How many of you are addicted to Candy Crush? I am. I find myself playing at four in the morning when I can’t sleep. How many of you have been stuck on a level long enough to rant and rave that you are going to delete the game? I’m not quite there yet, but I have been stuck on level 70 for more than a week, and I have a friend who was stuck on one level (97 I believe) for more than 2 months. Why do we do this to ourselves? I have begun to question how many minutes of our lives we waste to smash some jelly. Still, there are some things about writing that fiction authors can learn from Candy Crush.
1. Every move impacts other cells around it. This sounds like like a logical conclusion, but how many of you have been surprised by the impact that one swipe to the left or right can make. You can’t just look at the cells immediately surrounding the one you want to move. You have to think of the impact everywhere. I was trying to move candy around to line up a stripe and a wrapped candy. What I didn’t see was that the one swipe that I made dropped a new line of candy down that destroyed the very alignment that I was trying to make. It wasn’t even on the row that I was moving.
This happens to our fiction writing also. We are focused on one subplot and find the perfect alignment that will wreak havoc for our characters, but we don’t realize until it is too late that will destroy the progress we have made on another subplots. Working with multiple subplots is tricky. For instance, I once changed the age of a child in the story to be the child more ability to interact with other characters. But changing the age of the child, changed the age of the mother when she gave birth to the child which in turn complicated the time and way the mother and father met and even the mother’s career timeline. It simply didn’t work, and I had to change the child’s age back or rewrite a good portion of the story.
2. You will face challenges along the way. In Candy Crush, every few levels that you pass, you are faced with a challenge. You either have to get three friends to support you (if you are connected to Facebook) or face three challenges before you can move on to the next level. The challenges are levels that you have already completed with an added complication like a higher goal. Once you complete a challenge, you must wait 24 hours to try the next challenge. In other words, once you reach the challenge level, you must either wait a minimum of three days or connect to Facebook and ask your friends for help.
Your characters will face challenges also and many of them will look familiar. The theme of your story is built on the re-occurrence of a problem. This problem will manifest itself through dialogue, actions, reactions, and even setting. Each time your character faces the thematic challenge, the stakes are raised. In Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, the main character Mo is trying to find a sense of belonging and identity since she was separated from her mother as an infant. This is challenging enough, but the other raises the stakes for Mo by taking away her adoptive family as well.
3. The wrong move too soon can be devastating. Once you get to the levels with chocolate, you know what I mean. Many times the chocolate is contained until you make a move that accesses it. Opening up those cells too soon can ruin the entire game. On my current level (70), the chocolate is blocked off with a row of licorice squares. Until you break open the licorice, the chocolate has no place to grow. You want to wipe out all the jelly in surrounding squares before attempting to control the chocolate. On several occasions, I have accidentally broken open the licorice through a move I made someplace else. The result? A chocolate flood with no possible moves to stop it. I may have 43 moves left, but there is nothing that I can do. The chocolate has been unleashed and the game is pretty much over. The bad part is that I still have to play those 43 moves even though I know that I have no chance to beat the level.
In fiction writing, we know that we need to raise the stakes. Raising the stakes too high, too fast, can be devastating to the story line, however, because you have nowhere else to go. You can’t maintain the momentum and your plot suddenly becomes mundane. I ran into this once with a story that had a very powerful beginning. It was exciting. It raised curiosity. It made the reader want to turn the page. It was really good. It was so good that it was hard to beat. All of the tension and stakes that came after it were boring. I had given away the secret too soon. I never finished the story. I had no more moves.
4. Too much chocolate is bad…very, very, bad. As mentioned before, chocolate spreads every time you make a move unless you are make a move that touches it. This is the only way to destroy the chocolate once it has started. You must connect at least three of the same types or candy or two special candies right next to the chocolate. The problem is that this is not always possible, especially on certain levels, and the chocolate spreads uncontrollably. It locks out squares and gives you fewer and fewer options as you go along. In life, I love chocolate. In Candy Crush, I hate chocolate.
In fiction writing, you also have to write strategically. Each action or conflict must have an impact. Every word your characters say must have meaning. In other words, every word you write must have an impact. If you waste dialogue and action, you are limiting your ability to engage your reader. If it happens too many times, your reader will get bored and will put your book down. I recently read a book called Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales by Randy Singer. As a writer myself, I try to give every book the benefit of the doubt. In this case, I stopped reading. I read all the way to chapter 18 with very little action and almost comical coincidences. In the first 18 chapters, not a single lawyer had died and the protagonist was still trying to pass the bar exam. The author wasted words.
5. Licorice can be both your friend and your enemy. Sometimes you curse licorice in Candy Crush because it is more difficult to eliminate. Other times you love licorice because it blocks chocolate from spreading. Licorice squares do not move. They sit in one spot until the licorice is destroyed. To eliminate licorice squares, you must take an extra step. You have to first eliminate the licorice and then treat the candy square underneath like any other jelly square. Only then will the candy underneath the licorice move. Licorice is also placed strategically on the board. It is in those difficult corners or sides or it is blocking the downward flow someplace in the middle. Licorice is great, however, when you want to control what is underneath them. You have to play the licorice squares just right.
In fiction writing, you will have supporting characters that can either be a friend or foe. Sometimes they are both in the same story. These characters influence the story line by helping or hindering the protagonists journey to their goal. Their impact is not always deliberate. In other words, they may not be choosing to be a friend or a foe. They may just be doing their job or they may just be in the wrong place or right place at the perfect time. These characters can may be difficult to work around, but they may also protect your character until your character is ready to move past them. Once they are not needed, they can be eliminated and not missed. If you remove one too early, though, watch out. You may wish that you’d kept them around for a little bit longer.
6. Occasionally you have to change strategies. If you have leveled up in Candy Crush, you will realize that occasionally you need to change or adopt new strategies. At first, it seems fairly simple. Align three or more candies and magical things happen. As you level up, however, you soon realize that you only need horizontal striped candy or that the scatter candy is ineffective. You may have to target candies at the top in one level and at the bottom at another level. You have to analyze your strategy and plan which moves will work to your advantage.
Your main character must also go through a transformation. If your character faces a problem, tries a solution, and succeeds, then he or she is likely to try that strategy again. Two things must happen in order for your character to grow. First, the problem needs to be slightly different each time. Second, your character must be unsuccessful at first, then change their strategy, and eventually overcome the problem. This procedure is repeated throughout your novel until the character finally wins out in the end. If the problem remains the same and your character always wins or loses, the story is boring. If the problem changes, but your character never changes his or her strategy, the story goes nowhere. Change is what makes your character relatable. Overcoming the struggle is what makes your character likable.
7. One accomplishment leads to a new challenge. What happens when you complete a level on Candy Crush? You are faces with a new level and a new challenge. I haven’t reached the top of Candy Crush yet, but I have on a few other games. I get all the way to the end and then say, “Now what? This is not very satisfying.” If you are like me, you go looking for something else that offers you a challenge and the game begins again. One day (if I don’t delete it first), I will reach the end of Candy Crush and then I have a decision to make. Am I satisfied with my accomplishment or am I ready to find something else?
There is often a misconception about writing fiction. There is a camp of hopeful authors who believe that once they get published, life is easy. People will run out and by their books and they will bask in the glory of the best-seller list. The fact is, once the story is written, there are endless hurdles to jump. Many people don’t make it. No, change that, most people don’t make it. Authors today have be publicist, marketing rep, accountant, and many other roles or they have to pay other people to do it for them. Even so, readers may not buy the book. Digital publishing has taken the price of a standard novel from $6.99 to $.99 in recent years. You may pour two years into a novel to have it sold for less than a dollar. Authors have to dedicate time to blogging, networking, book signings, and endless hours of promoting to get their book out there. This leaves little time for more writing, which is the draw for numerous writers in the first place. The fact is that being a writer involves more than just writing and authors should view the completion of the novel as the beginning of a new level. Now the stakes are higher. Now the work is harder. The challenges are different.
The only thing that you can do is to keep writing, keep learning, and keep reaching for that goal. Hopefully one day, things will align and life will be Sweet.