I’ve tried. Really. I’ve tried to act like it’s great fun, those amusement park rides that flip you upside down sixteen times or spin you faster than a rocket. Growing up, my family used to have season tickets to Silver Dollar City, and every year I’d force myself to get on Fire in the Hole or American Plunge. I’d act like getting off one of those rides was not complete and utter relief.
The last time I went, I stood in line (again) for the Plunge…when I arrived at the top of the line, I looked down into the hollow log I was about to board (I’m not joking. You board a hollow log with no seats and nothing to hold you in—just metal bars down the sides for passengers to grip. And with no seats, you all squat into the log, and basically sit in each other’s crotches…) and this voice popped to life in my head. I’ll censor here, but basically, it was something along the lines of: What the #$%&*^$%##$ am I doing?????
I sucked it up and got on the ride, picturing myself flying out of that crazy hollow log the moment it rounded the top curve on the steep..well…plunge. Heart going crazy, eyes shut tight, unable to scream when we raced down the slide and the water washed over us. When I got my wobbly legs off the crazy thing, I knew this much: I was officially done. With the Plunge, with Fire in the Hole, and with any other amusement park ride. With Ferris wheels (which make me feel like I’m being tossed into the stratosphere over and over), with all of it. If you want to go to the fair, fine, but I’ll be eating a corn dog with mustard and checking out the live music while you stand in line at the Tilt o’ Whirl. Done. Kaput. Finished. THE END. And I've said just as much--repeatedly--to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen.
…If I'm to apply this to writing in any way, I do think that “no”s can also be helpful in our early attempts to create a well-rounded character. It’s so easy to wind up focusing on the things that a person does do or have: my character is smart (or athletic or funny), my character does have red hair (or braces or freckles or a brother)…Sometimes, remembering the things our own characters say “no” to (and why) is every bit as helpful in creating a rich backstory and defining who our character is…