Inspired by Cheerleaders…sort of
“Leave It All On The Mat”
That was the first Facebook post I saw Sunday morning. One of my daughters belongs to an All-Star Cheering team and they had a competition later in the day. For those who have no idea what All-Star Cheering means, stick around. Five or so years ago, I had no idea either. I thought cheerleaders cheered for boys’ high school sports teams and that cheerleading was the domain of pretty, popular girls who could do cartwheels.
Times have changed.
Cheering is its own sport and has the dubious distinction of causing the most visits to the ER among school- age athletes, because the one thing that hasn’t changed are the skimpy uniforms. No helmet, no pads. Concussions are par for the course – not just for the flyers (the girls who get thrown up into the air) but also the bases (the team members who do the throwing and catching). Tumbling runs and stunts become more dangerous the higher the level. There are boys on teams. And non-skinny girls. And huge national competitions with really loud music. They’re all aspiring to be as good as this…
That was entertaining, right? But now you’re asking yourself what front tucks and scorpions and basket tosses have to do with writing. Well, maybe not in exactly those terms…
Writers must leave it all on the page.
Don’t end your ms feeling like you played it safe. If you hold nothing back, then you won’t be wondering what you could have or might have done. Put it all out there. Give it all you’ve got.
This is something I’m struggling with at the moment. The boy MC in my new WIP has a disturbing backstory. I wasn’t aware of this until I started writing about him. And the girl MC, well, she’s not the person I thought she would be either. She’s quite a bit more dysfunctional. I’m not sure this boy and girl are right for each other, or that their relationship can heal them. Their story might not be marketable. But, now that I know who they are, I’m fascinated. I can’t rethink their story into safer territory. At least not in the first draft.
Do your characters ever take you by surprise? What do you do about it? Do you give them free rein and let them tell you their stories, or do you make them tell the story you intended?
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As part of my training to be an expert in cheerleading as a competitive sport, I’ve seen Bring It On twice. Who says Brits have nothing to learn from the Colonies….
Difficult background story is, well, difficult; whether you know the details going in or they whack you on the head in an unguarded moment. To answer your question, I defer to the character when it comes to their background story. Even if the new information will force me to alter my ideas of what happens later.
Yeah, I’m letting him have his backstory and her have her dysfunction for now. Time will tell if these things survive editing… Thanks for chiming in. And I NEVERINAMILLIONYEARS would have expected you to watch that movie not once, but TWICE. LOL.
No one on the Internet knows you’re a dark horse….
I wanted to say earlier but forgot to: if you haven’t read Robin Lefevers post about her thoughts on writing Grave Mercy, it may interest you.
That is a great post. I hadn’t seen it before and it was interesting on a number of levels. Thanks 🙂
I really liked this post Rhiann! I think the idea of giving it all you got is a great one, something I implemented in my most recent story that makes me almost afraid to share it with anybody! It’s funny you should mention that about your characters because the exact same thing happened with the love interest in my new story. He was supposed to be an uncomplicated party boy and ended up being much more than that, complete with an abusive family and a fear of attachment. It came from out of left field, but completely fit the story. In the end, I was really glad I listened to the character instead of my head. I thought he felt more real that way.
He sounds much more interesting now! Glad it worked out for you 🙂
Wow, wouldn’t believe the post I just finished for tomorrow. Sort of a spooky coincidence. Yes, I’ve had somewhat disturbing revelations appear in my characters’ backstories. Big time. The protagonist in the last ms I wrote (a prequel to my trilogy) sets out on an honorable quest, and he ends up losing his way. He becomes a womanizing megalomaniac, prone to rage and apathetic to the value of human life. Yeah, not exactly a ‘marketable hero.’ But still fun to write. (And he does have a bit of a redemption.) I think I left it all on the mat with that one. And, hopefully, it will help me make the trilogy better.
Here’s to leaving it all on the page, Rhiann. I say go for it!
Ha, brilliant minds and all that! Your dirty rotten scoundrel sounds like the kind of character everyone loves to hate so that can be very marketable, though not exactly a natural fit for a “hero” 🙂
Love this post! And the video!
I love it when my characters take a life of their own! It’s scary sometimes, too. My characters get so loud in my head, it feels as if they are typing the words. It’s cool when it happens though.
It is cool, like being possessed, but less scary. I would imagine, anyway 🙂
It’s a great feeling when your chars become “real.” (I’m sorry but I keep thinking of Pinnochio here!) I’m for free reign though within boundaries, otherwise you could go crazy chasing plot bunnies. 🙂
Pinnochio, eh? Now THAT would make an interesting retelling…
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I am so impressed with the flyers. I jumped out of a plane once when I was 21 but I don’t I’d dare do that now. Although every time I put pen to paper, I guess that’s a bit like taking the jump––without a parachute!
Yes, I think there are other cheering-writing metaphors that could be drawn. I resisted. This time.
I never censor myself when I write a first draft, even if what I write is grim and probably unmarketable. The editing process and my CPs’ feedback is when I ask myself if my characters’ story is too dark for YA or not. Great post Rhiann!
That’s pretty much how I plan to do it – write what I need to write and then see how much I need to back off certain topics or situations. Tx for supporting the idea of seeing just how far the envelope can be pushed in that first draft 🙂
I totally agree with your thought — just all out and leave it out on the page. This can be particularly difficult when writing and planning a series. My new rule: don’t “save” anything for later — pack as much in as you can. You can always come up with great new ideas and directions later.
As for characters, I DO like to create a lot of their (temporary) backstory before writing. That said, I find that when you put them in tense or extremely tough situations, how they deal will ALWAYS surprise.
Thanks for sharing!
I think that’s a very good rule, especially for the waiting-to-be-published crowd. You may only have one shot at an agent, or an editor with any given ms. Bring. It. On.
You’re inspiring me. Make my characters live out Helen Keller’s quote–Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. 🙂
By the way, I can’t wait to read your story.
Aw, thanks! Helen K was an amazing woman, my daughter did a report on her this year. I simply can’t imagine how she did the things she did.
Totally get what you mean. The main characters in my WIP are both more violent- and more human- than I had anticipated. Oh, and the hero is way sexier. Which is a lovely surprise.
Also, if I tried ANYTHING on that video, forget a concussion- I’d wind up in traction!
Haha. And no kidding, I am NOT a source of inspiration in the tumbling department. Maybe tumbling downstairs after slipping on the ice, that’s about it.
I love letting my characters surprise me. I also love the freedom of being a loose plotter and letting the details fill in the cracks. The story is so much more organic for me this way.
Yes, me too. That’s where the “magic” happens for me.
Lord have mercy–you’re the mom to one of those. LOL!
I didn’t know how cheerleading had evolved either. Leaving it all on the (Rough draft) page is necessary. I follow where ever the characters want to go, or what ever they hid in the recesses of their minds–I wish. At least they can be what ever they want. I am a very accepting mother to my characters. I love being on the journey with them, never knowing what to expect.
Well, that’s not my daughter’s team, and she stopped flying after getting a concussion this past fall. It’s funny when I’m writing YA stories I waffle between feeling like I AM the characters and feeling like their mom sometimes. But I think there’s a certain poignancy that comes from both those perspectives.
My second antagonist in my WIP is surprising me by the depth of her unsavoriness and the awfulness of her background. I know I have to let all the disturbing aspects of her character have free reign, but it isn’t always that easy especially when they keep getting worse.
My husband also enjoyed this post. He loves watching cheerleading. They are one heck of a bunch of athletes.
You and I will definitely have to CP each other’s WIPs. My MCs sound like a match for yours, lol. That particular team in the video is just about the best in the country. You can tell because they make NO mistakes and make really hard stuff look easy 🙂
I guess for me it’s a bit of both – sometimes my characters do what I’ve planned and other times their story takes on a whole new angle as I write. It makes things very interesting. 🙂
Yes, there are days when I am totally surprised by what I’ve written 🙂 Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not.
I think you’re absolutely right to follow where your characters are leading. The fact that you’re finding them so fascinating means that you’re probably right where you need to be.
Thanks for the encouragement 🙂 Just not sure what I find fascinating will fascinate others, lol.
I cheered in HS/College, so yes, I know how things have changed and I’m sure more so since my days…some other lifetime ago, lol.
I love being surprised by my characters and I allow them to tell their story. Sometimes I go back and change things…sometimes not. It’s such an amazing process!
It is…like magic, a little, yes?
This is such a good point about cheerleaders! It’s making me think I need to reconsider the way I’ve portrayed them in my latest MS…ack! But it’s a VERY valid point… also it’s so cool the way characters evolve on us.
I usually try to go with the flow when I’m writing, but there are times when the MC strays so far from who I thought she’d be that I get confused and set the story aside for a bit.
I have a couple of stories on the side right now (partly for that exact reason) and I’m hoping to get back to them soon.
Enjoyed this lovely post, as usual!!
Very good point about cheerleaders, they ARE amazing athletes!
I usually try to go w/the flow as characters evolve, though sometimes I do get stuck when they stray incredibly far from what I’d planned for them. When that happens I typically set the story aside and tell myself I’ll get back to it.
Right now, in fact, I’ve got a few stories that I’ve set aside due, in a large part, to that exact reason..eventually, I’ll get back to them : )
Thanks for another great post, as always!!
I have just set mine aside for a few days, partly for that reason, partly because I had something else I needed to do writing-wise. We’ll see what they have to say this morning 🙂
GO TEAM!! My characters tend to band together and rebel at “my” plans for them. So yeah, they get free reign in the draft, and it’s surprising how much of “their” stuff makes it into the final. Lovely post! 🙂
Haha. And mine would likely be saying “Amuck, amuck, amuck!” right now.
Whoa…I take one little month of and Thursday’s Children blows up. Congrats!! And great post. :). I’m doing the A-Z challenge, but I’ll definitely be making sure it’s an inspirational post so it fits with TC as well. I miss posting with you guys, this is such nice group.
I gotta say, you’ve already caught my interest with the new book. I LOVE seriously dysfunctional characters and my absolute favorite thing is when my characters surprise me. Just keep in mind that if YOU are already intrigued, your readers will be as well. So just do what you said. Put it all on the page and see where it leads!!
In the meantime, I hope you stop by my new blog. I’d love to see you over there!
So glad you’re back! I will definitely stop by and say “hi” 🙂
The mc in my current WIP has turned out much more broken than I originally thought. But I think it makes it fun and interesting when they surprise you.
True. I am excited, and scared.
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