Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bad Things to Good People

Sometimes bad things happen to good people and that is one of my grievances against the one running things in this universe. But we fiction writers need conflict and drama, and we need bad things to happen to our characters, even the good ones. It’s a bad deal for them. Certainly it is not fair. But if we don’t let bad things happen for the good of the story, we deprive our story of tension and depth.

We have to let our characters go through whatever they have to go through. We can’t turn away at crucial moments because we want to make things easier for them or we don’t want to face the hard things they need to face.

This can be as painful for us as for them. I’ve read some work in manuscript, written some myself, where the author loves his characters so much he/she lessens the bad thing that is happening in the story or the effect of the bad thing. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s natural to want to help. We’ve got the power, after all; it’s one place we can really make things right.

We can’t.

Alas, we must be brutal. Maybe things will work out in the end but our characters need to go through what they need to go through to get there.

I’m sorry.

So now that I write this I have to wonder if my grievance against the one in charge of the universe might be misplaced. Does he/she have to let these things happen? Will the story be weakened if he/she doesn’t?


Taylor K. said...

This is a very interesting post that one could go into a huge debate about in a number of directions. I know what you mean about having to let the bad things happen. Sometimes it doesn't matter how much you love a character. They might just have to be put through hell for the story to work. From a fictional stand point, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO wouldn't have been such a brilliant story if Edmund Dantes had just become a ship captain, and not had his entire life ripped away from him. From a religious side, the story of Jesus wouldn't have nearly same implications if He simply died of old age in a cave somewhere.

Oftentimes, how the character (or even person in reality like with FDR) suffers is the most distinctive thing about them. Take that away out of love and you lose what makes Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Tale of Genji, and so many other things so interesting.

Brian Yansky said...

Absolutely. I'd prefer to have only good things happen to my characters but there really wouldn't be any story then.