I’m writing a story about a twenty-one-year-old young woman. In the midst of writing it, I think damn she’s making a lot of mistakes and I begin to edit some of the stuff out until it dawns on me the character is twenty-one.
I have this ‘thing,’ in my writing, I’ll admit it. I try to protect my main character.
This happens in the first draft. When I re-read the chapter, I realize I’ve made worse mistakes than the character I’m writing about and I lived another day.
I’ve been soft on the main character. I haven’t pushed her.
So I have to quit the coddling the protagonist because I’m being a helicopter writer. (Same as helicopter parent but with an imaginary child). And that never turns out well.
From my own experience, here are some of the signs of a hovering writer:
- Boring writing: The writer is afraid to look beyond and beneath the surface. They are afraid to dig and go deeper into the mind of the main character. What will they do with all that emotion? The story then becomes dull. Good fiction has to entertain you, arouse your curiosity and get you into the story.
- No character growth: If the writer doesn’t allow the character to fail, what does she learn? This is like with parenting and allowing our kids to fail which helps them to learn from their mistakes.
- Nothing bad happens: A reader stops reading. Facebook, Instagram, and the kitties on YouTube are more interesting.
- No drama: might as well turn on the television and watch a telenovela.
- The character is two-dimensional: She speaks, she acts but she doesn’t feel. There are no emotional wounds and consequently, we feel nothing for the character.
Back to my 21-year-old protagonist. She thinks mistakes are the end of the world. And they are, at least the end of her world as she knows it. She thinks no one else can relate and doesn’t let anyone help her. Remember the arrogance of youth?
This is the point where a writer can push the character and ask the what if questions.
What if the character takes the situation into her own hands? Her depressed, angry, shaky hands.
But if I hover and don’t let her take the situation into her own hands how will the reader know that her struggle allows her to grow? By allowing her to do dumb stuff, like when she tries to control what’s going on, she finds that things don’t turn out like she wanted them to. Life gets worse.
This time in-between where we think our mistakes are the end of the world is the story I’m trying to tell. The space between happiness and misery.
If the character didn’t make the mistakes, what’s the point of the story? If I coddle her, how will I or the reader know how far she’ll go to get what she wants?
Will she realize that she can move past the crappiness of the mistake? Can she move forward, poco a poco? Little by little?
A helicopter writer won’t discover this for their character if they keep hovering. The character won’t be pushed to make a hard choice or be challenged. Neither will the writer.
Worse, the writer will find they just wasted hundreds of hours writing a story that went nowhere.
Take a look at this quiz from Fiction University, about suffering from Nice Writer Syndrome. This is another form of helicopter writing.
Writing characters can be similar to parenting your children. A dose of tough love can help them develop character, uniqueness, and growth.