This week: The Importance of FailureEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about letting your character fail before he succeeds.
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
~ Truman Capote
“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”
~ C.S. Lewis
“It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
~ Bill Gates
The Importance of Failure
The Drive to Succeed
From the time we’re children, we’re taught to keep doing something until we succeed. No one accomplishes something difficult on the first try, whether it’s potty-training, learning to read, excelling at sports, driving a car, mastering a computer game, or studying for a career.
The first tries are filled with errors and mistakes.
But we keep going—and we find ourselves delighted when we finally accomplishment it.
We are programmed to root for success, and the harder the challenge, the bigger the thrill when we finally conquer it.
We feel the same way about the protagonists we read about. Every failure just makes us root for them more.
The Hero vs. The Villain
The engine driving any horror novel or short story is the conflict between the hero and the villain, even if the villain isn’t a person or creature. It could be a plague, a wilderness challenge, a natural or man-made disaster, or a meteor on a collision course with Earth.
Whatever challenge your hero must conquer, it’s important that he fail in his first attempts. With every failure, the reader will be frustrated and become more invested in seeing the hero succeed in the end.
Plotting, Planning, and Failure
There are basically two kinds of failure: being unable to physically accomplish the task and misjudging the strategy needed to win. Both of these can be used to make your hero fail.
When your hero understands the problem he faces and decides to do something about it -- that's when you start making his life difficult.
He may charge off to battle the enemy, but you surprise him (and the reader) by making the opponent stronger or sneakier than expected.
He may decide that there's a certain technique or strategy that must be used to solve the problem, and you ruin his attempt by having it not work.
Guidelines to help you to plot the hero's failure:
The main character decides on a goal, plans how to accomplish it, and takes action.
The main character is confronted by opponent(s) or an unforeseen complication, but still believes he can achieve his goal. The conflict begins -- it can be an argument, a fight, or a struggle to accomplish something.
The main character fails to achieve the goal. Plus, some surprising new element occurs that increases the problem (like the villain is stronger than expected or there's new information that negates the character's plans). At the end of the scene, the character is worse off than at the beginning and his goal seems farther away than ever.
(This is a good place for a cliffhanger to end a chapter or a scene. The new chapter or scene begins with the following:)
The main character narrowly escapes from the situation through luck, by their own ingenuity, or by being rescued by others.
The main character's goal is still unrealized. His plan failed. He should react emotionally (with disbelief, disappointment, anger, frustration, or guilt, etc.).
The main character realizes he must analyze why his plan failed. He recognizes he must change his strategy, and he considers different options. These options should be things that he finds difficult -- either harder to accomplish or something that will make him go outside his comfort zone.
Decision/New Plan ~
The character chooses an option, decides on a new plan to achieve his goal, and takes action.
(This last guideline is the same as the first one, so you can skip the first one if you continue on.)
Repeat these steps as often as necessary until the hero finally succeeds and the story ends.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some spooky stories for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Showing Fear" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
Jeff writes: Thanks for featuring the Sinister Stories contest in this week's newsletter!
You’re welcome, Jeff!
Osirantinous writes: Excellent newsletter!!! I enter Screams quite a bit (and help judge it sometimes) and instilling fear in 1000 words is an art form!! I'm not a natural horror/scary writer so your examples of the different ways of scaring the heck out of readers is a great tool for me. Thanks!
You’re welcome, and thank you very much for replying to the newsletter!
Darleen ~ Working Woman writes: Thanks so much for featuring "Dark Dreamscapes Poetry Contest" in your newsletter. I love reading your tips! ~Darleen
You’re welcome for the promo, and thank you very much for the kind words.
Literary Demon writes:
Hi LJPC - the tortoise ! I have a question. How do I instill fear without making the setting scary? I mean, what if it's absolutely necessary that my story takes place in daylight in an incredibly non-scary setting like a children's park? I like my stories to be realistic and there's nothing stopping a murder from taking place in the sandpit, is there?
- Literary Demon
Hi Literary Demon,
You can make any setting scary, even if it's in broad daylight. You have to use descriptions (like similes and metaphors) to twist the "normal" things into creepy things, and you can insert details that are ominous or eerie.
Here are some examples: READ MORE ▼
9 years whew! writes: Another great nl. I've been trying to write intensity and suspense in my new book. I see by your examples I need to look at other writers for good examples.
I’ve found reading in my genre helps a lot with my writing because I can better understand the standards of the industry and what the audience expects. Good luck with your own reading!
Vampyr14 writes: Great examples of how to up the tension. I don't have monsters or murder in most of my books, but there still needs to be tension to keep the readers turning pages.
Yes, tension and conflict are pre-requisites in all genres. Thanks for writing to the NL—I always appreciate your comments!
BIG BAD WOLF submits "What's Behind Me?" and writes: Plenty of scary things out there.
Yes, there really are!
billwilcox writes: What an informative newsletter....excellent. I believe most writers run out of good words describing FEAR, like: dread, despair, dismay, doubt, anxiety, apprehension, stress, panic, fret, and agonize, to name just a few. To just say, 'he was scared' doesn't work anymore. Be descriptive!
Thanks so much for the support. I love reading your comments!
Taniuska writes: Such a great post... and love your examples:)
Thanks so much, Tania! I really appreciate it when you comment on my newsletters!
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