by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
Let's say you have a pretty good idea of what Deep POV is all about -- at least in terms of using character voice, choosing first vs third person, showing emotional change, revealing things at the right time, and knowing when to deepen the viewpoint or step back -- but you don't yet feel quite sure how to write it.
As a friend observed the other day, "I understand logically what Deep POV is...but I still don't feel confident in MY ability to write in Deep POV."
Sometimes it's easier to learn by example, so let's look at some examples of what works and what doesn't.
These aren't coming from real books, by the way, because while I'd feel fine about pasting excerpts of "POV Hits," I'd feel bad for anyone whose treasured book wound up illustrating a "POV Miss." Which is why all these examples are made up out of whole cloth. They're all pretty decent shows of deep POV, but we'll see why the second of each pair is better than the first.
I felt tired. I had no idea whether Drake or Colton was at fault. I knew it had to be one of 'em, but accusing either of those guys wrongly would mean the end of a lifelong friendship. Because how can you ever again trust someone who suspected you of murder, when you flat-out wouldn't have done any such thing?
If I could just get some rest... But even that wouldn't help, because I still had no idea who it was. Drake or Colton, yeah, gotta be, but how could I accuse either one of those guys? I mean, Drake was at my bar mitzvah with that weird nutcracker. Colton got me through Scout Camp. You wanna trash 30 years with a guy who's like your brother, you just accuse him of murder.
Okay, what's the difference between those two examples?
Let's look at what works, and what doesn't.
"I feel tired" isn't generally something a person thinks way-deep-down when they're tired. It's the kind of rationalization they might use to justify why they're going to knock off work and get some rest, but they aren't likely to say those words to themselves.
"I knew it had to be one of them" is accurate and clear, but "Drake or Colton, yeah, gotta be" ALSO shows this character wants to convince himself he's right. That lets us in on his feelings without spelling out what's obvious -- the reader can deduce it and feel proud of their insight.
"Mean the end of a lifelong friendship" is a beautifully dramatic phrase, but it's not the kind of thing people think to themselves unless they're in the mood to be dramatic. Nobody tends to think in such glorious phrases when they're tired and have a weighty problem on their shoulders.
"At my bar mitzvah with that weird nutcracker" is such a trivial thing to remember that it shows how much this friendship matters, and how long these guys have known each other. That's not a detail that matters to the storyline, but it gives the reader an up-close-and-personal look at this character who's thinking about his friend.
On to our next example...
Just because Marnie was 25 didn't mean she knew any better than 23-year-old Emma what colors a redhead could wear. Besides, she was visiting Dad in Boston until Thursday, so it wasn't like she'd ever know if someone happened to borrow that pink scarf. Emma grabbed it, knotted it around her dark curly hair, and hurried out.
Her sister always insisted that redheads couldn't wear pink, but Marnie was wrong. Almost certainly, at least about that shimmery scarf in her closet. It was just crying out to be worn! And Ms. Fashion Dictator wouldn't be home until Thursday, so...why not? Emma grabbed the scarf, knotted it with the kind of flair such a treasure deserved, and hurried out.
What works and doesn't work here?
Characters know how old they are and, by and large, how old their siblings are. While age is a big deal to kids, by the time we reach adulthood we don't tend to think of such things unless there's a specific reason, like somebody's birthday or a friend asking "how old is your sister?"
"Almost certainly" shows the reader Emma isn't 100% convinced she's right. "Ms. Fashion Dictator" gives us even more insight into her justification for borrowing the scarf -- Marnie is needlessly bossy and deserves to be taken down a peg or two. Besides, she'll never know! 🙂
Characters know perfectly well where their parents live and where somebody who goes to visit a parent will be. There's no reason to name that city unless it comes up in some other context: "She should've asked Marnie to bring her a Red Sox pennant."
Another thing characters take for granted is their hair color and texture. They might think of it in context, but not at random. While they can sure notice how a color enhances their looks, how often have YOU glanced in the mirror and thought "this shirt really brings out the deep brown shade of my eyes" as compared to "this shirt makes my eyes look good" -- and Emma's no different from us.
At least in that respect, although of course none of us would ever make off with our 26-year-old sister's shimmery pink scarf. (Or would we?)
The whole idea of immersing readers into a character via deep POV is making 'em feel like they ARE that character -- and we'll get into more detail on how to do it in Deep & Deeper POV starting November 1.
Which leads to our prize-drawing question....
Who writes Deep POV effectively?
Somebody who answers that, if there are at least 25 responses, will win free registration to next month's class...because I'd love to hear some opinions on:
What book or series or author do you think does a really good job of getting you sucked deep into the character's perspective?
My personal favorite is Suzanne Brockmann, but others have mentioned Veronica Roth, Harlan Coben, Patricia Briggs, Michael Connelly, Lois McMaster Bujold, Lori Wilde, Joe Abercrombie, Susan Mallery, and Julia Quinn.
There are bound to be other fabulous names, as well, so here's your chance to introduce that book or series or author to WITS readers who'd like some more great examples of deep POV. And since I might wind up quoting you in next Tuesday's lecture, please mention if you'd rather NOT be quoted -- thanks!
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Laurie Schnebly Campbell (BookLaurie.com) heard so many writers say they'd like to know more about "deep Point of View" that she started exploring the techniques...and found there were more than enough for a workshop including (optional) homework, which always gets private feedback. Having written half a dozen romances, including one that beat out Nora Roberts for "Best Special Edition of the Year," Laurie finally discovered she enjoys teaching even more -- and now has 51 first-sale novels on her bookshelf from authors inspired by her classes.
by Kris Maze
The end of 2021 will soon be here and it’s time to double down on annual writing goals. This year, I took a focused approach to the business of writing. If you are struggling to end the year strong, read on. There are many processes you could try in this little "writer pep talk."
Employing tactics useful for adult learners, I found ways to streamline my writing goals and built in time for reflection. Borrowing from psychology, education, and management theories, these practices have enhanced my author life. Now my writing life brings me more satisfaction, higher word count, and stronger goal completion.
Mental Blocks to Writing
It is common for writers to battle mental hurdles like:
- Imposter syndrome
- Plain old drudgery of life
These road bumps happen with every novel, but we don't want these to derail our ambition to craft stories.
Writer Friends, we don't have to let these subtle beasts undermine our talent. With some intentional planning and personal discipline, writers can set themselves up for success.
Writing fiction is a unique career because we work alone, talk about people and events that never happened, and delight in the imaginary worlds in our heads and hearts. It is easy to get off track and neglect those worlds we create when the real-world buts in.
Weird, right? But since you are reading this, you just might be in the same little club. You get it. You want more from your writing. Because you have a taste of the writing life, which always seems to entice us from around the next page of the career.
Taking Control of Your Authorpreneurship
If you want to engage in a process that lets you take control of your authorpreneurship, and gives you peace of mind. You get to spend your creative energy in ways that you approve, and that moves your career forward. Below are some suggestions.
Hold Your Own Business Meeting
Business meetings for your author life are one of the techniques I used to stay on track this year. Most writers who persevere with this work are self-starters.
If you are not feeling like the self-starting author today, there are ways to push through on your own. Before you hide away in your imagination and slowly let the world erode your writing presence from the page, consider the following…
One of my best ways to re-center my writing momentum is to reflect on my big author goals. Every 2 months the last 2 years, I have held a little, but very official, business meeting with myself. And I follow the steps common in any official meeting:
- Read the minutes from my last meeting
- Reflect on my yearly goals to date and determine how relevant they still are
- Identify the semi-monthly goals and their successes–and celebrate with a crisp high-five
- Check in on my plan’s progress or lack of and make assumptions why
- Assess my current plans, including: what I am working on, how much time I need to finish each task, and what time I have available
- Plot the tasks in an upcoming monthly goal planner. This one starts as a list, which I then flesh out in a spreadsheet, and assign into my tentative calendar.
Although the actual process is more akin to a teenager having a meaningful talk in the bathroom mirror, I make the business meeting official.
As the CEO of my author company, I dress the part (comfy clothes required), take a seat at my work spot, provide warm caffeinated beverages and light snacks at the center of the table, and wear my thick serious-toned glasses. I set a time, 10 am prompt, and stick to a schedule, so I respect my own time.
Are you still with me? You, my writer friend, are the CEO of your dream. Treat that honor with the respect it deserves.
Doubling Down on Authorpreneurship
You may not feel like an authorpreneur, but writers are in the business of creating a product (stories!) and connecting it to their buyers (reading audiences!) Even though the last couple of years have been extra challenging for creatives, it has also opened the door to new ways of publishing and writing.
It's true. The business side of publishing is sometimes intimidating and time-consuming. Let’s face it, there are more writers hesitant about marketing and showcasing their work than not.
Marketing yourself as an author is scary for many writers because it is personal, public, and mostly uncharted territory.
Writers need to be wary and savvy about what they really want to accomplish so they can avoid many publishing pitfalls. It's important to find your writing circle, which hopefully includes a multitude of caring individuals in publishing who will edify and strengthen your writing life.
Why Authors Need Time for Reflection
Reflection is imperative to becoming a better author.
As writers working in our own lanes, how can we take charge of our own improvement? John Dewey, a social reformer and educator, and the founder of pragmatism, changed the fundamental approaches to teaching and learning in the early 1900s. Without geeking out too much, we can sum his main cycle of inquiry up in this quote:
“(Personal Learning consists of) active, persistent, and consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and further conclusions to which it leads.”John Dewey
Phew. That’s a bit to unpack. To summarize, writers can use Dewey's theory to deepen their writing life and be more mindful as they travel their own personal road to publication.
What Does "Writing Reflection" Look Like?
How does a busy writer include the practice of reflection into their writing life, without feeling like it's "just another task" to add to their mile-long to-do list?
- Start by engaging actively in your reflection. What are you working on now in your writing career?
- Find “ground that supports it” What you observe now in your writing life?
- Move upon the discoveries you find. What actions can you take now?
- Rinse and repeat.
The process is a series of cyclical steps, so keep moving forward and grow in your author career.
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”Will Rogers (horseman, radio and TV entertainer)
This digital age provides many opportunities to connect with other writers, to collaborate and learn from one another. But there's little that can match the benefits of hard work and personal reflection -- the act of being present -- to spur us forward in our growth as writers.
Stay tuned, partners... In a future post, I'm gathering the many resources available for writers to self-study and master the hard-to-learn pinch points of authorpreneurship.
Until next time, Keep on writing!
What ways to you keep yourself on track as a writer? What tips do you have for our readers? Do you have valuable self-study resources for me to include in my next post? Please share them in the comments below.
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Kris Maze writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host.
She published a YA dystopian novel by a small press in the summer of 2020. Lately, she has been entering and placing in writing competitions, such as NYC Midnight’s Short Story and Micro-fiction contests. You can find her YA horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website.
Photo Credit: Kris Maze (with some help from Canva)
by Ellen Buikema
For many of my teaching years, I used SMART goals for my learning disabled (LD) students as a part of their Individualized Educational Plans (IEP). These students needed to learn how to use their academic strengths to find a way around their learning impediments. Setting these objectives, and writing them down, provided many benefits, including helping them focus on their goals.
A SMART goal is:
Narrow goals are more effective for planning. Specific goals aren’t overwhelming because they take a large task like writing a novel or getting published and break it into small, manageable chunks.
Define evidence of progress. You can define your goal by number of pages, chapters, or short stories, or by word count. Quantifying your goal gives you an accurate sense of how much effort and time you need to succeed.
Make sure your goal is reasonable, but consider making your goals public—letting critique partners or other friends know. This way you are more likely to actually achieve your goal. People will ask about your progress!
Align goals with your long-term plans. The goal should tie directly your plans. If you can’t see how the goal drives you forward, that goal isn’t relevant enough to get you to your desired outcome.
Set a realistic end-date. Time limits create a sense of urgency and help you track your performance as time moves forward.
A writing goal for an upper elementary student might look like this:
When given a topic, STUDENT will write creative short stories, descriptive paragraphs, or narratives with 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 trials. This skeletal goal would then be fleshed out to be individualized for the student’s need in a specific class.
SMART goals can be used for any topic—business or personal life.
Consider weight loss. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose the extra pounds I gained over the holidays,” make it a SMART goal.
New SMART goal: “I will lose XX pounds and fit into my jeans, looking fabulous, by the end of March.”
Specific XX pounds
Measurable use the scale
Attainable make it realistic
Relevant why do you want it
Time-based influence yourself to take action
A lot of thought should be placed on the Attainable and Relevant aspects of these goals.
Consider relevance. What does this writing goal, or project, mean to me? How does it fit into my long-term goals? Awareness of why you write helps with the how and when.
Regarding attainable, be realistic. Are your goals possible in terms of available resources? It’s important to consider anything that might delay your goal.
Writing Specific SMART goals
Type of goal Aspect of task
Specific Draft first page
Measurable Write 500 words
Attainable Write pre-movie tonight
Relevant Finish first chapter
Time-based One hour after dinner
This SMART goal for writing is:
“I will write 500 words after dinner and before turning on Netflix to get a good start on finishing the current chapter.”
Sample Marketing SMART Goal for Writers
“Grow monthly subscribers by 50 readers per month by creating targeted social media advertisements for three social media platforms: X, Y, and Z.”
Sample General Business SMART Goal
“Our goal is to (quantifiable objective) by (timeframe or deadline). (Key players or teams) will accomplish this goal by (steps taken to achieve the goal). Accomplishing this goal will (result or benefit).”
A Few More Examples of SMART Goals
- “I will finish my manuscript by the end of the December.”
- “I’ll set aside 30 minutes in the morning to write at least 5 days a week.”
- “I’ll have an outline for my memoir completed by June 1.”
A Few Examples of Not-so-SMART Goals
- “I really want to finish my manuscript.” (Not specific.)
- “I’ll write gobs more this year.” (Not measurable.)
- “I’ll write 20,000 words each week this year.” (Not achievable unless you are super prolific and have nothing else to do.)
- “I feel like I should probably start writing again one of these days.” (Why?)
- “I hereby promise that I’ll work on my memoir until it’s completed.” (When? Not time-based.)
How to accomplish your goals
Thinking about your goals fires-up the right, creative side of the brain. Whereas writing the goal stimulates the right, logical side.
The simple act of writing goals can nudge your subconscious, freeing it to find new ideas, now that it’s not preoccupied with thinking about the goals.
2. Check in with a writing buddy
Any goal worth achieving won’t happen in a day. It’s important to check your progress regularly to be sure you keep on track. A weekly meeting for “How’s the writing going?” is highly beneficial and occasionally, good therapy.
Having those recurring opportunities for feedback keep everybody motivated, which is especially important for writing goals that span months, possibly years.
3. Celebrate wins along the way
Don’t wait until the major goal is accomplished. Celebrate the little wins along the way.
Set small, incremental goals much like little story arcs within the main arc and cheer each other along when you achieve them. That feels great, which in turn encourages you to move forward to achieve the overarching goal.
SMART Goals and NaNoWriMo
The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fantastic example of using SMART goals. I believe it is the embodiment of this type of goal.
Writers from all over join this awesome writing marathon of sorts. The goal is to write a novel in one month, writing 50,000 words during that time. A thorough explanation of how NaNo works is here.
I tried NaNoWriMo for the first-time last year. I wrote approximately the recommended amount of daily word count and actually wrote those 50,000 words.
We were living off the Sea of Cortez. The area is super loud starting in the mid to late afternoon and into the evening, so I wrote during the morning.
Banda music is big there and not my favorite thing.
If you have never joined NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to try. I was amazed at what I accomplished. I’m still editing that manuscript, but that’s a story for another day.
Do you use SMART goals for writing or any other activity? What do you do to accomplish your goals?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are, The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA fantasy.
Mazatlan sunset photographed by me in March of 2020
by Lisa Norman
The holidays are coming! As writers, we know this is a powerful gift-giving season, and we hope that people will give our books as gifts. As readers, we treasure these hand-chosen gifts of entertainment or enlightenment, knowing that friends have given us something they know we will love.
But this year, there's a problem...or rather a whole bunch of problems. I'd already been working on this article when I was invited to attend a summit meeting on the state of the publishing industry right now. Every speaker started with, "I want to say something positive. But..."
Have you heard?
There's a paper shortage.
Not a toilet paper shortage...a paper shortage.
The cost of wood has increased. Paper mills were reducing production before the pandemic due to decreased demand, but that demand is increasing.
Problem: the pandemic has made it very difficult to increase production of anything due to labor shortages. We could theoretically import paper, but shipping costs are outrageous and the shortages are global.
Much of the material that would normally become paper that could be printed on is instead being made into cardboard boxes. Book manufacturers are wondering if we can use different grades of material to make the paper used in books. Printers are being allocated only so much paper. The problem isn't with the size of their orders, but how much their suppliers can send. Publishers and printers are having to decide which of the many orders they have that they can fulfill. In essence, they are considering rationing the supplies they have.
I'm not even going to talk about the shortages of packing tape, glue, or the special fibers used in making hardcovers.
There's an ink shortage.
Ethanol is used in making ink. Ethanol is also used in the production of disinfectants and the products we use to sanitize surfaces. Medical environments are being given priority access to this limited resource.
There's also a labor shortage.
People are nervous about returning to work while the pandemic continues to make itself felt. Those who can retire early are taking this opportunity. In the book world, this means that we're dealing with a shortage of people to run the presses, stock the warehouses, and drive the trucks.
The printing industry tends to run on an older workforce.
One statistic quoted in the summit was that 1.2 million people over 55 have retired due to COVID. One printer said that Walmart is paying their employees better than they can afford to, and they get full benefits right away. The manual labor needed to run presses, box up the books, and put them on trucks is getting harder and harder to find.
Many printers have closed their doors or gone bankrupt.
Then there's the shipping crisis.
Shipping prices have increased dramatically over the last year as snarls in the Panama Canal and major shipping ports all over the world have caused disruptions. Bottlenecks are causing shortages of shipping containers, while many shipping containers sit on ships around the world, waiting to be unloaded. The cost of shipping has quadrupled.
And of course, the post office is slowing down, too.
In short, the supply chain is a mess.
Holidays are always busy times for printers.
Publishers know they need to plan print orders carefully around the end of the year. What will be the most popular gift book of the season? They need to make sure those are in stock. Chatter in the publishing industry is growing more concerned as publishers place their holiday orders earlier, hoping to get the stock they need in time.
What does this mean for the book industry?
Ingram, one of the largest printers and wholesale fulfillment centers, has announced that they are raising prices for printing in November. We're seeing other printing venues, many of which rely on printers run by Ingram, raising their printing rates as well.
Ingram has asked publishers to consider switching to a print-on-demand model, the same model used by indie authors and publishers.
Traditional publishing and the distributors that manage their books have decided to increase their large orders and order early for the holidays. They have no intention of switching to print-on-demand except under extreme circumstances. (One statistic showed that during the Black Lives Matter movement, when the NYT bestseller list was full of unpredicted titles, 70% of the books sold during that time were print-on-demand.)
My Thoughts About All This
I've been watching this develop and doing a lot of thinking.
- Print books aren't going away. People love books.
- Print books are going to be more expensive to produce. People are going to have to get used to paying more for the privilege of reading printed books, at least in the short term.
- It is possible that alternative fibers may be used.
- Automation is increasing, so more books can be printed with fewer human hours invested.
- People will need to be patient. Deliveries will be delayed. Giving physical books as gifts may become more of a challenge.
Is there an upside?
Actually, there are a few.
- Book sales are increasing, depending on what genre you're looking at.
- Authors have an opportunity to disrupt the publishing industry as we move into this holiday season.
What if we promote audio and digital products?
Embracing the new normal.
Ebooks and audiobooks have advantages over physical books.
- You can increase the font size or change the playback speed
- An entire library can fit in your pocket
- Better for the planet
- No shipping required
What can we do to make giving an ebook or an audiobook more desirable?
If you want to give something tangible, think inside the box.
What if we create beautiful gift cards for ebooks and wrap them up? Ebooks are generally cheaper than printed books. We can give more books for the same price!
7 Ideas for Enhancing eBooks as Gifts
I polled several groups of authors that I know and we put together some ideas to increase the fun factor of egifts.
- Put the download link into a QR code. Then work that QR code into the image on a pretty card, making the card interactive and fun. You can do this with a physical or electronic card.
- Buy a book from a used book store and then put the digital gift code inside as a bookmark -—bonus points if you are giving a book in a series.
- If your gift comes in the form of a code, create a puzzle that reveals the code: put the puzzle in a card. You can get as creative as you'd like with these, from crossword puzzles to quizzes from other books you know this author loves, or even teasers about the gift. Again, this could be a physical card or an email.
- Put the gift code in a box of tea or other reader-friendly experience.
- Give a gift that relates to the book, and attach the ebook code to it.
- Attach the code to a picture of the book cover. Bonus points for framing the image or being creative in how you use the image.
- Create an ultimate reader gift: a warm cozy blanket, mug with supplies for their favorite hot beverage, and a gift code for an ebook you know they'll love.
What about the dilemma around the different technologies that people use to buy their ebooks?
We don't have an easy way to guess what format our gift recipient needs. And yet we face this same dilemma when we give sweaters or jewelry — what size does the person wear? We've grown adept at guessing and being sneaky to figure out our loved one's size. Learning our friends' digital preferences can become part of the gift-giving adventure.
BookFunnel or similar tools may offer a solution
If we do know what type of technology our reader loves, we can give them a gift directly from their chosen venue. Not all, but most, ebook retailers offer the option to give an ebook as a gift to someone. They can email it directly to the recipient. Or, if you "give" it to yourself, you can get a code to give to the recipient to redeem.
One more advantage to ebooks, especially for indie authors.
Generally, a higher percentage of the profits from digital goods go to the authors. By making the move to giving digital gifts, we won't only be saving the planet, we'll be feeding the creatives, helping them to continue creating new and exciting stories for us to share with our loved ones.
What do you think? Who's with me in creating a digital gift-giving disruption this holiday season? Let's discuss in the comment section!
Links for more info:
- Where has all the paper gone?
- Global shortage of ethanol effecting solvents and printing inks
- New York Times: Good News, There's a Labor Shortage
- The shipping crisis is getting worse. Here's what that means for holiday shopping
- Mail Delivery Is About To Get Slower And Pricier Just In Time For The Holidays
- Supply Chain Challenges: Put Your Book Orders In Now For The Holidays
- The Features You Need to Build Your Indie Author Business
- Here's a tool to generate QR Codes
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Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.
Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.
- November: How To Write a Novel in Evernote
- December: It's a Wonderful Writer's Life
- January: Crazy-Easy Awesome Author Websites!
by Becca Puglisi
The change arc. The process whereby, over the course of a story, the protagonist becomes aware of their weakness and evolves in whatever way is necessary for them to achieve their story goal.
Joseph Campbell called this kind of character The Hero with a Thousand Faces because, while each protagonist is different and they each have their own problems, their journey is the same. Their success and happiness are being blocked by a specific flaw that must be dealt with. And most of the time, when their story begins, they're blissfully unaware that there's even a problem.
So how do we turn our ignorant, stuck character into someone who recognizes their fault and actively works to overcome it?
Yes, you read that right. Failure is the key to growth.
When a character makes poor choices, acts impulsively, or lets fear get the better of them, things don't end well. Failure generates more (and bigger) problems and conflict—which lead to more chances for them to either dig a deeper hole or climb toward the light.
Failures are learning opportunities. And just like parents have to sometimes let their kids fall down, authors must provide those same chances for our characters if we want them to grow.
Failure Accents the Character's Flaws
The fatal flaw is your character’s antiquated and ineffective approach to dealing with life’s problems. It consists of mental and behavioral components that work in tandem to protect the character from experiencing emotional hurt. For example, someone who believes people will exploit his vulnerability if he lets them get close may embrace unfriendliness. Technically, this approach works; it certainly keeps people from taking advantage of him. But it does a lot of damage because no one is willing to risk a verbal lashing to have a relationship with him. Over time, he’ll feel isolated and lonely and will probably start to doubt his own worth because he can’t seem to build connections with anyone.
At the beginning of the story, your character is likely oblivious to their fatal flaw. But then conflicts arise, and as they maintain a death grip on their ineffective but comfortable old habits, they become aware of the flaw and how it's holding them back.
Just like real-life self-awareness, this is a slow process for our characters. They may not want to see the truth at first, but as each failure brings their weakness into focus, the character eventually becomes aware of it. This is the first step toward growth, and the only way for the character to get there is to fall on their face multiple times.
As authors, we have to provide the conflict scenarios that will provide these important failures.
Failure Highlights the Need for Change
But awareness doesn't necessarily result in change. How often do we recognize a flaw or shortcoming in ourselves and actively take steps to correct it? Your character will react the same way.
With each conflict that comes along, they'll stick with their old ways because those are familiar. But each instance of digging in their heels and refusing to change will create bigger problems—not only for them, but for the important people in their life. And those choices will bring them no closer to reaching their story goal.
It's painful (for them and for us), but these repeated failures are necessary if the character is going to not only recognize their flaw but realize a need for change.
Failure Pushes the Character to Embrace New Methods
Once the character acknowledges that something's got to give, they'll begin altering the way they respond to conflict. Instead of always resorting to dysfunctional methods, they'll toy with new, healthier approaches, taking baby steps toward change.
But while the character is now moving in the right direction, they're still going to struggle and make mistakes. As the story progresses, the character's plight will worsen until they're faced with a situation where half-measures just won't work. They must fully embrace the change they've been flirting with. At this point, the character will finally reject their old, ineffectual habits and replace them with new ones that will allow them to become the person they were meant to be.
“Finally” will always show up toward the end of a character’s arc because growth takes time. The character will need multiple conflict opportunities to face their demons. In the beginning, they'll fail spectacularly, which will reinforce (in their mind) the need to cling to methods that aren't working. Toward the middle, they'll have more successes—but those will only be partial victories. Growth still needs to happen. And then, in the end, once they fully commit to their new way of dealing with conflict, they'll finally be able to win.
This is the one-step-forward-two-steps-back formula that works so well in stories because it mirrors real life. It takes time and courage to see flaws for what they are and choose the hard road of discarding them and their limitations. Success and failure are intermingled, both parts of a process that eventually result in meaningful growth. And conflict is the vehicle through which we provide these necessary opportunities for our characters.
Do you agree or disagree? How does your protagonist handle failure? How many times does your character have to fail before they learn to overcome their fatal flaw? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!
Note: If you're looking for more information on conflict and the role it plays in a character's arc, The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles (Volume 1) is now available! You can also see the 110 entries (plus a few extras) with a free trial at One Stop for Writers.
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Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and other resources for writers. Her books have sold over 700,000 copies and are available in multiple languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online resource for authors that's home to the Character Builder and Storyteller's Roadmap tools.