Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Word Count Wednesday: How I Must Fight the Sitcom Mentality

I have what I call a sitcom mentality. Consider the situation comedy. A group of people who share their lives in some way come into our homes via television each week. We watch and we get to know them. Week in and week out we watch as they are presented with a problem. We laugh because they handle the situation in comedic ways. We laugh because we see ourselves in the exaggerated situation. And we laugh because the characters say the outlandish but clever things we wish we had the nerve to say.

The television show’s problem grows until one person sits down with the offending character and with just the right words, puts things back in a proper perspective. (This usually happens in the last three minutes of the program.) The offender looks up and says, “I never thought of it that way,” or changes his or her behavior so that we can turn off the television feeling good about the outcome. Presentation of the problem and having it satisfactorily solved all takes place in thirty minutes. Including commercials.

 I struggle with a sitcom mentality. I see a problem and I am sure if I could just sit down with the offender and say the right words, everything would be okay. I don’t know why I think my words are that powerful. They aren’t. I’ve tried.

So how does this apply to writing a novel? I have to fight trying to draft that one paragraph solution.  Lasting, life changing experiences are rarely lightning bolts. They are more like rain. A long, soaking rain that permeates our being. Lightning bolts are great tools for sitcoms, but it is the steady downpour that softens our hearts and turns our thinking in real life. Novels are reflections of real life.

My character, Sonja, faces challenges in the book, but her biggest challenge is her relationship with God. It is my job as an author to make sure I bring the message of hope and forgiveness and restoration to Sonja through several characters…in many ways….over time.

To do that I need to examine my characters carefully. Sonja’s parents are church going folk, but Sonja has never made their faith her own. Sonja has a few friends who are Christians. Nothing much has really happened there. I think they see Sonja as a nice person with a good heart. They know she grew up in the church so they assume she already knows the message. I make those assumptions sometimes.

Enter Melissa. Melissa is Sonja’s soaking rain. Sonja hires her to help out over the busy summer season. Melissa is an experienced coffee barista, having worked in the coffeehouse on her college campus. Melissa is a believer. A follower of Jesus. A quiet strength. Melissa is Sonja’s soaking rain. She is not in Sonja’s face. Instead, she builds a lasting relationship with the young shopkeeper.

I like Melissa. She is very down to earth and has qualities I only hope to acquire. She is quiet but strong. She is young but is well grounded in her faith. Yep, she’s a keeper. It is going to be fun to see what happens next.

As for my word count? As I type, I have written 52,100 words toward the completion of this novel. I feel pretty good about that, but must admit, I have a lot to put into the last quarter of this book. Now if I can just build and reveal it piece by piece and avoid that sitcom mentality…I don’t want to have to rush to try to pull it all together in the last three paragraphs of my book.


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