Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sucky, suckier, and suckiest

Romances don’t only deal with love but with conflict. If the conflict is lukewarm, the romance isn’t very compelling – at least not to view as a third party. If there is no conflict, who would want to read about it? Conflict makes the sparks burn brighter. It promotes character growth. It keeps readers on the edge of their seat. Without conflict, the whole story would read “And they lived happily ever after. The end.” Snooze alert… Conflict, the more the better, or in other words, the tighter the screws are turned, the suckier the situation is for the hero and heroine, the high the interest value. The more we, the readers, want to see them overcome and succeed. Most of us know the story of Joseph and the many colored dream coat from the Bible and more recently of Donny Osmond fame in the movie. Joseph starts off as a snobby little brat who has things so easy his brothers hate him. In fact they hate him so much they want him dead and try to kill him. But Joseph not only survives, he goes from one sucky situation to a suckier situation and an even suckier situation yet. Along the way, he grows up and becomes a wonderful man, one who has been honed in the fire so that he becomes a great leader and ends up saving his own family as well. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker and company are subjected to one life-threatening event to another, almost non-stop. They jump into a chute to save their skins just to find out it’s a death chamber that’s worse. In the most recent Indiana Jones movie, Indy escapes the gun-happy Russians just to find himself in the middle of a nuclear test site and nearly gets blown up by the A-bomb. Of course not all stories have to be so action packed. Sucky things can happen to normal people, too. We suffer our own dramas – loss of job, stock market crashes, hurricanes, tornadoes, car and plane wrecks, illness, rifts with family and friends, breakups, demotions, unexpected bills… The list goes on and on. Life is filled with sucky things that can be used as fodder in our stories. Conflict can change within the story. One of my favorite movies is “Showboat” , the version with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner. The first conflict is when Julie is kicked off the showboat and her life goes downhill forever more. Then the story focuses on Magnolia and Gaylord and how Noli’s mother tries to keep them apart. Then things get boring for awhile when Noli and Gaylord are happy newlyweds living in luxury. But then Gaylord’s gambling gets him into trouble and their fortunes turn. He can’t take it and deserts Noli. Things keep getting worse for Noli and Gaylord until finally they get back together and it’s “Saturday Night Forever” and they have their happily ever after. Of course the story ends at this point as the rest would bore us to tears now that they’re deliriously happy again. Maybe we’re masochists, enjoying others pain and torture. Maybe it just makes us feel better that we’re not the only ones suffering. Maybe it’s because it gives us an opportunity to get invested in the characters and hope things will get better. I love “end of the world” stories as my family calls them. It’s not that I really want the world to end even if I’ve blown it up in at least one of my books. What I enjoy is the emotion and the human will to survive and overcome against all odds. I like to see the character growth such adversity brings. I like to see the big pay off, the triumph (survival on a big scale – the human race) in the end. That’s as long as there’s emotion mixed in with the story and it’s not only action adventure ad nauseum (I hated “War of the Worlds”). It didn’t slow down long enough to really get involved with the characters. They were too busy running the entire time to get to know them, to really care about them. Don’t be afraid to hurt your characters. Writing isn’t the time to be Mrs. Nice Guy. The meaner we are to them, the more adversity we make them face, the more the readers will love them. You'll also want to see what Amarinda Jones, Anika Hamilton, Anny Cook, Barbara Huffert, Brynn Paulin, Bronwyn Green, Dakota Rebel, Kelly Kirch, Molly Daniels, Sandra Cox, Regina Carlysle, and Cindy Spencer Pape are up to, so make sure to visit them also. :)


Anonymous said...

I think it's because if someone isn't affected by the events in a story, how can the reader be? We can't engage with them and so we don't care. But the other part is we hope that the initial person we started off with and have grown to care about, will reach that satisfying ending. It's only more satisfying because it was so hard to obtain.

PS. About Clark. I was hoping you just happened to know all that stuff about him. Like it was your super power or something.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Excellent points, Ashley. It's hard to do sometimes, but it does make for better reading.

Unknown said...

You are scary today

DJ Kirkby said...

I found this really helpful as I am a bit stuck on one of the books I am writing at the moment and I now realise it is because nothing is happening to them! Right, I am off to go make them think their world is ending!

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