I like catch phrases, slogans, sayings...maybe it’s because I spend most of my days working in advertising and it’s all I hear. And they’re fun to insert into conversations and sometimes I like to do so at inopportune moments just for reaction. (Bam!) But this week, this particular idiom came to mind.
Quick history lesson…
“The buck stops here” was made popular by President Truman who kept this phrase displayed on his desk in the Oval office. President Truman received a sign as a gift from a poker playing prison warden (say that three times fast!), an allusion to the phrase “passing the buck” which refers to a marker that was used to indicate the dealer. In poker, if said individual did not wish to deal, he could decline the responsibility and pass the “buck” to the next player. And so “passing the buck” became synonymous with placing responsibility for one’s own actions on someone else. President Truman displayed the phrase “the buck stops here” as a reminder that, as President, he had to make decisions and take responsibility for those decisions.
In other words, every decision you make has a consequence.
I’m a big fan of that philosophy, and I hold true to that even when the outcome of those decisions are less than favorable. My step-son learned that the hard way this summer and will be facing his consequences for not taking freshman year seriously. I hold myself even tighter to that philosophy. Maybe it’s my inner nerd still going strong from high school, but if I’m going to do something, I do it. I don’t half attempt it, nor do I pass along the problems I don’t want to deal with or the work I don’t feel like doing properly. Half the time, it’s my job to tidy up the information that passes through me anyways. I fix problems before they happen. The buck stops with me.
Awkward transition coming. Wait for it…
So how does this relate to writing?
Well, that’s easy. Plot is the consequences of the decisions made by characters, driven by their motivations. (See how that comes full circle?) My WIP has been on hold for over a month because one of my characters had a secret she refused to share with me. She’s a minor character, so she didn’t get a lot of my attention, something she didn’t seem to mind the past year I’ve been working on this story. After a few beta readers ripped apart WIP 2.0 (1.0 didn’t see the light of day), I launched the development of WIP 3.0, the Revenge. Same skeleton, different motivations, new ending. Excited for the new angle on the story, I hit the keyboard and charged ahead into the fray. Until that minor character had a discussion with my MC that sent me to a screeching halt with only one thought in my head. Why would she do THAT?
Certain characters scream at me, bare all and tell me everything that’s going on in the mind. Others playfully poke at me, make jokes and try to make things difficult for me. This character sat quietly in the background, not talking to me. In the shadow of my other more vocal personalities, she said her piece to the MC and then walked off screen, disappearing out of my head. Only then did I realize that I didn’t know jack about her and she wouldn’t tell. I tried to push forward through the story, but found I couldn’t. I needed to know why she did what she did to the MC. I ended up walking away from my exciting rewrite frustrated.
Time apart does wonders.
Thirty-some days later, out of the blue, the character in question whispers her secret to me. At work, I scrambled to jot it all down. Suddenly, everything makes sense, and why she didn’t want to share it. Now, not only do I have my answer, but I also have this neat little subplot.
Her actions are still shady and questionable, but they make sense now. The motivation is there. She’s just going to pay dearly in term of consequences for that decision she made. She tried to pass the buck, but fate wouldn't let her.
Ever have one character derail your entire process like that? Ever have the answer smack you in the head when you least expect it? Does the buck stop with you?