Sunday, May 27, 2007

Characters in Torment?

Of course. That's why they call it fiction. I can do all sorts of mean, nasty, hateful things to them, and they just come back for more. Gosh, I just love it.

As a writer, I know that I have to throw a whole bunch of problems at my characters, otherwise my fiction will be boring. The secret of failure as a writer is to try to please everyone, especially the characters. Oh, those people in my head may want happiness, but there are huge obstacles in the way, obstacles which can thwart those characters, making their lives pure hell. Without realistic conficts, the best characters and beautiful landscapes are about as entertaining as a painting. You may look, but you won’t hang around.

Talented writers of novels and of screenplays know this, and they compose their conflicts every bit as well as they build their worlds and describe their characters. What is so entertaining about stories? Nowadays, much of network television is populated by far more “reality series” than stories, so are stories now passé? Not if you look at the movies, and not if you peruse the shelves of a library or a bookstore. Nope, people still like stories.

As a writer of novels, I do realize that I have an uphill battle. Whatever else has been said about this country, seldom has it been described as a nation of readers! However, fiction writers have plenty of tools available to give readers what they want. Not the boring, not the mundane lives we often lead, but rolicking adventure and many problems to solve.

My most recent release, Trinity on Tylos, has a main character who has many dilemmas, especially those posed by the malevolent alien presence hovering beside her ride through the galaxy. This book has its roots in those space operas which I have enjoyed since I was a kid, with elements of space travel, advanced weapontry, and robotics, but it has a very human side, when my main character Venice Dylenski is forced to choose between losing her life along with all of her colleagues or saving her people and embarking on a first contact adventure which probably won’t have a happy ending. Venice has many problems, her companion has a problem, and her captor has a really big problem, so there is conflict galore as each person attempts to bring the conflict to a resolution which makes him or her the winner.

In my previous novel, The Gift Horse, the main character has so many problems that I've sometimes been accused of being mean-spirited. Nope, not really. I just wanted to see how far I could push the characters and how many times I could shock my reader without ever getting really graphic. The Gift Horse was an experiment in creation of suspense, and I've had some readers tell me they finished it in twenty-four hours, which I consider success. Indeed, two people told me they finished it the night they began, albeit having very little sleep. After all, it is almost three hundred pages long.

I don’t like stories without character development, and in order to get to know characters, an author has to throw impossible tasks and heart-wrenching dilemmas in their way. Only then can readers and viewers see how these folks deal with adversity. That’s why you have to torment your characters to create memorable stories.

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