Nice authors can be dull ones.
I think that authors should be well-behaved and respectful. They should have great ethics and never be undignified or rude in public where their readers can see them. I fully believe that an author’s brand is far too fragile (especially in this competitive market) to risk alienation by their readers for their bad behavior.
But when it comes their writing, authors need to stop being meek. Instead they should be as mean as they can possibly be within the confines of their genre.
If well-mannered authors carry their sweetness into their stories too much, they risk weakening their books.
Nice people can make dull writers.
Not-so-nice authors need to be hard on their main characters. Great stories are built on conflict and the more conflict, the more tension. The more tension? The more the readers are engaged in what’s going on. A sweet and gentle writer may feel sorry for their poor main character and ease up on them a bit. But that will put readers to sleep faster than herbal tea. Instead, once the protagonist’s goal is determined, the not-so-nice author should put obstacles and setbacks around every corner. So what if the protagonist doesn’t like it? They aren’t real!
Not-so-nice authors need to start some wars between characters. Nothing makes me more stabby than when my children argue for the sake of arguing. I am a huge fan of peace and quiet. But in my books, I need to be willing to start some personality wars. A not-so-nice author should create deceptions, misunderstandings, lies, contradictions and failures. The protagonist does need his squad around him, but some bickering would make the story more interesting. This is for book, the bickering will be quiet. Unlike my kids.
“If you actually succeed in creating a utopia, you’ve created a world without conflict, in which everything is perfect. And if there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading!”
— Veronica Roth
Not-so-nice authors need to put all of the conflict resolutions late in the second act. If a tender-hearted author decides to solve the big problems for the main character too early, the the story doesn’t feel right. Rising conflict should have a goal: that ultimate moment about 3/4 of the way in. Not-so-nice authors realize this and have the protagonist’s struggles get worse and worse up to that point. Who wants the reader to stop early? No one!
Not-so-nice authors need to use all types of conflicts in the story. Conflicts come in layers. An overly sensitive author may just keep the story to the protagonist and the acquisition of his goal. But a not-so-nice author may incorporate the main character’s health issues, the unreliable vehicle, or the impending tornado. A not-so-nice author not just uses the antagonist to thwart the main character, but has the IRS show up too. A complex series of setback and roadblocks make a story interesting. Don’t worry too much about the main character, he’s going to make it in the end and be all the stronger for it. The more conflicts a not-so-nice author puts in the story, the greater the tension, the more interesting the story and the more enjoyable it will be for the readers.
Save your niceness for your online persona.
Put that mean and torturous streak into your stories!
Are you too nice? What can you do to increase the tension in your story?
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.