Last Friday, we rented a movie from the library (not one of the ones pictured above). The opening scenes were great: compelling, dramatic, full of promise for an intriguing tale. Two hours later, my husband and I wondered why we'd wasted our time watching a movie that fell flatter than three-day-old beer. After all the writing seminars I've been to in the past few years, I wanted to analyze exactly what it was that had failed. It wasn't the acting; it wasn't the cinematography; it wasn't even the basic story line.
It finally dawned on me that the element that had tanked this movie was just what has been so often criticized in my short stories: the main character was so shut down she didn't connect with anyone, including the audience. Bingo. Finally, the light shone on the biggest mistake I've been making over the last six or seven stories. Writing about people who have been traumatized is tough because they usually are shut down emotionally. By watching this movie, I could see how playing that angle too closely can keep the character from connecting with reader/audience, which means we either don't care or don't believe what happens next.
It's always so easy to see what's wrong with other people's work. Clearly, the author should have shown us the internal feelings of our heroine, her relationship with her mother, her desire to absolve herself of guilt associated with the tragedy of her youth. So obvious. But not to the author who is intimately familiar with every detail of a character's life.
"Dig deeper." "Crack open your character's motivations.""Give us more to connect with." And figure out how to do it without "telling" instead of "showing".
No wonder so many authors end up bat-shit crazy.