Push Yourself!

As I've been writing this latest WIP, I'm trying to cover my tracks the best that I can, and I do that by checking and re-checking things along the way. And as I was re-checking some plot issues, I came across this gem that helped with the middle section of my new story.

In Nancy Kress's book Beginnings, Middles, & Ends, she says: 

"Instead of forcing yourself to write the next scene, let the keyboard sit idle and invest time in your characters and plot. Scribble notes if you like. Do you understand what your characters want? Could they maybe want something else you've overlooked? What's at stake in their story? Can you raise the stakes? Has the plot come to a standstill? What are some other directions it might take--even seemingly wild directions? Does anything about these scribbled notes excited you? Does that excitement suggest something you might want to write?"

In other words, for me this said: PUSH YOURSELF! Push your plot past the boundaries of what you thought you were capable of writing. Push you characters to their limits, see what they really want, see how far the stakes can go to make them higher.

I've noticed this in TV shows (ahem, the third season of Vampire Diaries, which I just gobbled up) where the characters get stuck in situations and I'm always like how are they going to get out of this one? And the plot always takes twists that I don't expect, and it makes me have to keep watching. At the SCBWI conference in LA last month, Jay Asher said to never give your readers a comfortable place to close the book--you always want to keep amping up the suspense. So I've been trying to do that with my latest WIP.

What are your thoughts? Has your plot taken you places you never thought it would? Do you find that to keep up in the market you have to continually push boundaries, to see what you can accomplish, or does it not even cross your mind? I'd love to know!

13 comments

Morgan said...

What a great post. I LOVE plot, and I love reading plot books. And one thing I need to do better is let the characters drive the plot forward... instead of ME driving the plot forward, if that makes sense! I need to check out this book! (And Jay Asher... *why* did I not go to his class? *shakes fist*) ;)

Linda Jackson said...

Excellent post. Thanks for the reminder. :)

Rena said...

This is a fantastic post. Working on plot can be really hard when we're in the thick of it, and I'm constantly trying to figure out Who's in it for what and what's in their way.

Rebecca Barrow said...

"never give your readers a comfortable place to close the book"--that is such a great tip and one I've never really thought about before. When I find myself up at three in the morning still turning pages I always tell myself to just STOP, but now I know why I can't! I'm definitely going to try to think about this when I write from now on.

J. A. Bennett said...

I totally need this, I need to be pushed and my plots do too!

Kelley Lynn said...

For my edits, I had to push the romance. :) I think it turned out pretty good ;)

Great post!

Julia King said...

Sometimes I feel bad for doing some things to my characters. BUT. It is needed to push the plot forward. I like the idea of letting the keyboard be idle to check where the story is going. Great thoughts. And thx for this blog post. It has been super helpful!

Carrie-Anne said...

I definitely experienced that while writing my Russian novel sequel last year. I'd had the entire book memorized in my head for about half my life, and outlined on paper for a decade. I'd always envisioned the black moment near the end as the female protagonist voluntarily (if a bit out of it following a difficult birth) committing adultery near the end of her separation. But I realized that would never work, since when I'd plotted it in my head, I only knew her as the character she was in the first book. For her to do that, it would erase all the emotional growth and maturation she'd undergone. It would make about as much sense as Scarlett still pining for Ashley at the end of GWTW. I was so pleased with how the black moment unfolded instead. It was a lot more painful for her, and pushed the antagonist to his lowest acts ever, but it made sense for how the characters and story had evolved, and it was awesome to write.

Caryn Caldwell said...

I love this! You are so right (and so is Ms. Kress). I think sometimes there's the push to write automatically, to get so many words down, that people just put down the first thing that comes to mind, even if it's not the most creative or interesting.

Crystal Licata said...

This is great advice! Your reference to Vampire Diaries really clicked with me since I'm so obsessed with that show. Now I know why. The stakes are constantly rising and the characters are always in crazy situations. Thanks for reminding us to push ourselves :)

Daisy Carter said...

Excellent post! I needed this advice! Right now, I'm trying NOT to stop writing, simply because I'm learning that, for me, re-reading or editing as I go brings me to a screeching halt during a first draft. So, my motto this month is: keep moving forward. But I plan to write PUSH YOURSELF under that - to remind me to make my characters really work hard to get what they want and need.

STILL haven't watched VD. Gotta get on that soon!

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Livia said...

This is a great post! Yes, we must push ourselves when writing characters. We can't be afraid of pushing out of our boundries because it will be ok in the end. :)

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