Five Ways To Sex Up Your Man(uscript)

True fact: I have the same bone structure as Jessica Biel.

Second true fact: I don’t believe in divorce.

Well, strictly speaking, I believe in it — I don’t think it’s imaginary like the Easter Bunny or Night Elves or Principled Politicians. What I mean is, for me, I don’t believe it exists as an option. I’ve explained this to my wife. I’ve explained this while casually showing off a gun rack the same way Vanna White displays a jet-ski. I’ve explained this while sharpening a kitchen knife. I’ve explained this while quietly tinkering with a bomb at my workbench. “Divorce is not an option,” I say, grinning through gritted teeth as I stir up a stainless steel vat of bone-eating acid like a witch at her cauldron. I think Michelle gets the message.

Going with yesterday’s metaphor (Writing = Marriage), it’s safe to assume that if I don’t believe in giving up on a marriage, you can be damn sure I don’t believe in giving up on your WIP (work-in-progress).

That said, you can really hit the wall hard on a manuscript, can’t you? Maybe you’re cruising along, doing 100 MPH, girls with robust mammary glands hanging out the backseat, and next thing you know: holy crap who dropped this brick wall in front of me. Boom. Dead stop. Crash of metal. Brick dust. Blood everywhere. The screams of the innocent. The cackling laughs of a mad bricklayer drifting over the highway like discordant calliope music.

Or, maybe you lose steam gradually — distributor cap pops, and nuclear-green antifreeze like blood from a stuck alien starts oozing from the car, and then steam and guttering engine and then next thing you know, you’re stuck in Delaware, and it’s the first day of classes in North Carolina, and you’ve still got like, six or eight hours left on your trip but now you’re relying on some Podunk Hellaware fuckwits to fix your car, and you’re trapped in a motel with one static-smeared channel that seems to only play Sanford and Son over and over and over again. (Too personal? Yeah, this actually happened to me and a friend of mine driving back to college many years back. Good times. Good times.)

What I’m saying is, the manuscript can reach a point where you just… don’t… love it anymore. Maybe you’re considering a divorce? (*he says as he idly fingers a noose*)Well, eff that ess right in its mouth, hombre. You need sex tips. You need ways to sexually arouse your man… er, manuscript.

Daddy’s here to help.

Pleasure Yourself, Pony Boy

Sometimes, we try to tackle projects that just aren’t our thing. We think, “Oh! I really believe this story is a Victorian Brinepunk Time-Traveling Bromance,” but you get halfway in and you’re like, “Goddamn, I hate Brinepunk. And while I really like bromances, this whole time-traveling thing is killing me.”

I’m not suggesting you should never stray outside your comfort zones. You should. You always should leave the safety of the firelight.

But stray too far, and you find yourself lost.

Listen, like me, I’m betting you have a few pop culture properties (films, books, games) that you can watch (or read, or play) again and again. Right? I can watch Die Hard or Army of Darkness forever anon. I could sit down and read Swan Song by Robert McCammon like I’ve never read it before. I could play Bioshock until the world perishes.

Your manuscript has to have that quality. It has to possess something about it that you love. Writing it should be a little like masturbation — when we, ahem, throttle the ostrich or murder the little man in the boat, we know just what tricks and techniques are sure to get us to our cataclysmic conclusion, yeah?

You know all the right moves.

Bring that attitude to your manuscript. Start identifying elements about writing fiction that you love. Things that are fun for you. You shouldn’t rely on these at every turn, but if you can’t get your rocks off with this manuscript, it’s likely that others won’t feel the love, either. Me, I have a whole host of things that will get me through a story. If the story is funny, I can write that fast and with pleasure. If I get to use creative profanity? If I get to write clever violence? If one character is smarter than everyone else, or is stupider than everyone else? These are all ways to reach the pinnacle of paroxysmic pleasure, as it were. Again, you rely too much on these, and you’ll get schticky and hacky (Schticky and Hacky are, by the way, my favorite Cop Team of the 90s). But you need to inject a little fast flavor into your manuscript, and get it so it’s like me with Die Hard: you could write this thing all day every day and never fall out of love.

You Number One Protagonist, Me Love You Long Time

Consider: are you getting behind your protagonist? Er, I don’t mean that in a sexy, “You’ve got the protagonist bent over a sink” way. I mean, are you buying it? Do you like him-slash-her? Are you willing to settle down with that character for 300+ pages or two hours of a film or ten issues of a comic book?

Just as the writer must be willing to marry the manuscript, the writer and the audience must be willing to marry your protagonist.

Now, that way lies danger: your character needn’t be some Mary Sue author replacement. In fact, the protagonist damn sure shouldn’t be. We love flaws and imperfections. You just need to find the flaws and imperfections you love about this character, and amp them up (or insert them if they’re not missing).

The protagonist of my novel is pretty much a human vulture. She’s not nice. She’s downright callous at times. And yet, fuck it, I believe in her. Like Luke Skywalker with Dark Poppa, I know there’s good in her. And if I know it, hopefully the audience knows it, and this journey with her is very much about bringing out that sense of good through the veneer of being a bad little kitty. I love to write her. With every project going forward, if I can’t identify why I love and believe in the main character from the get-go, I will hold off until I find that missing ingredient. Because if I can’t live with the protagonist for the duration of the book, I’m confident the reader will want a divorce before the end, too. (*he says as he ignites a propane torch and taps a gas can with his foot*)

Check Your Technique

When you’re attempting to pleasure your partner, the partner can offer feedback. “To the left.” “Faster!” “Less teeth.” “More wombat!”

The manuscript shall remain silent, however. Which means it’s up to you to refine your technique. You’re hitting your head on this WIP? Go back to the well. Look at your building blocks, and see what’s wrong. You know how in some video games you’ll find skills or map areas that are blocked off until you master like, Space Cooking 4? This is that. You need to master Manuscript Lovemaking 7, baby.

It’s possible you’re just not ready, yet.

So get ready.

Look at the outline, the mindmaps, the character sketches, or whatever supplemental preliminary information you’ve done. Lay it out in front of you and try to suss out: what isn’t working? What don’t you like? Be bold. Be honest. Are you comfortable with what you see? Just as sex can be a mental thing where you need certain elements in place (flickering candles, Massive Attack on the stereo, Vietnamese Spinfuck chair lubed with berry-scented greases), your manuscript is the same. It’s mental. If something’s off in the beginning, then you will remain flaccid about the whole affair. (Or, if you’re a lady, then your vagooha will remain drier than a Frosted Mini-Wheat.)

I’ve had it where I look at a story, and I say, “You know, I don’t know that I get get behind the character acting this way.” Or, “That feels too convenient.” Or, “I don’t believe the lady would actually ask for more wombat during this sex scene.”

Oh, and if you don’t have an outline, a mind-map, a character sketch? Then it might be time to get one. Plan this shit out. It’s hard to figure out what elements aren’t coming together if you don’t know what elements went into the WIP in the first damn place.

Time To Shake Shit Up

In the bedroom, it’s sometimes necessary to try new things to keep the fire going. Right? Whips, chains, wombats, biochemical weapons, trained leopard seals, regicide, whatever. Even if it’s something you’re not sure about, hey, you try it. Maybe you like it and incorporate it into your Cabinet Of Sexual Maneuvers, or maybe you don’t like it and you have to call the fire department to come and remove this angry leopard seal from your bedroom. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been there.

Your manuscript may need the same kind of shake-up.

Yes, I advocate careful planning. I advocate outlines. I say that you should have a map.

Ah. But, but, but.

The conditions-on-the-ground sometimes differ from what your map suggests. You’re driving along and suddenly you find that the road ahead is closed. Or instead you see that if you were to turn left instead of going straight you’d be on a much more scenic route.

While writing your current WIP, you might be bored with what you have planned. You’re writing and it feels like it’s not surprising you. Sure, the missionary position does the trick, but suddenly you find yourself wishing for Saran Wrap and amyl nitrate.

So, try something new.

Get out the wombat.

Take the scenic route.

It’s okay to deviate from an outline. The map is just a map; the map is not the journey. Flip it. Switch it. Have your protagonist set fire to something. Have her engage in a scene of unexpected behavior. Play the what if game the moment you hit a roadblock. What if she just shoots that dude? What if she can’t hack it and breaks down, sobbing? What if she presses that button that we’ve known all along she’s not supposed to press? Conflict. Transgression. As Gomer Pyle said, “Surpraahse, surpraaahse, surpraaahse!”

Surprise yourself, and you will surprise the reader.

(By the way, I talk a little about conflict and transgression and how it relates to crime fiction over at the Do Some Damage blog today. Check it out?)

No, Seriously, Stop Now And Start Over

This is what I’d consider last ditch effort, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

As noted, sex is mental. So’s writing. When trying to get your sex groove on, sometimes it just isn’t coming together — you’re thinking about taxes or bills or last night’s Big Bang Theory, and you just ain’t feeling it. So you stop and come back to it later and maybe your erotic Energon Cubes are all recharged. That can work with the manuscript, yes. Stop writing for the day. Stop writing it for the week. Take a detour on a smaller project, then come back to your WIP, ideally refreshed.

But maybe that doesn’t work.

Sometimes, a marriage has to start over, too. You need to get “re-engaged.” You need to buy a new house or have some kids, you need to find a way to start over without ending it.

A manuscript can use that kind of work. It’s drastic, but go back to the beginning. You might keep some stuff, but really, start over. Trash anything that’s not working. Go back to the fundamentals and rebuild. You need to fall back in love with your work, you need to back through that courting period, you need to rediscover awesome shit. So, do that.

You’re not getting divorced (*he says as he fires up the reciprocating saw*), you’re just getting remarried to the same person. Er, same work-in-progress. Whatever. Shut up.

Hey, sometimes you gotta go drastic to save a marriage.

(And for the record, no, I’m not actually going to try to kill my wife if she ever tries to leave me. Sheesh. Who do you think I am? I’m just going to hobble her like Annie Wilkes does to novelist Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s Misery! Then she’ll never leave! Yay!)

24 comments

  • I didn’t believe in divorce either, until things went so pear-shaped with my first wife that reconciliation was downright impossible for a variety of reasons. It took some time to get over some of the big issues and for me to sack up a bit, but after all is said and done, we’re better friends now than we ever were as spouses, we’re both happier in our situations and things just worked out well in the end. I’m not saying divorce should be a viable, go-to option when the marriage is on the rocks; rather, when the poor thing has two broken legs, went blind in one eye last year and seems to be having trouble breathing, it might be time to take it out behind the shed and bid it a tearful farewell before putting both barrels between its big eyes.

    Anyway. These are good tips. Especially ensuring that you draw the line between liking your protagonist and putting yourself into the character. Over and over again.

    • @Josh:

      Word, and to be clear, I’m not actually attempting to make a statement about marriage and divorce — it’s more that I’m trying to keep people from abandoning their WIPs so easily. Because it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. One day, you merely need to… stop doing it. Poof.

      – c.

  • Happy Tuesday, Chuck! Great post, as always. I’m in love with you, literarily speaking. I think I’m having an affair with your blog. Meanwhile my own blog is sitting at home wondering when I’ll return and why I always smell of intelligently used curse words.

    You made some great points that got me thinking about aspects of my WIP. Especially about the characters. I know my male protagonist has flaws, but I’m starting to wonder if my female might be a little too perfect. I’ve given her little indiosyncrasies that give her life and a certain uniqueness, but she’s one of those all-American, sweet-as-apple-pie kind of girls. Then again, she is half Angel, so I guess I assumed she’d be better than most. But maybe I should take another look at her and see if she might have one not-so-redeeming quality. Or maybe she doesn’t need it. Crap! I hate overthinking stuff.

    What’s a Mary Sue? I’ve heard that term used before, but I don’t know what it means.

    FCQD: The cackling laughs of a mad bricklayer drifting over the highway like discordant calliope music.

    Ciao!

  • Now Josh owes Chuck a coke. ;) Thanks for the Mary Sue info guys. And now I’m going to spend several hours pouting before bucking up to take on the new challenge that is “dirtying up my Angel.” I’ll not thank you now, Mr. Wendig, but in the end I’m sure I’ll be grateful for your wealth of selfless knowledge-sharing.

  • I had to cover my WIP’s eyes so it wouldn’t see you suggesting little things like divorce. My WIP and I have been going at the whole word count thing hot and steamy for just over two months…hard to believe its almost time to put it away for awhile so it can be looked at with fresh eyes.

    I see you talking about dropping WIPs too early. What about a blog post for the ones that are hard to put away, even for a moment?

    • @AM:

      Well, don’t get me wrong, we should endeavor to put away our WIPs so we can go take a walk or play with our dogs or whatever, but ultimately that issue is a *good* one to have. It’s a nice problem, not a nasty one. :)

      – c.

  • Okay, so I’ve thought about the whole “flaw” thing. I know this might be straying off-topic from the post, but it’s your fault for making me think (at least, I feel better by putting all blame on you).

    My Angel already has problems adjusting to change and fully accepting her role in the universe, and she encounters it a lot in the book. If I tweak that a bit to make it slightly more prominent, even making it the one thing my guy protaginist has an issue with when it comes to her, would that make her less of a Mary Sue? Is that flaw enough to make people not hate her? She does learn to overcome her fears in the end of course and becomes a stronger person, yadda yadda.

    So does that qualify as “dirtying” or do I have to give her a mud shower and make her like a cleptomaniac or something?

    • @Gina:

      A Mary Sue character generally has no flaws at all, so those flaws you got going sound fine. I mean, it all depends on implementation, of course: flaws and imperfects need to be front and center (without being cartoonish, I guess).

      – c.

  • What happened to me recently was that I just wandered into the Tar Pit of character naming, and I’m pretty sure they’ll find my completely intact corpse clutching my dead laptop in about 35 million years. Aliens will, anyway. We’ll all be gone by then of course. They’ll scoff at our prehistoric technology and wonder why with my having crooked bottom teeth my pelvic area shows signs that someone actually wanted to breed with me.

    • @Julie:

      As in, you’re stuck endlessly in the area of “naming characters?”

      I’m usually good at naming characters.

      Titling the WIP, though, can be an exercise in head-crushing frustration for me, but that’s a post of another stripe.

      – c.

  • *exhales a rush of held breath just as face was turning blue*

    Well, thank God for that! Okay, panic attack avoided. I’m going back to avoiding work at my job as much as possible while working on rewrites. :D

  • Names are fun! My husband and I use our kids first names or middle names or both or made up variations of either. We get all sorts of confused looks in public when people think they know our kids’ names, but then they answer to something completely different. :) It’s fun for the whole family!! lol

  • I sort of read through this quickly, so if you did cover it, my apologies. Sometimes what the marriage needs is a change of scene, sometimes a point of view shift. The WIP I just finished in Dec had been fermenting for years. But it was when I shifted the when and where that it changed from same old same old to POW! And I could put it in the cue.

    I’ve also gotten stuck on stories before where I would hit a wall and all it needed was a POV shift. 3rd person wasn’t working but 1st person gave it kick or vice versa. Just something else to think about.

    Oh, and great post as always! The Beard Rules! :)

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