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After the Big Triumph (or Defeat)

Last week I had the opportunity to check something off my bucket list.  I got to go on Jeopardy! (Aaaaahhh!!!!) Now, if you want to find out how I did, you’re going to have to wait until October 15th like everyone else – at which point I will spill ALL – but today I want to talk about Big Goals (like going on Jeopardy or getting published or catching the killer or saving the world) and how achieving them can have an impact on us and on our characters.

We’re all familiar with the build up.  Whether it’s us working for years toward publication or our characters working for the entire book toward the goal that we’ve given them, overcoming the physical and emotional obstacles we’ve put in their path, we know all about the climb.  But what happens when we get there?  When we save the day?  Or when we get published? 

For many of us, there will be a sense of anticlimax or directionlessness.  That’s natural.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t excited (euphoric!) about having achieved our goal (the book is on the shelves!), it just means that the thing which has become our driving purpose, our main preoccupation when we get up in the morning, isn’t there anymore.  We have to find something else to strive for, something else to replace that goal so we know where we’re headed again.

For our characters, this can also be an interesting and very real emotional moment after they’ve conquered the baddie, won the Oscar, or averted the apocalypse.  They did it! … Now what?

I feel like the dissonance between what we expect to feel in that moment and what we actually feel – or what we think we ought to feel and how we actually feel – can create an incredible dynamic in our writing.  It has that built-in internal conflict push and pull.  Being confronted by an unexpected emotion can be incredibly powerful.  For me, it’s all about giving just enough of what the reader expects to satisfy them, while also giving them enough of the unexpected to excite them.  We want to satisfy our readers, but that doesn’t always mean satisfying our characters.  Sometimes the things they want and think they need aren’t what they actually need to get their HEA. 

Failure can be so much more interesting from a character perspective than victory.  How incredibly juicy to have a character who fails to achieve their goals!  Though this might not work out quite so well if you’re dealing with suspense or paranormal apocalypse, for smaller conflicts like I have always wanted to date the head cheerleader, because then I will know that I am worthy, maybe your character needs to date the head cheerleader to learn that it isn’t the solution to all his woes, or maybe he needs to completely FAIL to date the head cheerleader and learn from the failure that what he really wants is his own sense of self-worth and to find someone who values him for him.

We talk a lot in writing about setting up goals for our characters, but we don’t want the achievement of those goals to be too easy – and neither do we want the way our characters feel about achieving those goals to be too basic to feel real.  People are complicated!  So play with that!  

Have you ever achieved a goal or failed to achieve one and reacted in a way that surprised you?  What goal are you working toward right now?

11 responses to “After the Big Triumph (or Defeat)”

  1. Tamara Hogan says:

    Vivi, I can’t wait to watch you on “Jeopardy!” In retrospect, I think I missed my best possible window to audition; between fibrofog and perimenopause, my brain has definitely slowed down an RPM or ten. 😉

    And speaking of which…my goal is to finish THIS DAMN BOOK, and it’s taking longer than I anticipated. My concentration sucks right now.

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    • Yay for FINISHING THE DAMN BOOK! My own focus has been lacking lately too, but I’m hoping to get back into work mode and knock this puppy out. We can do it!

      And you should totally audition! It doesn’t hurt to try and you might be the next Ken Jennings!!!

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  2. I’m in Scotland, marking an item off my bucket list. And getting so many ideas for new stories–but, like Tamara, I need to finish the WIP first!

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  3. Darynda Jones says:

    Omg I can’t wait to see you on Jeopardy!!! Wow! And this post is amazing. I love that juxtaposition of failure bringing about realization of truth and thus success.

    But you also nailed it with that awkward in-between stage of our goals being met and that hovering question of what next. It’s sonwthong we don’t think about. We are so hyper-focused on that goal it never occurs to us to consider that next step. It’s an interesting conundrum.

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    • Yes! I find that so fascinating. The idea that we work for something forever, building in this idea of how it is going to feel and then we have to face the reality of figuring out what the heck we are going to do with ourselves after we don’t have that same driving force anymore.

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  4. Heather McCollum says:

    Great post, Vivi! And I can’t wait to see you on Jeopardy! I hope you write a blog post on how you prepared for it and how it went.

    I know that feeling of anti-climatic floating every time I type THE END. For months I’ve lived with these characters, helping them survive and reach their goals (or the goals they didn’t know they should have), and then suddenly they are there. The next day, I have to switch to marketing and editing mode. It can take some adjustment.

    Let’s see – goals. I’m one of these people that nothing comes easy. Whether it is getting pregnant, getting published, or beating cancer. I have to work REALLY hard to get it, but when I do, it’s the biggest celebration inside and out. So I have a lot of “goals” that I fail to meet, at least in the time period I give myself (took me 3 years each to get pregnant with 2 of my 3 kids), but when I get to the top of the mountain, the victory is so very sweet.

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  5. Oh, Vivi. You are brave! I can’t wait to see you. And that anti-climatic feeling can be a bit surprising, especially when we work so hard to achieve something.

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  6. Great blog, Vivi. I love complex characters and now you have me thinking of a ying-yang situation where the goals of characters coming together caused different emotions. Hmmmm

    I can’t wait to October to hear all about your experience with Jeopardy. So exciting.

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