On Writing

How Could Things Get Worse?


She paused and looked over the group of us. I, for one, had my most attentive face on, absorbing every word of her talk about how to plot a terrific novel.

Kristan Higgins then laughed with a wicked gleam in her eye. Kristan attended a Catholic school and was taught by nuns. She knows from wicked gleams and piercing stares. She assured us that the very best thing that we could do to write a compelling story was to make things as bad for our protagonist as we possibly could. With that laugh, that sweet and wicked smile, how could we do anything but?

“Keep asking yourself, how can things get worse?”   She exhorted us over and over to come up with the most preposterously, fiendishly possible twist in the plot and then to put our characters into action. In the notes that I scribbled throughout her presentation, I underlined that command so many times that it dug through the page to the other side.

How indeed could I make things worse for my protagonist? Oh, I came up with a few limp ideas. I even worked them into one or two of the five drafts I have for this nerve-shredding novel in progress.

It’s not that the ideas were bad, but they weren’t bad enough. How could I make things worse?

Then, during a long, fast, hard walk at 6:30 in the morning, it came to me. I could shove two powerful enemies into the same room, lock them in there until they worked things out, and see what came of it. One of them is going to die – not because of that event, but because she is dying throughout the entire novel.

Then that question came niggling in on me just as I passed the halfway point in my walk, the point at which I start to yearn for home and cold brewed coffee. How could I make things worse?

Then I had it. It would be so much worse if…. Oh, but I won’t give away my sudden epiphany. You’ll have to read the story for yourself to find out.


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