Official Website of Holly Bodger - Author of 5 TO 1

Don’t make it worse

Those of you who are familiar with Donald Maass’s books and seminars will have heard him use the words “make it worse” over and over again. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a rash of books lately where the author has taken this advice a bit too literally.

What Maass wants you to do is to add more obstacles to your main character’s journey. For example, your 19th Century heroine needs to get to the church before the love of her life marries some dolt with 20,000 a year. Rather than just making it take a while for her to get to the church, Maass would tell you to make her journey harder. Maybe a herd of cows blocks the road for ten minutes. Maybe the carriage wheel gets stuck in mud. Maybe the driver goes to the wrong church.

What Maass is (hopefully) not suggesting is that you think of random bad things to throw in. For example, your 19th Century heroine who needs to get to the church to stop the love of her life from marrying a dolt with 20,000 a year should not suddenly fall into a pit of sharks and then climb out only to be sucked into a spaceship. Yes, this does make things worse but it also makes the reader say, “What the H–?”

Final thought: Even if you do keep your obstacles appropriate for your character’s journey, be careful not to mount them too high. Yes, everyone has bad days, but if you throw 147 bad things into the same day, you will lose your readers. For good.

Category: On Writing
  • Heather Day Gilbert says:

    Loved this post, Holly, and I was chuckling as I read about the spaceships…yes, at some level, we have to keep it BELIEVABLE.

    Kinda like the “don’t use passive verbs” idea. It’s good to avoid them, but sometimes, no other verb is going to fit. It’ll sound weird and forced.

    June 14, 2012 at 8:39 am
  • Cheyenne Campbell says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I recently read something that did this repeatedly. And you’re right. They did lose me.

    I like how Maass challenges writers to think backwards and inside-out about their WIP, but when I first read this tip of his, I had to wonder how far it was meant to go. I think there’s a fine line in there somewhere. Great post!

    June 28, 2012 at 4:49 am