Good writers employ solid plot structures and interesting characters. Better writers tweak the models. That is, they get into trouble. They twist fate, upset the predictable plot line, use present tense instead of the standard past, or create empathy for the most dastardly of villains.
The trouble rarely gets away from them, although it sometimes does during an initial draft. The writer chases it down to either catch or be caught by it. They tangle, and someone gets up, brushes away the dust, and limps away.
The reader, of course, entertains no idea that the trouble won’t lead to embarrassment, peril, or death. The reader is hooked, which is precisely the point. Better writers get into trouble precisely because it snares the reader’s attention and affection.
Trouble keeps readers awake until 2 or 3 a.m. The reader must discover if all ends well between the boy and girl, if the hero overcomes an internal inadequacy, if the young woman chooses what’s right rather than what’s easy.
Perhaps it’s easier to explain the concept of getting into trouble through metaphor. A person doesn’t purposely poke a hornet’s nest. (Notable exceptions include little boys and girls. They get into trouble despite being warned and warned against the oven, the basement stairs, the hornets, the cows, et cetera, et cetera.) The person accidentally intrudes upon the hornets’ domain either while clipping the laundry to the line or mowing the lawn. The hornets attack, and the person flees.
The better writer takes a different approach. She knows where the hornets live and purposely stirs up the nest. She might jab it and run, but she more likely equips herself with the right tools: a long stick, gloves, a beekeeper’s mask, and some decent running shoes.
The better writer pokes the hornets’ nest and watches them fly and swirl, assessing their flight pattern. She makes a note of it, repeats the test for several days, and records each idiosyncrasy and repetition. The better writer continually seeks trouble, pokes and prods it.
She puts herself into the thick of the hornets not only because she enjoys the danger but also because she delights to surprise her readers. By embracing and sharing trouble, the reader can join in the thrill, scrapes, and narrow escapes, too. They dart through the grass together, dodge the stings, and collapse on the front porch, out of breath and ready for a glass of cool lemonade.
Image: Nan Palmero (Creative Commons)