As good as my new manuscript was, some of my readers felt the first 150 pages needed a pick me up. I knew what my character wanted and had put her in a situation that threatened it. And an ally of hers suggested a high risk solution that could lead to success or destruction.
So what was missing? Why did the beginning feel episodic?
I rarely crack open a craft book, but when I do I often discover a single, simple idea that resonates–at times I stumble on one that resonates so strongly that it changes how I write. In Lisa Cron’s STORY GENIUS, the idea that redirected me was “misguided thoughts.”
Some writing guides talk about character wounds which cause the protagonist to make bad decisions or shy away from tackling obstacles to getting what they want. But the notion of wounds didn’t explain my character well enough. Yes, my character was devastated by loss, but that didn’t explain her choices.
Cron describes a misguided thought as “a defining misbelief that stands in the way of achieving the desire.” She refers to this in shorthand as fear, but I see it as a distorted lens through which the character perceives and analyzes the motivations and actions of all the other characters they interact with.
My character’s choices were based on what she believed about human nature based on how she’d been treated in the past, and what she now assumed about people she barely knew.
I track my stories on a chart as I write which I picked up from Martha Alderson’s THE PLOT WHISPERER. Along with columns that note the story action by chapter, the character’s goals, the setting, time frame, and what happens in subplots—I added a column marked Misguided Thoughts and Desires.
I went back to my manuscript and for each chapter I wrote down what my character desired and how her thinking was messed up—what lies she was willing to believe, what evidence and beliefs fed the excuses she made, and what lies she told herself and others.
Going back through the manuscript this way helped bring those things to the surface. As I unearthed these land mines, my character verbalized them better. The tone of the early chapters changed as their purpose became more clear. I feel the scenes have a new energy and I’m excited to send this off to my agent.
Now we’ll see if this book sells.