Quote of the Day:
I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.
~ Stanley Elkin
Okay dear readers, this week I am madly trying to get my almost-so-close-but-not-quite-WIP finished. Basically, it is done minus a couple transition scenes and the very end - and typing it of course :D I've got about 20k of it typed and the goal is to finish it this week. So, I hope you will forgive me, but I have delved into my archives and pulled out a couple favorite posts from my Blog Chain. As most of you joined me long after these were written, hopefully this is new stuff for you to read :)
Leah Clifford had picked this particular topic, and it is one I have been thinking about lately as my crit buddies have begun to sink their pens into my new book. Sometimes I have a hard time being mean to my characters - but this time around, I really tried to be the big, mean author :)
Leah asked: What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters???
Okay, when I first read this topic, I thought, “Oooo, yeah, I torture my characters all the time! This will be easy!”
Upon thinking about it more, I don’t think I do this on purpose (most of the time). But it tends to be the drama, the conflict, that drives a story…and you just can’t get that if your characters get everything they want and are happy all the time.
So how do I amp up the conflict, torture my characters? Well, in Treasured Lies, my main character Minuette falls in love, thinks her love might be a horrible criminal, watches her love get shot and thinks he bleeds to death, suffers a miscarriage, is told her love didn’t really love her and because of what has happened, believes it and gets her heart broken, and then just when things start looking up, the crazy villain comes and kidnaps her, beats her, and tries to kill and rape her. Is that torture enough? :D
A wise friend of mine once told me that if I ever get stuck (writer’s block) to just shoot someone. I laughed. And then realized that shooting someone was the perfect answer to the problem I had created for myself. I had written myself into a corner. All conflicts had been resolved and I had nowhere to go and I still had half a book left to write. So someone got shot – instant conflict, instant torture for several characters – instant end to writer’s block.
Looking at the quote of the day by Stanley Elkin, it is such a great piece of advice…a person at the end of their rope has no where to go but up….but there is always the threat of crashing down…and that makes a great story. If your characters never go through any kind of conflict or “torture,” then you have a story in which nothing happens. A happy person who has everything they want, and continues to be happy with everything they want…Where is the story in that?
Ernest Hemingway said that a writer should…“find what gave you emotion; what the action was that gave you excitement.”
I LOVE that quote. And it made me think, “What is it that gave me emotion? What gave me excitement?” Sure, I am happy when a character gets the guy at the end, or finds the treasure, or gets to live in the big pretty castle and lives happily ever after. But that isn’t what keeps me reading the story. What keeps me reading, what gives me goosebumps and makes my heart pound, is when the heroine cradles her dying husband in her arms…when she is on the back of a thundering horse, shooting a gun over her shoulder at the villain chasing her….when she made some stupid mistake and screwed up the good thing she had going….THAT kind of stuff makes me want to turn the page.
Did the husband really die? Will she get away? (Or will the retort of the gun knock her on her butt?…because that is always fun) :D Will she be able to fix her mistake and get the good thing going again, or has she just completely screwed up her life?
So, that is what I do to my characters. I try to give the reader a reason to turn the page, by giving my characters a reason to keep going, giving them something to fix, to resolve, to get over and move past. Death, pain, despair, torture, emotion, threat, danger….these all get the blood pumping, the tears pouring…and make that happy ending all the happier for the mess they had to go through to get there.