I have recently lost a considerable amount of weight by giving up a major vice: pop. Other areas of the country refer to this as “soda,” “soda pop,” “Coke,” “Pepsi,” or probably a dozen other words, depending on the local dialect. Sadly, this was also my major source of caffeine, which relates directly to the picture to the side.
I am not an advocate of drugs, but I have noticed a distinct increase in word production on days where I consume a little of my preferred caffeinated beverage, Mountain Dew. Some times, even so far as giving me a 100% boost to my “normal” amount in a given time. For a specific example, Wednesday night, after a long day of work with a fair amount of stress, I came home and knocked out almost eight pages. I had about a liter of Mountain Dew that day.
Today, I had a similar amount and already wrote up another page in about ten minutes. It may not be stellar work, but words on electronic paper are better than words trapped in the brain.
There are healthier alternatives to Mountain Dew, I am well aware. Tea is wonderful, but as a southerner, if my tea is not sweet, then it is not tea. Some tea powder packets have caffeine listed in their ingredients though, and pack the sweet flavor without the calories. I lean on those a lot these days.
I recently encountered an interesting situation in the writing of my second novella. A minor character that I originally intended to only be part of a single chapter suddenly manifested as a very major character. Not only is the character now already written into four chapters, but he is now set to be a constant companion through the rest of the work. To be clear, I had no intention of utilizing the character that much, but he became good enough.
I have visited writing sites that have poo-poo’d the idea that authors can let characters essentially write themselves, but the real trick is to figure out what the characters would do or say, if they were real. Where writers may go awry is trying to force characters that are not meant to be something or do an action that is completely outlandish for them. An example: In the first Harry Potter, if Ron had been the one that stood up to Harry instead of Neville, no one would have bought it. Ron is supposed to be the best friend, through thick and thin (though that bond is tested later). Readers would never have bought it, and the author would never have written it that way.
Aside from being a great source of Beta-Carotene to enhance night vision for would be super heroes, carrots are also the things you dangle in front of a character to motivate them into doing something. Essentially, the carrot is the reward for performing the act that the author wants, or in a different phrasing, it is why the character will do whatever it is they are meant to do. Much as characters may seem to write themselves for some, while for others, everything is planned perfectly from start to finish, understanding what motivates each character is essential to making them realistic.
In the above example, Neville stands up to Harry. Why? Because he is tired of getting in trouble and wants to win the House Cup. Sure, it is a simple motivation, but some times, a simple carrot is all that is needed.
I often run into a hurdle in the form of a snag in my stories where something is not working. I have found that examining the carrots that I have dangling in front of the various characters will reveal why. Does that character really have a reason to hate the protagonist? Does the girl falling head over heels in love with the protagonist work? Or does the girl have the hots for the bad boy, which leaves the protagonist without a happily ever after later?
So, get some caffeine, eat some carrots, and let your characters do what feels realistic. The rewards for all three are clearly evident to me, though your mileage may vary. In the mean time, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to peruse my latest project: a Kickstarter Campaign to launch my novella, “Stormbringer.” If you cannot pledge, and I perfectly understand that, feel free to share the link with your friends. Thank you.
- E. D. Johnson