story craft #12 Kill All Wimps

Mike GristStory Craft Leave a Comment

I`m over the first hurdle with Dawn, into the second half of the first book*, and find myself dealing with a spate of wimps. My characters are so shocked by what happened in the first half that they stand around gawping, lost in self-pity, filled with indecision. They don`t know what to do and don`t know how to do it. They become wimps. And wimps need killing.

Whenever a character is acting like a wimp, I know what it`s about. It`s the inner uncertainty (wimpishness?) of the author coming out. When Orson Scott Card has pages of characters second-guessing each other and being frozen by their fears of manipulation, it`s his inner wimp talking (augmented by the editor`s wimpishness to cut all that crap out).

The wimp in us wants to dither. I know this. He wants to think through the situation and just be really sure before he does anything. He wants to think through the repercussions. He wants to analyze. Any one of us can slip back into communion with him, since unlike our characters we are probably not utter bad-asses all the time either.

Neither am I a bad-ass (at least, not all the time 😉 ), but I know what a bad-ass does, and I know what a wimp does, and I can tell you that what a wimp does is boring. It`s a default setting because it`s a safe exploration. We can get to know the character better. We get to know their drives and their fears better. If anything, we get to know what they wouldn`t do, at least not as the interesting character we want them to be.

chrysalis stage…

One way to look at that wimpishness is as a kind of chrysalis stage. It`s formation, it`s revving the engines, it`s the author getting their mind into the situation. What are the possible fears, what are the costs, what are the pros and cons of each possible action.

The important thing to remember is that the chrysalis stage gets left behind. Nobody wants to see its dry husk there on the page. They want to see the butt-kicking butterfly that emerged from it. So we have to kill the wimps. Cut their wimpishness away and get to the core of the matter, which is cold hard decisions, actions, and consequences.

Mare and Alan were both dithering because they didn`t know what to do, largely because I didn`t now what they had to. So they spun their wheels. As soon as the correct direction became clear though, I was able to cut away the scaffolding chrysalis that helped them get there. Now they act, instead of think.

a little wimp goes a long way

Though I should note it`s not gone entirely. The inner wimp is real, and a little bit of it is good. It`s dwelling on the powerless state that is bad. When I cut Alan`s fears back, the first short paragraph remained, outlining his feelings of shock and fear. But then instead of sitting around waiting for Mare to lead him away, he takes himself off, and figures out his own path.

Likewise with Mare, she was wracked with guilt and self-pity for a while, but then I put most of that aside and let her get on with it. She`s still colored by those feelings, but she acts despite them.

A little wimp goes a long way. Too much would be boring. Too little would make the heroes into cardboard cut-outs. Knowing when to kill and when to resuscitate must be a skill we can learn with experience.

Dawn Rising (Dawn Cycle 1) – 105,000 words

See my back-catalogue of published short fiction in the libraries:

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* What is now the second half of the first book used to be the first quarter of the first draft. That draft has now split into 3 potential books, each expected to be around 110,000 words long.

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