Make Barbie Suffer…and other tips to add tension to your plot

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Two of the best writing tips I ever got were from Kim Purcell, author of Trafficked during a workshop she gave many years ago at the Write on the Sound conference in Edmonds, WA.

When we entered the classroom there was a basket covered with a cloth. “What’s in the basket?” we all wondered for the first five minutes of Kim’s presentation.

Lesson #1 The Unknown Builds Suspense

Finally, after an agony of waiting, Kim lifted the cloth and revealed Barbie, our heroine. That’s when things got really fun. “Who wants to see Barbie enjoy a picnic in the sunshine?” Kim asked. “Um… nobody,” she said, “because that’s not interesting.”

Lesson #2 Make Barbie Suffer

Kim took a firm hold of Barbie. “Always ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to my character?’ Then do it!” That’s when Kim had Barbie fall of the table, and cling to the corner for dear life.

I’m sure there were other lessons Kim imparted that day. I remember her describing her path to publication, as well as the extensive research she did for Trafficked. But what I really valued were those  golden writing tips.

Of course, you have to balance a plot with heart, levity, and enough happiness that your narrative arch isn’t one gigantic pathway to doom. But definitely new authors can be guilty of loving their characters so much they are hesitant to torture them.

Watch out Barbie. Keep your plastic hands off my computer or I’ll make you pay.

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