Learning from Mistakes

In a perfect world, one would be able to read about mistakes others have made and not have to make them personally. Or one would see someone make a mistake and never go down that road one’s self. Here, in reality, such as it is, we do all make mistakes.

The good thing is, we do have the ability to learn from them, with rare exceptions. Like addictions and accidents, let’s say. Other than that, we can add up a column of numbers and know what the answer should be. If we get a different answer, we can correct our mistakes.

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The first step is admitting we have made a mistake. Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, Ph.D., Gives us 9 ways to learn when we fail or screw up. Ashley Fern tells us why we need to learn. And Scott Berkun explains how to do this learning thing. Thanks for reading — oh, wait.

Okay, as a writer, when I make a mistake, I can cut it out of the story and start over. I can make my characters do something else. I can submit the manuscript with a better cover letter to someone who is looking for that kind of a story. Easy and done regularly, like clockwork.

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But mistakes are the basis of a lot of Romance plots. Romeo and Juliet come to mind. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy also. What mistakes have your characters made that led them to a place where they found something they didn’t know they were looking for?

In the third book of my Regency Banquet series (which is hopelessly delayed while I do other stuff), Bernard Curtis discovers he made a mistake in trying to stand in for his twin brother. He also made the mistake of thinking of his beautiful cousin Amelia as feather brained and hopeless. And the biggest mistake would be his not recognizing his feelings for her until they were alone in a dark place.

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Amelia, too, made a few mistakes. She tried to convince herself that she wanted to marry her eldest cousin to be secure in her life, financially and socially. She mistakenly tried to make her cousin jealous by bragging about all the young lords she had kissed. And she mistakenly went off on her own, resulting in being kidnapped.

Bernard learns that his family has grown closer when the truth about his identity is revealed, that a woman can be strong and competent in an emergency, and that giving in to his desire for her is maybe not the mistake he thought it to be.

At the same time, Amelia realizes she really does love Roland. Or Bernard. And can’t possibly try to trap him into marriage. And that a jealous man is less fun than novels say. And being kidnapped might just be the best thing that happened to her.

My contemporary MCs have made some mistakes, too. Adam in thinking he could hack into his former employer’s computer system without stirring up trouble. And in trusting someone he thought to be a friend. Mostly in believing he could keep people safe when he went up against an embezzler.

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Some people who have beta read the story couldn’t get far when Valerie let Adam live with her. They saw that as a huge mistake that soured the whole book. But that’s the kind of person Val is. She would let a homeless man live in her house to keep the emptiness at bay and distract her from the fact she was retreating from life. The pain of being alive again maybe seemed like a mistake, too.

Adam learns to make sure the proper authorities know what he is attempting to do, that best friends can be the biggest betrayers, and that keeping people safe would mean letting go of correcting a past error.

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As you might expect, Valerie learns to trust her instincts, to hold firm in the face of a lot of negative events, to let go of grief without making her love for her deceased family meaningless, and being alive will always have pain but sometimes joy beyond belief.

Using mistakes can make your characters fuller and richer. Even if you don’t use the specific mistakes in the story, know about them so that your back story is well-rounded and you can build the characters into the people you need them to be. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

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