My second novel Privilege (out in March) sold the night my son was born. I had him at 7:30 PM, and the next morning I awoke ("awoke"—hahahahahahaha—I was sleeping next to a newborn; we were up all night) to an email from my agent that my publisher had bought it on proposal.
Suddenly I had a kid to keep alive and a novel to write.
It took me six weeks to feel up to the task of diving back into writing. When I finally picked up the chapters I'd already written (a proposal includes sample chapters) before giving birth, I was struck by an observation I'd never had before about my writing. It was obvious and alarming: I hadn't given my main character any moments of joy.
As a brand new mom, joy was what I wanted most for my son from the moment he was born. That discovery led me to notice its presence or absence in my characters' lives as well. I wanted to give them joy—and not just because I liked them.
Joy is one of those things that makes life worth sticking around for. Narratively speaking, its power is that it is something to lose. When we give our characters moments of joy, we instantly deepen the stakes.
You may have heard the writing advice to "chase your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them." It generally means make things really bad for your characters so that the reader can root for them to get out of whatever dire straits you've thrown them in. But if what was on the ground to begin with wasn't anything to celebrate...is being stuck up in a tree so bad?
So I now say—chase your characters up a tree, but first, give them something to lose, something to yearn for...give them a moment of joy.
On another topic, today on my channel you can hear my thoughts on that wonderful and terrible writerly influence--feedback from others.
Hope you have a wonderful long weekend—and happy writing!