Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Bad Mean Cruel Despicable Writer

Making faces photo by Sam Fentress.

I once did a writing critique for a writer friend. I’ll call him Harry. Harry was a poet, a good one, who had a wonderful talent for putting words together. The story he wrote had a lot to recommend it. The sentences flowed beautifully. The descriptions were lovely, without a cliché in sight. The characters were well drawn and felt like real people. It would, in fact, have been a great story but for one fatal flaw.

Here’s a summary of the story line: The protagonist  has been seeing a woman for a while. He asks her to go away for the weekend. She agrees to go. They go away and have a wonderful time.

Can you see the problem? There’s no conflict. None at all.

Conflict is a major ingredient in fiction. It’s the tension of conflict that keeps a reader hanging on to find out what will happen next. Without conflict, there is no story.

Harry had the first step right; he gave the protagonist something to want. In this case, the protagonist wants to go away with his new girlfriend and have a great time. So far, so good.  Then comes the rub--the writer can’t actually give the protagonist what he wants. Harry is a nice guy and he loves his protagonist. The last thing he wants to do is be mean to his character. But a good writer has to be mean. The character buys the house of his dreams? The writer burns it down. The character finally gets a date with the woman he has a crush on? The writer gives him an allergy attack the afternoon before the big night. The character has a chance to win the golf tournament? The writer breaks his arm.  In short, writers are bad cruel despicable meanies. We do awful things to our characters. 

Harry could add discomfort, pain,, and suffering in a few places along the way to make the story work. He could make his protagonist anxious about asking his girlfriend to go away with him. He could have the new girlfriend say no. He could make the weekend a disaster. Any or all of these would keep the protagonist from getting what he wants.

Then, of course, Harry would need to find a way for his protagonist to overcome these conflicts. In the end, the writer can  finally give the his character all  he desires. Or some of what he desires, anyway. The ending will be all the sweeter for all the terrible things the writer made him do to prevail.

Till next time


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Sadists every one!

Ute Carbone said...

Aren't we just, Julie. Aren't we just. *rubs hands together and laughs manically*

Nikki said...

How do we think up these things? Maybe because we're actually very nice people in touch with our dark sides. How many ways can I kill off that bad mean cruel ex-boss...