Last night, I had an idea for a story. Two characters, a setting, a small challenge, eventually a backstory that created a larger challenge. Now a minor character who barely appears in the first half is growing a personality (a rather stereo-typical one so far — he represents a challenge, but he isn’t a challenge himself). And another character who represents the first challenge of the book. I’ve seen a few rooms for the setting. Personality flaws, recognition and methods of kicking-ass thereof. I even have an opening scene, sort of, and a few variations on some of the other key scenes. The closing is syrupy, though.
Yes, I thought of all of this instead of doing the relaxation exercises that would have helped me sleep. Conscious (well, as conscious as I was a the time) choice, and I’m paying for it now.
So why shouldn’t I write it?
I have posters and brochures to print and distribute (well, volunteers to co-ordinate, which takes less time but more effort than a few days of driving around the city) for a guild. Bookkeeping is 3 months behind. Travels start in 5 days. You get the picture.
Last time I wrote a novel, my emotional resources went into that, and weren’t available for my family. Not good.
I know someone with each of them, not that I realized it at the time I chose them. Oops.
I prefer stakes beyond the protagonist and close friends. That’s not to say I don’t need a good character arc, with flaws and mistakes and growth, but that’s not usually enough to keep me reading.
What about adding a Big Bad Guy to raise the stakes? No one has stood up. I’ve got a little bad guy in the first half, but the only Obstacles that ring true are internal, or parts of the setting which feed the internal obstacles. The main line doesn’t want interference from an unrelated line.
Or maybe I’m not ready to be mean enough to my characters and give them an obstacle worth reading about.
That lack of stakes also adds to the syrupy ending. This story is over when the character deals with his internal flaws. Only the people immediately around him are affected. The stories I like affect society as a whole, even if only a few people know about it. The murderer won’t kill again. The people have a better ruler. War is averted. Bomb doesn’t go boom. Three people I care about being unhappy just isn’t high enough stakes to keep me reading.
You know the classic mistake of a literary author, even one who is very good in her field, trying to show SF authors “how its done”? It goes the other way too.
This isn’t my genre. I like Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Space Opera, and Cozy Mysteries. This story is Contemporary New Adult Romance with only three people at risk.
(Contemporary = set in generic current day, with no magic.)
(Young Adult = start healthy, safety-net (at least for normal things like room and board) old enough they don’t have to ditch the parents before the adventure starts, young enough that it’s their first job…love…tragedy, and other people still help with things like room and board.)
(New Adult = legally adults, but struggling in the new role, no safety net. Damaged in the backstory. Except in my book they’re both 18, without the support teenagers usually have, and forced into transition early.)
What about setting the story in the future or a fantasy world? I like that idea, but it would break the cardinal rule of SF. If you could replace the futuristic tech or magic or society with things we already have without changing the plot, then it’s not SF. And that still wouldn’t solve the stakes problem.
Maybe throw in a dead body? They’re already dealing with enough “normal life” that they don’t have time for a dead body, although that’s pretty common in cozy mysteries. (Off to wikipedia to check definition of cozy mystery. Yep, I know and like half the authors listed, and dislike none of them. Also like the female Golden Age authors.)
Normally I live in the female character’s head. I’m female, so it makes sense. This time, though, the character with the most growth is male. And the rest of the jobs and genders are classic. Oops. How to switch them up a bit and make it integral to the plot rather than “female in male job – checkmark earned”.
I even researched some of the subtleties of the setting, mostly areas of law I’m not familiar with. Some common beliefs are wrong; many details vary widely with jurisdiction.  Some is about to change. So, I can either do enough research to get it absolutely right, and be specific, or be a bit vague about the jurisdiction and pick-and-choose the rules to fit the story. (Or find something futuristic or magical that can’t be replaced and invent the jurisdiction.) I also found a report on a survey of survivors and mentors which lists all sorts of challenges under the current system, not all of which are easy to fix.
(One author confirmed with the appropriate police department that you don’t need a permit to carry a specific size handgun concealed, but most of the readers didn’t believe her.)
One could say that I should have spent the last hour working on the outline, but in writing this I’ve identified and solved several problems.