We’re all Reacting to Life

Recently I began to think about the (fiction-writing) imperative that a main character must make things happen.

One of the most consistent criticisms of Linnea, the central character of my Lindorm novel, is that she’s too passive.  “Everything happens to  her,” someone said, “and she’s always having to close the gap and react.

Linnea is my first (grown up) heroine.

When I created her I was telling a story. I wasn’t thinking of forms or expectations (hey, I was just trying to make word count half the time).  She grew out of my image of this wounded girl with too much strength to simply roll over and take it.  She continued to think and walk, and even fight when she could find (or create) the weapons.

I really admired her, because she did what I wanted to be able to do: choose the right way to respond.  I wasn’t thinking about how she was “always reacting” because that’s the way (probably unconsciously) I saw myself and people in general.

And I still do.

Lots of people have repeated the line about how our character is not shaped/displayed so much by what happens to us as by how we respond to what happens to us.

The fantasy of a proactive, powerful protagonist is part of our collective hunger to have more control than we have.

I believe most our life what we do with what we’ve been given: given to us either by powers outside of us, outside our control; or what we’ve given ourselves, in the form of decisions we’ve already made, and are now living out.

For example, being married and having children dramatically restricts the number of choices I have.  Because I’ve made the choice to live honorably.  This is a proactive choice I made. No one coerced me into it.  But it now restricts my “options”.

Every Yes we declare is a hundred silent Nos.   The more we live, the more choices we make, the more we are hemmed in by our own freedoms.

I would argue this is why the Young Adult category is one of the most exciting places to write; not only because your characters have more genuine, clean, and life-shaping choices to make over the course of the tale, but also because those choices are felt by those who read them.

Young people are trying on decisions through their reading, experimenting with how they fit.

Readers who are older, who’ve already experienced the profound familiarity breaking away, of falling in love, of screwing up massively and wondering if there’s redemption, relive the fear and excitement.  This is what good stories are for, and as long as they bring us along for the ride (and we like the ride) I’m less concerned about who started the story.

I care most about how the characters end it.

Novel Samples Available

To give a quick update, I am now ~2/5ths through my latest revision (at least, there are 5 distinct sections, and I’m one chapter from being done with section #2).

I have had difficulty staying focused this round, and was relieved to find a reason.

The short version is that my life has been really stressful lately (I’ve moved, set up housekeeping, restarted homeschooling and attempted to restart our gluten-free eating.  Apparently too much for a single month’s efforts).

While the novel used to be my go-to recreation, the amount of tension in the story on top of the tension in my real life has been more than I’ve had energy for.

Did you know that your body processes stress and adrenaline (essentially) as it hits the brain, not waiting for reality.  This is why worry can be so damaging (your body is continually gearing up for the worst), and why we feel so exhausted after an intense story.

This really just entered my awareness last week when my writing friend (Hi, Jennifer!) brought up two categories of murder mysteries: thrillers and cozies.  People looking for a rush read the first kind, and people who read to relax gravitate to the second.

So I did question for a while whether I’m writing the right story or the right genre, mainly because I’m so weary I question whether I can continue creating a whole world (and an intense world, no less!).

But then I find I can’t really quit, so on we go.

I’ve decided to release the story in sections to people I know, so if you’re willing to give feedback and we’ve talked before, comment here or send me an e-mail and I’ll get you the first block (then the next once you comment on the first).

The third and fourth sections contain the most changes for this newest draft, so they may be longer in coming, but several of you have been so patient already I wanted to give you the option of reading a bit of the story, if you would like, while you wait for the full.

Staying Happy

I started writing a different post, about what I would change if I didn’t “owe” anyone, if I were free to be self-centered and do whatever I want to do.

Then I realized, I kinda am.

That is, unlike the people I genuinely pity, I really am living the life I want to. And it’s not easy.

So I didn’t pick an easy life.
Moving on.

This brilliant (unpublished) post enumerated the three directions I feel pulled in, and I said–

What? My world’s falling apart over three things?

Now, granted, my world was not falling apart (just my focus), and there are a LOT more than three things on my mind right now (each category has numerous subsections), but to see clear sections has settled me down, and I’m back to believing I have a reasonable number of things to manage.


I was just working out some story grids for my POV characters

[Character] wants [Goal]
In order to [Motivation]
But [Complications complicate]

And Tykone’s grid cracked me up. There seems to be a fine potential for comedy here (something I’ve felt deficient in), but I have to work into mean-author mode before it could be fully realized.

Tykone wants to rescue Linnea
in order to prove he has value as a protector, establish his identity as he wishes it to be
but other people keep doing it first.

I laughed out-loud just writing that. But Tykone himself is so serious and tragic it seems backward and near-cruel to make him the core of jokes or running gags.

I mean, in the end, in good comedic fashion, he needs to be rescued by her.

But I don’t think I can rub his face in his own weakness.