In the previous post of this series, I talked about using Morning Pages to get ideas for what you want to write about. This is a way to see what’s just beneath the surface of your mind: something that’s ready to emerge.
But once you’ve found such material, what do you do with it? The answer is to come up with characters for whom it’s important, and to put them in situations where they’ll be forced to cope with the issue.
Let’s say you find yourself thinking about taking a stand on something important—a topic that’s on a lot of people’s minds these days. (Gee, I wonder why.) To use this theme in a story, you might develop a character who finds him or herself in a position where taking a stand seems necessary, but where it’s also going to have serious negative consequences.
After all, there’s no drama if a character has things easy. If the issue is just, “We should be nice to puppies,” the character isn’t going to lose friends, alienate family, and risk jail time for spreading that message. (Yes, I’m sure some of you out there can quickly come up with a scenario where being nice to puppies is hugely threatening to the social order. But chill. You know what I’m getting at.)
So you make a character who’s torn between (at least) two strongly weighted alternatives. Remember that the character should be someone you care about, and that readers are likely to care about too. Also remember that the character should have something significant to lose…and not just in a material sense. The character should face an emotional price, whichever option (s)he chooses.
Then be honest about consequences. Even when an issue has an unambiguously right decision (if such a thing ever exists), there are bound to be negative consequences even when you do the right thing. People get hurt. Things go wrong. Side effects happen. It’s never perfect sweetness and light.
But if you’ve chosen to write about something that truly means something to you, thinking and writing about such matters is a worthwhile way to spend your time, even if the writing is difficult.
Writing is good. Writing about meaningful things is better.