Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blog Chain - The Pain of Being One of My Characters

Blog chain time once again. This round was started by the totally stellar Leah (and major MAJOR congrats to her…she just signed with Rosemary Stimola and we are all just busting a gut excited for her!!!)

Carolyn posted a truly awesome answer before me, and Sandra will come up with something equally fantabulous next.

Leah would like to know:

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.

Stanley Elkin said, “I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.

This 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, in a book of advice to writers, 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 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.


Anonymous said...

NIce post. I agree with you - it is the intense drama that makes me turn the page and keep reading. Great job.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Great job! You actually answered the original question! Hooray.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I like the Hemingway quote! I also agree with you that there needs to be conflict in order to have a story.

Verification word: "biting." I suppose another solution for writer's block would be to have someone bite someone else. ;)

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

LOL -- you did answer the original question. And you managed to look a lot less sociopathic than I would have doing the same thing. ;-)

Michelle McLean said...

Ooo, biting...biting would work ;-)

And Carolyn, you think I sounded less sociopathic than you would? sweet and innocent facade is working :D

Elana Johnson said...

Oooh, I love that quote by Stanley Elkin. That's going on my wall. I get so caught up in a story, that I actually feel the way the characters do. So the conflict, how they feel when they're holding their dead husband's body, is real to me. Which is why we read. Great job!

JBarWriter said...

Love this as well, "Stanley Elkin said, “I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.”
Thanks for the great post.

TerriRainer said...

OMG...shoot someone? I will so have to remember that one.
Great post!
:) Terri

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

And then realized that shooting someone was the perfect answer to the problem I had created for myself.

My first thought was: "I'm never going to the same writer's conference as you."

But then I remembered we're talking about characters, and I breathed a sigh of relief.


Michelle McLean said...

LOL yeah, characters Kat, just characters ;-)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Great quotes, great pictures, just all around great post in general!

Anonymous said...

Nice post...Love the quote!

Jessica Verday said...

Wow, and here I thought you were all mild mannered Clark Kent. You're a torturing mastermind! ;)