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!


Anonymous said...

Your WIP sounds terrific. And yes, parenting sure makes you understand the NEED to let the child fail.
Great post!!!

ElanaJ said...

I agree with Christine. Parenting is some of the most tortuous work you can do. I love how Across Two Universes sounds. What a great protag. :)

Annie said...

Say, do you need a reader for Across Two Universes? : ) It sounds amazing.

Great post, as well! I liked what you said about internal pressures are good, but there needs to be more than one type of conflict to make the story great. I will keep that in mind.

TerriRainer said...

Just ask any of my kids...I AM EVIL!

Like the story-line BTW.

:) Terri

celticqueen said...

Ooo, tough love...I love that! :) And yes, there is rarely growth and learning if you don't go through a little fire first...I think being a parent might actually help a writer do this to their characters - we get so much practice in real life ;-)

Great post and your book sounds wonderful!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Oh, yes I know all about the letting the baby cry it out... although I think in the end it is more torturous for the parents than the kid;) Great comparison though between our children and our characters!

Kat Harris said...

I'm going ot echo Kate here in saying that the comparison between the children and characters is a nice one.

Tough love can really hurt both sides, but it is necessary in some cases. (OK, in all cases in fiction.)

Mary Lindsey said...

My kids call me "Momzilla," "Atilla the Mom, and "Mom Vader." I'm far meaner to my characters, though. Great Post. Your WIP sounds fabulous.

Jessica Verday said...

Agreed, agreed! Your WIP sounds so fantastic! Get cracking so we can find it on the bookshelves one day! :)

Archetype said...

I like how you call it "tough love" -- nice touch, and excellent points!

H. L. Dyer said...

Parenting angle = awesome

You rock, Sandra. As always. =)

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