Make them struggle!

It’s common writing advice: make your characters struggle. When things are going well for them, throw a disaster at them.

I don’t disagree with this advice. First, it’s part and parcel of the rising-tension structure that’s at the core of traditional western storytelling. And second, it’s a psychological one-two punch: readers empathize and identify with a character who struggles (because we all do); and then readers feel a cathartic rush when the character succeeds in a struggle. Some say this is one of the main draws of fiction: to let the reader vicariously struggle and experience triumph. And by escalating the struggles, you escalate the vicarious triumphs.

But though I understand the advice, I’ve never consciously followed it. In my stories, I just see what should logically happen next, and I write that. Easier, harder, I don’t think about those, I just write the logical next thing. If there’s escalating struggle and rising tension in my stories, it’s entirely subconscious.

But THIS story… Every time I think, “What should happen next?” the answer is “More bad news. It just got worse.” Every time I think, “OK, they have a plan that will succeed, now I just have to write what’s left,” I start writing, and I discover, “Wait a minute. They never thought of this.” There is hazard here everywhere they look. There’s no “triumph,” there’s just survival to reach the next struggle.

Oh, there will be an eventual triumph. I know what it is (I’ve known from the start). And there’s maybe only six to eight challenges left before they get there.

Of course, two weeks ago, I thought there were only five or six challenges remaining, and I’ve hit them with half a dozen challengers since then. So there may still be surprises hiding out there for them. And for me!

Martin Takes a Hike for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life

From my Relay for Life page:

Sweating in the Summer Heat for My Sister

As some of you might know, my sister Anita was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. For some people, this is a very private matter they keep to themselves. But Anita was really helped by stories from other survivors, so she’s telling the world her experience at http://anita.buckowing.me. She’s not sugar-coating anything, but she also refuses to get down. “It is what it is,” she says, and the family is doing whatever they have to do to fight this disease. Four years later, she is cancer free at every doctor visit, and she’s fighting strong!

Anita has also become very active in American Cancer Society fund raising. If you know Anita, you’re not surprised by this. Community participation and event organization is something she always excels at. And as part of that, she and daughter Kira and “sister” Amy have put together the BAAAD KROWS Relay for Life team. Don’t ask me to explain the name, and don’t ask me to explain how they roped me in, because neither one makes sense to me.

Well, OK, they didn’t have to rope me in. I’m not a doctor. I couldn’t help Anita with her disease, other than driving her to appointments now and then. But I can help her with this fund raiser, which is important to her. I am participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life because I want to make a meaningful difference in the fight against cancer.

Almost everyone has been touched by cancer, either through their own personal battle or through someone they love. Anita’s not my first relative to face this, and I’ve had friends go through it as well.

So if you would like to help for Anita, or for your friends and relatives who have faced cancer, please make a donation to help the American Cancer Society create a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Together, we can help make sure that cancer never steals another year of anyone’s life!

Every day, the American Cancer Society is helping us stay well by preventing cancer or finding it at its earliest, most treatable stages. They assist families in finding the best resources to help their friend or loved one deal with a diagnosis and their journey to get well. The American Cancer Society is also rallying communities (like ours!) through events like Relay For Life, to fight back and find cures for this disease.

OK, a couple of those paragraphs are boilerplate. After all, the American Cancer Society can explain their mission better than I can. But I want to add my personal request.

The relay will be 7/25/2014, so there’s only a little time to raise funds between now and then. Any bit you can contribute would help toward that. $10, $5, even $1 would help.

Also, the Relay is more than just a fund raiser. It’s also a memorial for those we’ve lost, and a celebration for those who are fighting back against this disease. if you’d like to attend the Relay and help memorialize and celebrate, we’ll be in Wayland Friday July 25 to Saturday July 26, 3 p.m to 3 p.m. We’ll have somebody from BAAAD KROWS walking the track the whole time. We and other teams will have lots of games and other on-site fundraisers, including catering.

I’ll be there as soon as I get out of work on Friday. I don’t know which hours I’ll be walking, but I’ll be there.

Thank you for your time.

Even small donations help. If you would like to contribute, please visit my Relay page.

“Unrefined” wins Third Place in Writers of the Future!

From PRWeb:

The 1st Quarter winners of the 31st year of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest were announced today.

THE FIRST QUARTER WINNERS ARE

1st place – Tim Napper of Australia
2nd place – Auston Habershaw of Massachusetts
3rd place – Martin Shoemaker of Michigan

They were chosen from a group of 8 finalists and are now awarded cash prizes, a week long intensive workshop, an awards ceremony and are also published in the annual L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future. Tim, Auston and Martin will receive a cash prize for their win this quarter.

Tim, as first place for the quarter, will compete with the 1st place winners of the remaining three quarters of the year for the Grand Prize of $5,000.00.

Contest judges include, Tim Powers, author of On Stranger Tides, Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert, Dune, Robert J. Sawyer Flash Forward, Robert Silverberg, Sailing to Byzantium, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, A Mote in God’s Eye, Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, and Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death, to name a few.

I am so proud, so pleased, and so relieved. Why relieved? Because this was the last quarter I was eligible for Writers of the Future. It’s a contest for non-pro writers trying to break in, and I am now officially a pro. So for me, this quarter was win-or-go-home. That added a degree of pressure I haven’t experienced in past quarters.

I am also grateful for a couple of rejections. Why is that? Because my Third Place story, “Unrefined”, was originally written for the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. I thought it was perfect for that contest: an inspiring story of humanity exploring space and finding ways to survive challenges. But the judges thought otherwise. If they hadn’t, they would’ve published it, and that would’ve meant I was no longer eligible for Writers of the Future.

After the Baen Memorial passed on “Unrefined”, I sent it to what I thought was surely its natural home, Analog. But Trevor thought otherwise, and he passed. If he had accepted it, it would’ve been published last year, and that would’ve meant I was no longer eligible for Writers of the Future.

So the lesson to me is: don’t give up on a story! There are other markets. Keep trying until you exhaust them all! If I had given up on this one, I wouldn’t be going to Los Angeles next year to hang out with Tim and Auston (plus Illustrator winners Michelle Lockamy, Tung Chi Lee, and Emily Siu) and the winners of the remaining quarters and the pro instructors and judges, learning how to improve my writing as a craft and as a business.

I would like to finish with the “theme song” for this story: “The Tide is High” by Blondie. No, I didn’t listen to it while I was writing the story; but after I finished the story, I was in my local Harding’s, and this song was on the PA system. Listening to it, I realized that the lyrics applied perfectly to my story (you’ll have to wait for the anthology next year to see why):

The tide is high, but I’m holding on.
I’m gonna be your number one.
Number one…
Nummmmmber onnnnnne…
Nuuuuuummmmber onnnnnnnnnnnne…

Then I went home, looked up the song, and found this amazing Apollo/space-themed video; and I knew I’d found my theme song. Enjoy!


Blondie – The tide is high