Wednesday, August 4, 2010



My characters -- and your characters -- have problems. Some of them are big problems and some of them are smaller problems. Since my current WIP has two main characters, each with their own storylines, they have different problems.

Piper's problem is that she's all kinds of angsty over her (for lack of a better word) childhood sweetheart.

Zooey's problem is that she's the only one who knows her dad's having an affair.

It is obvious who has the larger problem here, right?


And that's the thing. Different people and different books and different characters have different problems to deal with. Some of these are small and some of them are larger and some of them are the end of the world as we know it. I've been thinking about this lately because how am I supposed to treat Piper's teenage angst with the same respect that I give to Zooey's very real problems? And should I give them the same respect?

Answer: Yes, absolutely.

As a writer, I want my readers (if I ever have any) to be able to empathize with both girls and their stories. I don't want anyone to think that because Piper's problem only affects her that it doesn't matter or that she's being selfish or that what she's going through doesn't matter. In order to do that I have to be able to write both stories with the right about of empathy and sympathy for these characters and what they're going through.

I'm telling you this because for the past two days I've been trying desperately to change Zooey's story. To give her a different problem, one that wasn't so sad, one that wouldn't affect so many other characters, one that wasn't so much bigger than what Piper was going through. So I figured instead of writing a story about a family breaking apart, I'd write about a friendship breaking up.

I tried really hard to write that because it was just about as bad as Piper's problem. It seemed to make the two sisters more equal, make the two halves of the novel equal.

I finally realized I had to go back to the original story. Why? Because not only was I changing the character of Zooey, but I wasn't treating anyone's problem with respect anymore. I was acting like because Piper's problem was about a boy, that it didn't matter. I was pretending that losing a friend doesn't hurt like heck and shake up your whole world. I was trying to compare problems, make everything equal, and in the process I ignored the story that Zooey's character needed me to tell.

So this is what I'm saying. Tell the story that you need to write or that your character demands, even if it's tough or if there are bigger problems you could give your characters or if you don't quite know how it's all going to work out. Your character's problem matters to her/him, and it should matter to you. No matter what it is.

Remember this. Don't trivialize. Give your characters and their stories/problems the respect they deserve.