Your Character Did What ?? By Ann Haywood Leal

Writers can harvest ideas at the drop of a pick axe, right?  As soon as we sit down and touch our fingers to the computer keys, those brilliant ideas just spill out onto the page like giant raindrops . . . right? 

Yesterday, I gave a mini workshop on grabbing onto ideas and putting them into a story. 

I explained that you must make the reader fall in love with your character from the very first second, so that they will cry right along with your character when bad things happen, and cheer for them until the very last page. 

A woman sat in front of me, listening intently, with a pained expression on her face.  

Great, I thought.  My talk must completely stink, and she'll be heading for the door at any moment.

But she finally raised her hand tentatively.  "I have lots of ideas," she said. 

"Do you write them down?"  I asked.  "What's the idea that is closest to your heart?"

She hesitated for a moment, then went on to talk about her characters and her setting.

"Does your character have a problem?" I asked.

The pained expression soaked into her face again.  "I don't want to give her too much of a problem.  I would feel too bad for her."

"It will keep your reader turning the page," I explained.  

Then, as if the Writer Fairy had cast her magic wand, in walked my friend and author-extraordinaire Eric Luper.  "You have to do it," he said.

We tag-teamed the poor woman, trying to convince her that the worse things got for her character, the more her readers would want to--and have to turn the page.

I hope she is home today feeling truly bad for her character.  I hope she is crying sloppy tears as she harvests her ideas and makes her character's situation almost untenable -- almost.  Then I hope those tears become joyful ones as her character climbs out from under the heavy rock pile.  

Now I'm going to go and try taking my own advice.  The character in my WIP had better be prepared, because things are going to get ugly . . . 


  1. My last YA hit the other end of the spectrum. Man, did I unload some horrible events on my main character. As David Letterman would say, "I wouldn't give her troubles to a MONKEY on a ROCK!"

  2. Ann.
    The more troubles, the better! I'm glad you challenged the writer in your workshop to push her character to the limit:)

  3. I'm quoting Bruce Coville, who I try to channel when I write? "What's the WORST thing I can do to my character now?"


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