Hello and welcome to today’s session in Life Advice, at which we will quickly explore the five steps you need to take to make your life that little bit more difficult to give it some extra spice because we live in a problem-free world and anyone can use some extra spice, right? Right! Each and every one of these steps is supereasy, so making your life difficult is not just simple — it’s fun!
Step 1: Start doing something you’ve never done before
Example: Start writing a criminal thriller. You’ve never done it before. All you’ve written so far are relatively straightforward stories, with a twist, true, but not that kind of twist. But you’ve read tonnes of crime fiction, literal tonnes. There are Agatha Christie novels you can quote word for word (or would, if your memory let you quote anything word for word). Jeffrey Deaver is your hero. Raymond Chandler is your guiding light and Harlan Coben is your pal. You still mourn Paul Sussman.
Mary Higgins Clark is one of the celebrities you would have liked to have dinner with only she died earlier this year, so that’s only happening in an afterlife but it doesn’t matter. You’ve learned the basics from her. You’ve got mixed feelings about Patricia Cornwell but she does know her stuff and what stuff that is. You’ve done an online course (well, almost done) in epidemiology. You’ve done one in forensics (and it was a blast because you understood everything). You can do this.
Step 2: Be efficient
Waste not, want not. You don’t need to start from scratch on your crime thriller story if you already have a handy first draft of something you thought would make a nice romance story. Now you see the draft for what it is: the flimsy skeleton of an action-packed novel about greed, despair, probably some love because love matters, and a grudge that has withstood decades.
Flimsy as it is, the skeleton needs to be trimmed, so cut out all the purely romantic moments. This may feel a little painful but this is not the level of life difficulty you’re after. This is just the beginning. You’ll get there soon. So, cut those scenes out and save them in a separate document because you never know if and when you might need some of the material there. If the romance draft sparked the idea of a crime thriller, only gods know what a scene that publishers like to call hot and steamy might do for the imagination further on.
Step 3: Find your villain
A key part of writing a story that involves a fight between good and evil is finding an appropriate villain. It may look like a no-brainer but it is, in fact, a verymuch-brainer. You can’t just have any placeholder as a villain. For a good story, you need someone as complex as the hero(es), and, for best results, as relatable as the hero(es). There’s nothing cooler than a relatable villain.
Pat yourself on the back for choosing a plot that — theoretically — lets you create a host of believable and even relatable villains you can pick from. See the villain. See the other villain because the first villain would need help. See their intermediary to the hero(es). See them and understand them. They will be the meanest of the villains ever written. They will hatch the most brilliant of plots and almost execute it before the hero(es) get them. And in the end, the reader would understand what made them do it and maybe, just maybe, they will relate.
Step 4: Get stuck
This is the most important step. The three previous steps have led you to the crucial step. You have laid out your plot (in your head). You’ve drafted more than 60 pages although, to be honest, you’ve used a lot of the beginning of the romance novel, only enriched with the beginnings of the crime story. You know who your heroes are. You know who your villains are. You know what the crime(s) will be. But you haven’t the faintest idea how it will all come together. Because right now, it sounds lame and implausible.
This is the worst — and best, for your purposes — that can happen, because implausibility is a curse. So you start wracking your brain for ways to make the bloody thing plausible. Some blood would be good, by the way, so add a murder, leave space for another if need be. But it still sounds implausible, lame, and — the horror — kind of boring. This is a huge insult because the idea was so brilliant and bestselling when you had it.
Cue: a spell of writer’s blues prompted by the monstrous canyon between plans and reality. Sit and wallow in self-pity while you contemplate dropping the whole thing and letting the draft you already have rot, which unfortunately it won’t because it’s only a digital document and these don’t rot. Life’s cruel.
Step 5: Add a subplot
As you do the above, have a revelation. The villains you thought were The Villains are not, in fact, The Villains. There is another villain and they are the real deal — there’s the emotional motivation for what they want to do to the hero(es) and there’s the material motivation that will make the villain feel that much more real. The other villains will be scapegoats because our villain is a smart one. Now the main plot starts to make sense. There’s just one thing left to do: ask the most important how.
How are the heroes going to uncover the evil plot without professional help? It is essential they don’t use professional help because everybody always does in crime literature, so that’s old and expected even if it makes perfect sense. How are they going to make justice prevail because it must because a crime thriller with a completely unhappy ending is a crap crime thriller. The hows jump, dance, and cartwheel in your head. Congratulations, your life is now more difficult than it was before you thought of the whole thing.
Stay tuned for the next stage in the quest to misery: How to Make Your Life Even More Difficult with Minimum Effort!