When does perseverance become stubbornness?
Said another way, when is sticking with an endeavor the wrong thing to do?
This is a tough question, but also an important one.
Many times, I feel like if things are too hard, we as a society quit. That if something doesn’t come to us right away, there are so many other things to distract us that we don’t have to fight for it.
But some of us don’t know when to let go. Facebook has proven that to me.
There has to be a middle ground.
When I was in high school, I loved tennis. It was a fast sport, kept my attention as I chased the fuzzy yellow ball, and involved no physical contact. But I understood even then that no matter how many hours I put into the sport (and I put in quite a lot), I would never be as good as the best player on our team. In her freshman year, she was already #1 on the varsity team and ranked in the top players in the state.
I didn’t have the raw talent she did, and even with hours and hours of practice every day, I knew I’d never get a college scholarship playing tennis, much less go pro.
I knew enough to let tennis go and focus on my studies. Not always an easy choice, particulatly with the emphasis on sports in high school, but the right one.
I faced a similar issue with deciding between perseverance and stubbornness on a story I recently started.
I’d based it loosely on Romeo and Juliet…
Except it was two kingdoms instead of two families
And Romeo was a responsible and war-hardened prince
And there was going to be a happily-ever-after.
Okay, so nothing like Romeo and Juliet.
I had characters in mind for the story and a rough idea of what would happen. This is normal for my pantser self. But more than that, my muse wasn’t just sitting on my shoulder, she was screaming in my ear.
The words flowed until somewhere around the five-thousand word mark, and then my muse turned silent. I plodded along a little more, then I went back and reread my work.
My war-hardened prince was distant and unresponsive.
My heroine waffled between the demure personality I had envisioned and the strong-willed woman she wanted to be.
My external-to-the-romance plot was held together with paperclips and sticky notes.
Yeah, it was a hot mess.
And I didn’t want to edit it. I didn’t want to fix it. And I was only 5,000 words in.
My thoughts kept drifting to the heroine’s older brother, thinking maybe I should tell his story first and come back to her.
This time, rather than jumping into the story, I mulled over his character. How his kingdom fits into my larger world. What the ramifications are of having been a pocket kingdom beholden to an undead abomination. How much the royal family would sacrifice to protect their people.
It helped me create a solid character.
His love interest started to take shape at that point. I tried several different characters, until I found one that worked.
As I’m still working through edits on other stories and not ready to start a new novel, I decided to take my new characters on role-playing test drives. Basically, bouncing them through different “what-ifs” to see how they work together.
In each different scenario, I had to do something to “break” the hero to get through the layers of propriety, duty, and honor that defines him.
But it defines him. I can’t break that and have still be him.
After four or five different scenarios, I finally came up with one I think works. Yes, it removes three characters I had thought were essential. (hint: they weren’t).
But it lets the hero be the man he is all the way through the story. No need to “break” who he is to get him to fall in love. And that feels right.
Now, to find the time to write this…
What this taught me was persistence is important, but so is knowing when to let go and try something else. I haven’t given up on my hero, but I did let myself give up on various things that didn’t work to find the one I think will give me the best story.