Sunday, February 22, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Torture or Tough Love?

Time again for another Blog Chain Post. Leah picked the topic this time, and she's hoping to make us stretch ourselves. Here's her question (or series of questions):

So Blogchain, (and others) show me your dark side...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???

(As always, you can go back to Leah's post to follow this chain from the beginning, or you can go back to Michelle's post immediately before mine and follow the chain backwards.)

Leah thinks this topic will make some Blog Chain members squirm since (and I quote), "These girls are nice...sweet...moms and teachers and doctors!" Leah, I assume you're not a parent yet; forgive me if that's wrong. But moms know sometimes you have to let the baby cry himself to sleep, no matter how long it takes, so he learns to fall asleep on his own and sleep through the night; sometimes you have to take your child to the doctor for shots and give them nasty-tasting medicine; and sometimes you have to take away something dangerous or discipline them when they do something wrong.

In short, sometimes you need to practice tough love, even if your kids think it's torture.




When it comes to writing characters, I treat them like children (no wonder they sound younger than they are!) and practice tough love with them. I like my protagonists; I don't want to subject them to waterboarding. My antagonists deserve that. But my protags wouldn't enjoy their Happy Ever After endings so much if they didn't pass through some tough times first. And to be honest, I want to see my characters grow over the course of a novel, but they won't overcome their faults until they make mistakes and learn from them. The wounds that I give them will remake them.

Let me give some examples from my WIP, Across Two Universes. At the beginning of the novel, my hero, Paul Harrison, is a seventeen-year-old actor. He is also literally the product of two universes and has a unique talent because of that. However, he doesn't understand his gift, so when his mother is poisoned, he doesn't understand the warning in time to save her. This guilt will drive some of his most desperate acts later in the story. But I don't stop there. Paul was cloned from a famous musician who lost his mother at seventeen. Paul suspects his mother was killed to make his life similar to the man he was cloned from. The death doesn't unlock his musical talent (he doesn't have any), but it gives him more guilt he has to live with, and the only way he can deal with it is to bring the murderer to justice. Add to that the fact that Paul refused to give his mother a final hug (It was in public; he didn't want to look like a mama's boy. The refusal probably saved his own life, but at the cost of more guilt.), and I have another factor that will affect how Paul treats others in the future.

Internal pressures are good, but to keep a reader hooked, it's better to have different types of conflict in a story. As Paul tries to solve his mother's murder and prevent another, he finds other people opposing him, from time travelers, who are trying to protect history, to his friends, who are trying to protect him from himself. Every time he makes progress towards his goals, he complicates the situation further. But these struggles are necessary for him to mature into adulthood and develop his quantum gift. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." (KJV, Luke 12:48) I have grand plans for Paul extending beyond this novel; if anything, his suffering will increase in the sequel. I empathize too much with him to call it torture; I've wept over what happens to him. But the story has to go that way for him to achieve what he must, with humanity's survival at stake.

Anyway, that's more than enough for one post. Leah, I hope I've answered your question. Head on over to Kat's blog for her take on this question!
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