Medicate Your Manuscript

It’s a week after my surgery, and I’m still feeling the side effects.  My jaw aches, my incision itches, my stitches pull and I look like I was mugged due to swelling and bruising.  When I add in the upset tummy from my medications, I’m a walking, talking mess.

In terms of real life, these side effects stink worse than road-kill skunk.  But when applied to writing, they receive serious kudos.

If you read the warning labels on medications, you often note a list of dire consequences along with a disclaimer that “your doctor has deemed the benefits of this medication to outweigh the bad.”  This statement implies a choice.  The Good Doc has chosen this medicine for a specific reason.  In taking it, we choose to put up with the repercussions (side-effects).

Sometimes we don’t have a feckin’ clue what we’re getting ourselves into.  We think we know.  We imagine we do.  We pretend the really bad stuff won’t happen to us.  We believe we’ll walk away from the experience better off.

And we might.  Or, we might not.

That, my friends, is the beauty of writing.  We are doctors prescribing certain actions and medications for our patients.  We force our characters to choose.

Do they walk down the dark alley toward the noise or run in the opposite direction?  Do they get in the car with their bestie even though Bestie had a fifth too much to drink?  Do they make that phone call, go to that game, kiss that girl?  Turn left instead of right?

Every choice is fine, as long as we allow our characters to suffer the consequences of their decisions.  In short, side effects to character actions are crucial in creating tension and moving the plot along.  And only through suffering can the ultimate benefit be reached.  Recovery isn’t easy.  Not in real life, nor in a great book.

Today I challenge you to medicate your manuscript.  Make your characters choose a path.  Throw in a nasty side effect or two and watch them suffer, persevere and win.  Despite the discomfort.  Despite the conflict.  Despite the pain.

Do you make your characters choose their actions and hold them to it?  How do you make them suffer?  How do you relieve their pain?  Do you allow your characters to make the wrong choice?  If so, how and why?

Curious minds want to know.

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4 responses to “Medicate Your Manuscript

  1. Great post! I do make my characters pay…sometimes for years. I hope that they learn something along the way and make different choices as a result.

    I just finished tweaking (again!) my Defining Moments manuscript, in which the MC makes some dire choices that lead to rather drastic consequences: an emotional breakdown, of sorts, in which she goes through a total disconnect. And then starts rebuilding her life in baby steps. Along the way, she stumbles, sometimes falls, but learns.

    I love being the puppeteer, but it’s important to make the actions and consequences real.

    • Great reminder about natural consequences. We have to be careful not to be too manipulative. If we provide scenarios or consequences that don’t quite fit, our readers will scream, “Foul play!”

      And let me just say, I feel like your MC some days!

  2. I love reading characters that have gone through or are going through something. I have a much harder time putting my own characters through struggles, but I do it. Without a struggle of some kind there’s no emotion, in my opinion.

    Great post. 🙂

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