If You Can Dodge A Wrench, You Can Dodge A Ball

Hi, friends! Suze here. Happy second day of spring. I hope you’re all having a fantabulous day!  First some business: the winner of a copy of Joan Swan’s novel FEVER is Pamela Mason. Congratulations! Joan will be contacting you.

Anybody recognize the title of this post? I’ll give you a hint: it’s about Dodgeball. Specifically, the Vince Vaughn-Ben Stiller movie Dodgeball. Yup, it’s stupid, but it’s hilarious. If you need some real belly laughs, and don’t want to think too hard, that’s your movie.

Remember the 5 Ds of dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!

There’s a Yoda-like character called Patches O’Houlihan, a wheelchair-bound curmudgeon who takes a ragtag bunch of guys from a neighborhood gym and teaches them how to win at professional dodgeball. One of his training methods is to hurl huge wrenches at the team. He tells them, you guessed it, “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”

As my teenage son was watching this movie for about the forty-seventh time, and I could hear it in the background as I made dinner, something struck me. No, not a wrench to the back of my head! But it had almost the same impact.

I’ve been struggling to get words on the page with my latest manuscript. And I find this hard to understand, because I have a pretty good handle on the big turning points, I’ve got a whole town full of suspects, and I think I know whodunnit and why. I like my main character. I think that’s my problem.

I like her too much. So much that I don’t want to be mean to her. For example, in the scene I just “finished,” I had my heroine, her uncle, and a love interest/suspect out in the north woods. The love interest/suspect emerges from the woods and tells the heroine not to come any closer, because there’s a dead body among the trees. She turns and runs. Then, somebody has to go to notify emergency personnel, and somebody has to stay with the body. The sun is setting and they’re in the middle of the woods, and there are animals in the woods. The kind that would tear chunks out of a person lying on the ground. So what did I do? I sent my heroine back to the house to call for help.

Well no wonder this story isn’t working. I should have thrown a sack of wrenches at her. I should have had her discover the body. I should have had her sitting out in the woods, inadequately dressed, in the dark, with only a small campfire and a dead guy between her and the coyotes. What was I thinking?

Have you heard the expression Nice Women Rarely Make History? Well, nice stories aren’t very interesting either, nor do they turn out to be blockbusters.

So I’m going back to the beginning, and this time I’m bringing the whole toolbox. If I run out of wrenches, there’s always a hammer.

Do you have trouble making trouble for your characters? Or do you gleefully mess with their lives?

26 thoughts on “If You Can Dodge A Wrench, You Can Dodge A Ball”

  1. That is a really great question. “Do I mess with my characters lives?” You got me thinking, hard. And it’s a great time, b/c, i am still in the middle of writing and working my manuscript. I am also doing character analysis with each one that passes my pages. I only realized after 32,000 words that all my characters are dudds, so I am off and running doing this daunting task of creating characters. Even though they are historically real there is a way to write about them to keep them real. Thanks for the dodgeball post and the great lesson in messing with characters lives.

    1. I’ve never tried to write from the POV of a real historical character, but that’s got to be a special challenge. Good luck, Gail! I know you’re going to do a great job.

  2. I’m a gleefully, mess up my characters lives kind of gal. In fact, I’ve been told I throw too many wrenches without giving my character time to recoup. My response (in my head of course) is when does life give us time to recoup? We get knocked down, get up and I’ll be darned if something doesn’t knock us down again. I like having characters who have insurmountable odds against them and prevail. Go on. Be mean to your characters. It adds depth and human qualities. Sounds like a great book. Good luck with it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny! And good luck with your writing too. I popped over to your blog and there’s some great stuff there!

    1. Sure! Wrenches, screwdrivers, Vice-Grips, toilet plungers, you name it! All are welcome. And there’s a bonus — when the Zombie Apocalypse hits, we will be ready for some cranium crushing!

  3. This is awesome Jane. I love the analogy and you’re right, we are too nice to our characters. And you should definitely make miss squeamish scaredy-cat get stuck on dead body duty. I used to have this trouble until i wrote ON THIN ICE. I gave Penny so many hurdles, she should have been a track star, not a figure skater, LOL. Once I started tormenting her, there was no stopping. I’ve learned to temper my newfound love of conflict overload and now think I’m finding a balance, but conflict is definitely what makes our story-world go ’round. In my dystopian, I’m seeing that there is enough natural conflict that I’m not having to purposefully add a lot. But if it starts getting boring, you can bet I’ll find some new way to torment my character.

    1. Yeah, she’s gonna have to be on dead body duty. I thought about leaving the love interest out there in the woods with her, but her Uncle has a broken leg and somebody has to help him get back home. So alone she will be! Except for the coyotes.

  4. I’ve been known to send my characters to safety from the wrenches, and the resulting stories sucked. The wrenches might not be fun–sometimes not for the author–but they make for better stories.

    1. So true! Now that I think of it, I have another unfinished manuscript that is probably suffering from the same problem (among others — that one’s going to take some time to fix).

  5. Hi Suze, great post and love the analogy. I don’t think I’m too nice, at least not in the physical sense to my character, but I may be too nice emotionally to her/him. We’ll see. I’m almost to the point of read/revise (repeat), so I’m going to keep this post in mind as I do read through for the first time from start to finish. I just may have to tap into my dark side. Thanks for sharing and good luck on your revisions!

    1. Ooh, I can’t wait to read your story, Gail! Is it the one Mia Marlowe Red Penciled? I have a long way to go on mine, so the “fun” is just starting 🙂

  6. This is a great movie and one of my favorites. Mostly because it appeals to the sixth grader inside me. Nice how you make the leap from Dodgeball to writing and yes, I do like to play with my characters lives. If not, what fun would that be?

    1. Somehow I knew you would like this movie! And you give your characters some pretty scary stuff to contend with, based on what I know. BTW, nothing wrong with sixth graders. That was one of the best years of my life, no lie 🙂

  7. I’m gleeful in messing up my characters lives. I think I posted in Jamie’s blog earlier this week that I read Steven King is always asking “what if” this or that happened … and then make it happen. Can’t argue with his success, although, my characters hate me.

    1. Well, some of your characters may hate you now, but when they are famous and raking in the bucks, they will be thanking you!

  8. This is so common–I especially see it in contest entries. We like our characters so, whenever they are about to do something cringe-worthy, we give them a break. “Maria looked around to see if anyone had noticed the toilet paper trailing from her shoe and, luckily, everyone was deep in coversation.” No! Let the most embarrassing possible person notice. The prospective mother-in-law. The disapproving boss!

    I still do this all the time, especially in early drafts. Luckily, my (much meaner) critique partner calls me on it.

    I try to take Jim Butcher’s advice. He says (and I’m probably paraphrasing) of the Dresden Files series, “Every day I sit down and my computer and ask myself, ‘How can I really f**k up Harry’s life today?'”

      1. I love it too! It’s going into my quotes file now. Now that I’ve realized the error of my ways, I shall keep the wrenches handy at all times!

  9. I find that the books that are the most painful to read are the hardest to put down. Throw some wrenches, everything will be okay….Or will it?

  10. This is the one problem I don’t have with my characters. I kill off their loved ones. I make people be really mean to them. I’m almost too much of a meany… Happy rewrites!

    1. Not sure you can be too much of a meany … as long as there’s a happy ending, which I’m sure you always give those who deserve it!

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