Piling it on
When I plot out a story I am careful not to overwhelm my reader with too many things going on at once. Especially when it comes to bad things happening. Piling one bad thing onto another onto another could not only get to be too much for the reader, but at some point in there they’re going to stop believing that the plot is believable and put down the book. But isn’t that what happens in real life?
Well, as I’ve just experienced in my own real life—yup! That is exactly what happens. I’m not going to go into the details, but I had three major crises going on all in one morning. I was on the phone and on my computer speaking with, texting, and emailing multiple people dealing with all three things all at once and they all needed to be handled immediately. It seemed never-ending – no sooner did I shoot off a text, but I’d get a phone call. While I was on the phone call, I was answering an email. I was doing all I could to solve all three problems and dealing with unpleasant people who didn’t care that they were making my life difficult, as well as letter-of-the-law bureaucrats who didn’t care about the consequences of their decisions. Whew!
Needless to say, it was an incredibly difficult morning but two days later, two problems are completely solved in a manner if not ideal, at least solved. The third problem will be resolved after I move next week.
So now that I have a moment to sit peacefully and be grateful that horribleness is behind me, I wonder why I don’t do this to my characters? Why don’t I pile everything on top of them all once?
My job is to make their lives difficult; to create conflict and tension. Well, I can tell you, there is nothing more tense than having to deal with so many different problems at one time! After that morning, I’ve come to realize that I am way too nice to my characters. I give them one problem at a time. As it is nearly resolved or even completely resolved, I give them another. Sometimes they have more than one problem, but they never have everything come to a head at once. They’re able to deal with one thing at a time. Why? Why don’t I just heap everything on them and make them need to take care of everything all together at once just as I did?
Do you do that or are you too nice to your characters too?
Do you think your readers would be overwhelmed? Do you think they wouldn’t believe that so much could happen at the same time? I’ve always thought so, but now that I’ve lived it…
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.