Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – VII

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I awoke at 5:00 a.m. knowing I had reached the stage of fatal flaws. Many parts of the writing process are difficult – beginning, getting through the middle, ending. As Hemingway so aptly put it – nothing hard about writing … just sit down and open a vein. I believe the fatal flaw stage has the biggest potential to derail a first draft. Not negotiating this part of the writing process is probably the reason many manuscripts languish in drawers gathering dust. Or, now-a-days, buried on our hard drives in a folder marked – Unfinished.

I’m 145,000 words in, characters set, storylines wound tight around one another. Then I wake up knowing that my credibility will be stretched beyond the breaking point if I attempt to have character A, as currently described, do this at one point in the story and that at another. It simply won’t work. Readers worth their chops won’t buy it.


Case in point: A quirky character who dresses oddly, who has crazy hair, who has a real edge and is at times decidedly snarky. This same character is also a cheerful daycare provider who loves kids and is someone who would be invited to participate in a steamy dance video.

It’s a stretch! Can one character truly be all these things?

What to do? I  have a few options.

1. Exploring the character’s internal motivations is a great tool for getting reader to buy in. Maybe I can find a way to make everything fit based on what’s inside the character’s head.

2. Then there’s story arc. It could be that between one end of the spectrum and the other, this character has changed. Maybe all I need to do is make that growth more obvious.

I consider the above two options easy fixes compared to the next two.

3. Maybe the story requires a character B to carry one part of the plot while character A sticks with the other. Hopefully this mysterious character B is already part of the story and with a few tweaks can be made to perform. At this stage, I am reluctant to weave in a new character.

4. I may have to change the story to fit the characters rather than vice versa. That will be complicated and create echoes and repercussions backwards and forwards.

An option I’ll mention but do not recommend.

5. Carry on and hope readers have a high tolerance for inconsistency. This route is sure to irritate and remember the number one commandment of writing – thou shalt not piss off the reader.

How would you resolve the dilemma of the fatal flaw stage?

Right way - Wrong way - google image

10 comments on “Thoughts from the Writing Trenches – VII

  1. jane tims says:

    Hi Fran. I have known lots of people with weird twists in their personality. Kids often like quirky people once they get over any fear of the different! I’d be tempted to explain/reconcile rather than introduce any new characters! Jane

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    I’d run with it, speaking for myself only as my first drafts pretty much survive without re-writes. It’s written from the hip and that’s the way the reader gets it, whether or not there are flaws. I can’t imagine your meticulous methods allowing that though Fran 🙂

    • Oh, you’d be surprised, Roy. All sorts of things sneak up and bite me in the butt during this writing process 🙂 I realized the other day that I’d given a new character the same last name as a peripheral character from one of the other books. And I was using both in this book and not even realizing it. Planning can never account for all the crazy twists of the writing life.

  3. Behind the Story says:

    I’d go with a modification of #1 and a bit of #2.

    We all show different sides of ourselves in different circumstances. I can see her letting her hair go crazy until it’s time to work with the kids. Then she puts it into a pony tail or braids it. I used to be a kindergarten teacher, but even teachers are tempted to get sexy when the music is right. Your character may be uneasy about doing the video but gets talked into it.

    The modifications I’m thinking of might be too much for you. Clothing: Does she like to wear quirky clothes sometimes or is she wedded to the same odd clothing and can’t see herself wearing anything else? If it’s the latter, you could change that.

    The other potential modification is about her “edge” and her being snarky. It depends on how mean she is. Or is she just being a smart ass? I assume this is a first draft. Would it be too hard to soften her a bit by changing some of what you’ve already written?

    It seems that you could keep her by doing both #1 and #2, by explaining her motivation and by having her change as time goes on.

    • Yup – I worked out almost as you outline. I went with internal motivation to make it clearer why she was snarky and it turned out it was only with one person. I altered the storyline only slightly to keep her out of the dance video but keep her in the scene by giving her a different role. Viola – it all worked out. For now, anyway. Who knows what dilemmas will come up in the rewrites. Thanks so much, Nicki. for such a thorough response. It makes me think of whole new blog posts based on these ideas of how one resolves flaws.

  4. I would analyze what it is this character brings to your story and determine the most important aspects of her that you want to bring out to enrich your arc. How important is it that her hair is wild? What essential part of her character does that convey? If she’s an anti-establishment sort of woman, her hair and dress may reflect that. That doesn’t necessarily contradict her quality as someone who is great with kids. Maybe enhance her style with the kids from “cheerful” which reminds me of a cheerleader, to someone who, because she is anti-establishment and a bit different, has a genuineness to her character that enables her to connect with children where others can’t. So, I’m thinking option 1 & 2 with a bit of “kill your darlings” thrown in the mix. There may be a part that you wrote so well, you don’t want to part with it, but it might not fit with how your character has evolved through the whole arc. I trust that you know how to write character growth, as you have done it so well time and time again in your novels. Plus, I want you to finish so I can read the next phase of the Crater Lakes series!

    • Nice to hear from you Kristin – hey anybody reading this comment stream. Kristin has a new book out – The Things We Said in Venice – Check it out! I resolved my issue with Sadie using a combo of points that both you and Nicki have mentioned. Your comment also gives me ideas for other posts – this analysis of character traits for the vital ones in terms of the story is important. I’m not sure how it works for you, Kristin, but I work up character sketches before the whole story is clear. I’m sure attributes that become redundant or contradictory accrue. Always having to cull things – the writer’s mantra.

      • Yes. That culling process is very difficult Francis. Glad that our collective comments helped you in resolving this issue! I suppose we all work differently. I write sketches of the characters and they let me know more about themselves as I continue to write. Sometimes I have to go back and change things about them and all the connecting links when I learn that they are, for example, vegan. That changes their philosophies, their interactions with others, what they order at a restaurant. Anyway, Looking forward to seeing the finished book! And thanks for the call out.

        • I use the constantly-being-edited-for-new-information character sketch for all my books. These people definitely evolve as we work with them. As you mention, Kristin, some changes have all kinds of repercussions.

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