you’ve taken toward solving it? To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid.”
I’ll go first: The writing was beginning to feel more like an obligation than a wish come true, so I bought a horse to get me off my backside and around my riding buddies.