I finished Wired for Story last month and I’m still thinking about it, highlighting it, and yes, tweaking my revision checklist based on what I learned. In other words, I fell in love with Wired with Story. If it was in humanoid form and I practiced polygamy, it would be my second husband.
The biggest thing that resonated with me is this: the best stories are the one where Hero’s actions create the story. This sounds simple enough, right? But the question is, are you actually letting the Hero make his own choices? Or did you want a certain scene and so you’re pushing the Hero to that scene?
The author’s pre-determined plot points should not be putting the Hero through the ringer. The Hero’s actions and decisions should. And these actions and decisions start when the Hero makes his first decision: to enter the ring.
Entering the Ring
In The Matrix, Neo enters the ring when he chooses to take the red pill.
In Groundhog Day, Phil enters the ring when he stops saying/doing what he usually says.
In Up, Carl enters the ring when he inflates his balloons and lifts his house off of the plot of land that is going to be developed.
A lot of writers (me included at times) think entering the ring is the only decision that the Hero takes. The rest of the story is just a whirlwind of destiny and fate.
It is not.
A Hero Needs to Throw His Own Punches
A Hero doing nothing but being pushed and shoved by the story is not a fun hero to follow. You’ve read this story, you’ve seen this movie. They feel loooong. You keep reading and you keep watching because you were conned into thinking it was a good story with a great Hero because the Hero had entered the ring with a bang.
But after that first decision, there are not a lot of decisions being made anymore. The Hero is just bobbing along with the story as others make decisions for him—from side characters or the author.
For instance….In the movie Brave, Merida is upset with her mom for wanting her to behave a certain way. So while Merida’s at a retired witch’s house, she mentions she wants a spell to change her mom and to change her own fate.
She gets some magic tarts and takes them back to her mom, and her mom turns into a bear.
I was so freaking confused as I watched this movie, and I don’t get confused with movies. For instance, I had no problem following The Matrix (I was so enthralled when I first saw it that I went back outside, paid for a second ticket, and watched it again).
I was confused with Brave because the actions and decisions being made by the main character, Merida, made no sense to me.
For me to understand a young girl asking for a spell to put on her mom, I would have had to see the mom being evil. I also would have had to see Merida obsessed with changing her mom. I did not see either of these things.
I also would have had to see Merida actively looking for this retired witch, a seed of an idea in her head that she was going to ask for a spell that would change her heinous mom. In reality, Merida followed a “wisp” into the forest, having no idea where it was taking her.
Merida was not showing actions and decisions that were organically her own. They were the author(s)’ preconceived ideas.
And the story, in my opinion, suffered. I did not care about Merida as I did with Rapunzel (I knew the why for all of her decisions!) or Anna or Belle.
Is the Hero Your Puppet, Or Are You the Hero’s Storyteller?
Take a step back and see if you are creating a story that you’re trying to jam your character into.
Our Hero shouldn’t be our puppet, dancing when we say they should dance.
You need to have them get up, look out at the dance floor, see the girl they have a crush on, and then throw up the bean burrito they bought out of the vending machine.
Because that’s the action that will make the Hero wipe the vomit off his face and fight for his life and make you into a storyteller.
And not a puppeteer.
Sydney Strand is a fiction writer who has published two young adult books through New York and another six books via self-publishing. Over the last two years, she has focused on writing fun romances, but not of the Red Room of Pain variety. More like the Dan and Roseanne/Sam and Diane variety–humor is sexy, dontcha know. You can follow Sydney on Instagram (1st Favorite), Twitter (2nd Favorite), and Facebook (Not a Favorite). She’s also at www.sydneystrand.com. (Her favoritest of favorites.)