Raymond Chandler was one of the first of the detective fiction writers. A collection of four LA PI Philip Marlowe books is still available under the name “Trouble Is My Business”. Isn’t that a great description of a writer’s job! Readers love to see their favourite characters get themselves out of trouble. Finding the right trouble to put your particular character into is the trick.
Getting your protagonist into trouble can be done in many ways. Trouble can come in the form of nature, society, aliens, the supernatural, villians, technology, the rest of mankind.
Trouble can happen when another person wants the same thing, what your protagonist has, wants to do your protagonist harm, or wants to murder him or someone he loves and so on.
Trouble can also be internal, in your protagonist’s mind or heart. He or she may have conflicting goals, values, desires, instincts and on it goes.
The worse the trouble you torture your characters with, the more heroic they need to be to overcome it and the more your readers will love them. So, what are you waiting for? Go get someone into deep trouble.
Plotting is fun. Play with your characters (and your readers), plotting dastardly things to do to them, have them do and say. I love doing a brainstorming session with writer or reader friends. Don’t discount anything at first. The more outrageous the better. Let them percolate for a while and see what the girls in the basement come up with.
Make a list, as long as possible. Cliches and hackneyed ideas are easy to come up with. The more original and freshest ideas come further down on the list.
Take your time over it. Preferably, plot your next book(s) while you are writing, editing or resting an earlier one.
When I was reading recently, the words tugged at my heartstrings, popped with new ideas, blasted away the protective coating on my emotions, soothed the hurt, tore the skin off old wounds, then cleansed everything with fresh tears. That’s the pleasure of reading a good book by a skilful writer (The book was Away in Montana by Jane Porter whom I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting several times over the past 11 years).
But, that’s not what the quote talks about. How does writing make me feel? A whole range of emotions including the above. I remember writing my first novel for NaNoWriMo in 2005, sitting at my desk at 11pm when my tradesman husband had been in bed for hours and gotten up again. He said, “Are you coming to bed yet?” My response? “But I want to know what happens!” No, I hadn’t plotted that one! Some things have changed but not all.
‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.’