Monday, November 9, 2015

Getting Uncomfortable

There they are, your creations. Those folks who reside in your head, whose lives inform the words you are grinding out, 30, 300 or 3000 a day in November. It's natural to dislike taking them somewhere dark or nasty.

Unless you're writing a horror story, of course. Horror writers embrace that sort of thing, I know. I've written several novels in the genre.

The sad truth, though, is that to make an interesting story, you have to willing to make your protagonist uncomfortable at least. Maybe his dog doesn't have to die, so to speak, but it should at least catch a thorn in its paw.

Think about the novels you've read recently. For me, The Martian by Andy Weir is an excellent example of the point. Imagine the protagonist, Mark, left behind alone on Mars, but with full Internet connection, four years worth of food and beverages, functional heaters, all his favorite music and books. In other words, living in total comfort. Would that novel have made the best-seller list? Would you be eager to read it, then go see that movie?

It is the string of problems Mark solves so beautifully, the disasters that overtake him one after the other, the fear that despite his valiant efforts he will still die alone on Mars: that conflict drives the story. That is what makes it compelling.

For another example, consider The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The obvious conflict in that trilogy is the Games. But consider the lives of the people in the Districts. Their suffering at home makes a counterpoint to that of the tributes in the Games, and all are layered against the anguish of the triangle of lovers, Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. The power of these stories is in that suffering.

Does that mean your story must concern global pain or ultimate isolation to succeed? Of course not! Make your characters uncomfortable enough to drive them to take action where they might otherwise want to coast along. Give them the incentive to grow in order to escape or solve their problems.

And a little secret: The problem-setup-and-solution scenes are easy to write. Nothing breaks through a blockage like impending doom. 

Or maybe just a thorn in a paw...

Word Count: 3529 Day 8 and 24435 Total