One of the things I struggled with as a singer was how much larger than life everything had to be while appearing totally natural – every expression, every small muscle movement, larger than I used for anything else. The way I explain it to my choir these days is “sing like you’re trying to keep the attention of a small child”. What I used to think embarrassingly silly, to open my mouth that wide to sing the story that way was often not enough.
It occurred to me this week that writing also contains a lot of exaggeration, and that the goal quite often, as in singing, is to make the listener or reader feel so much that they are enthralled. Will the homework be finished in time? Will the hero get caught telling a lie? Will he spill his coffee on his white shirt on the day of their interview? And if those things happen, how will they handle it? Shoot, fixing that problem got them into another fix. Now what?
This is not a startling revelation but a reminder of how easy it is, for me at least to underestimate how much trouble needs to haunt the hero – little things as well as big things. The hero in a good story is in a constant battle to solve this problem or that. Yes, that’s the human condition as well, except I know I’m always looking for ways to make my life easier. As a writer I need to make my characters court trouble constantly and make bad decisions frequently, not avoid trouble and embarrassment the way I prefer to do.