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Hello, writers. Many thanks to quarkstomper for his brilliant and witty Write On! diary about fight scenes last week, which you should read if you haven't.  It's a topic I haven't covered much in this diary series because I kind of suck at fight scenes. Mine do indeed tend to read like pingpong games. Some brilliant responses to the exercise in the comments, too.

After 4 ½ years of wo!, I'm always asking people to suggest new topics. Sometimes I ask GussieFN, and he invariably replies (with that bitter charm for which we all love him) “Why don't you write about failure?”

So, okay. Failure. I'm gonna take this topic two different ways.

The first is as a writer. All writers feel like failures. I suspect Stephen King and JK Rowling feel like failures. It's because unlike teachers, lawyers, plumbers, or bus drivers (but very much like waitresses) we're constantly being assessed, and often unkindly.

Some examples:

- when we start out, agents and editors don't find our efforts worth commenting on
- agents and editors do find our efforts worth commenting on, negatively
- an agent likes our stuff but the editors don't
- an editor likes our stuff but the acquisitions meeting doesn't
- a publisher acquires our book and no one reviews it
- except for one reviewer who pours vitriol on it
- the reviewers like our book but no one buys it
- people buy our book, but not nearly as much as they're buying other people's books
- the book is a bestseller, and wins every national and international award for which its eligible, which prompts
- 40,000 people to comment on Twitter, blogger, amazon and goodreads that they hated the characters, thought the writing was sub-literate, and can't believe the thing even got published, let alone won awards.

No wonder writers have a certain tendency toward depression.

But that aside! Failure is part of the human experience. Which means it makes wonderful fodder for plot and character development. People love to see a character fail, try again, fail, try again, and ultimately (usually on the third try, but you can always pull a slow one and have it happen on the fourth or fifth try) succeed.

Some writers decide a nice twist on this is to have the protagonist fail, try again, fail, try again, fail, the end. This doesn't, on the whole, satisfy. We are more or less aware that life is like that. We read books because books aren't like that.

A pleasing story arc (and it's really not formulaic, because it's too general to be formulaic) is:

The protagonist must achieve X, so s/he tries desperately, but fails.

As a result of the failure, things get worse.

Nothing Daunted, the protagonist tries again, using what s/he learned from the last failure.

Having achieved X, the protagonist finds him/herself confronted with Y.

S/he must achieve Y, so s/he tries desperately, but fails.


The essential element is that the character learns something from failure, doesn't give up, and tries again.

In the words of Mr. Petty, your protagonist might sing

Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down

Gonna stand my ground
Won't be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down

Which is pretty good advice for writers, too.

Tonight's challenge:

Write this scene:
This poor callow youth and his/her stout companion, they've been seeking the Jewel of Togwogmagog for well over two years. They're experts at failure. But never mind. Success lies within their grasp.

Having learned that the fabled Jewel of Togwogmagog is locked in the depths of the dungeons of the Tower of Doom, they are proceeding thence when they find their way blocked by a terrible nemesis or obstacle of your choice.

They attack it in the way that seems most sensible to them.

They fail miserably, and things get worse as a result.

They learn something from their failure.

Write On! will be a regular weekly diary (Thurs 8 pm ET) until it isn't.
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