So far, so good. I’m still engrossed in the discovery stage of my fantasy WIP: growing the world, developing the community, digging away at the characters of my hero and heroine, adding images to my collection and tracks to my playlist – thank you so much for the great suggestions last week – and generally trying to knit together the jumble of impressions, ideas and loose ends into something vaguely coherent. Getting there. I think.
I’ve also been investigating lots of diverse subjects I know nothing about, including how to field dress a broken arm, much ado about horses, how to maintain a shaved head, leather armor, underwear through the ages, the history of soap, and lots more stuff about fighting.
I was talking to a knowledgeable friend about fighting, sketching out the essentials of the story, and I got to a turning point that makes the heroine commit to the hero’s cause. “Ah,” my friend said, nodding his head. “That hit her Go Switch.”
I hadn’t heard the phrase before, and I’ve had some difficulty locating it online thanks to a physical switch with that name that’s apparently used in nuclear processors and other hi-tech installations, but I immediately liked the idea.
The way I understand it, an event or information that hits a Go Switch zaps the hindbrain and triggers an instantaneous and unqualified reaction in the person receiving it. An obvious example might be: if a woman feels threatened, she might soft-pedal, try various strategies to try to extricate herself from a dangerous situation. If her child is threatened, hell hath no fury: she’ll put herself in harm’s way, take no chances and no prisoners.
It’s not a new idea, but for me it was a new and simple way to look at story and character. Some of the best and most powerful moments in some of my favorite books arise because a character has a Go Switch that’s particular to them, usually caused by some momentous event in their backstory. The reader knows this, so the reader is ready and holding their breath when some unremarkable event triggers an immediate and extreme reaction from one of the main characters.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is brilliant at this. Take, for example, Kiss An Angel, where the hero is, among other things, the whip-wielding star of an act with a traveling circus. He’s hot but damaged (of course) and is absolute in his determination never to have children because Backstory. The heroine falls in love with him (of course), becomes pregnant (inevitably) and thinks their growing closeness will make him happy about impending fatherhood once he gets over the initial shock. Well, not immediately. She breaks the news. His Go Switch melts. Their circus act is dangerous, but he’s a whiz with his whip and she’s supposed to smile confidently while he slices objects in half with a flick of his wrist a mere whisker from her body. He’s in such a state, he gets it wrong, for the first time ever, and lashes her body instead of his target. She’s not badly hurt, but shocked, and believes he’s done it deliberately to hurt their unborn child. She runs. He re-assesses his priorities. Lots of powerful action ensues before everything comes good in the end.
Loretta Chase is great, too. Take my oft-cited fave, Lord of Scoundrels. When Lord Dain gets carried away and starts disrobing the equally out-of-control Jessica in the orangery at a society ball, they are discovered in a compromising position. Because his first love had used that exact tactic to try to trap him into marriage, Boom! Dain instantly assumes history is repeating itself. He behaves outrageously, condemning Jessica to scandal and social ruin. Which leads her to shoot him, which perversely leads him to marry her, and…
A major benefit is that writing turning points that hit a character’s Go Switch leads to scenes involving strong actions and reactions, putting bodies powerfully in motion rather than people talking at each other, which makes for a much better story. Incredibly useful.
When I started to think about my WIP, I realised I knew my heroine’s Go Switch. She’s the child of an unplanned pregnancy; her father behaved appallingly, and she’s been living with the consequences for her entire life. So a generation later, when she returns to town and sees her half-brother repeating her father’s behavior, she’ll do anything to prevent history repeating itself.
I also discovered my hero’s Go Switch was not what I expected, and I had to think a little harder to figure out what it was. Now I’ve got it, I can build on it, figure out what must happen to push it, and what happens as a consequence.
What do you think? Does this easy test work for your favorite scenes or stories?