Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wolves and Sheep

My sheepdog is 105 pounds but looks even larger because of all the hair. In the winter, we let it grow long, let him get back to his primitive self. That hair was supposed to help protect sheepdogs from the inevitable wolf bites when they protected sheep. Naturally, when you’re protecting sheep, you have to expect to meet some wolves.

This makes me think about the wolves and sheep we contend with in our fiction. What I notice some writers doing and what I’ve done myself is sometimes allow a character’s negative qualities to be smoothed over because—no good reason. Maybe it’s because our job as writers is to know all our characters, and so we begin to identify with all of them, and we have an urge to make them stronger and wiser and kinder than they are. This has several negative effects on a manuscript. One major negative is that it weakens conflict in any number of ways.

I think this problem is something a writer can watch out for, particularly in revision, and try to correct. Let your characters be as bad as they need to be, as whatever they need to be, and allow this to lead them to conflict with other characters. It’s conflict that forces the writer into situations that build story, character, etc… as well as tension.

Or so I think today.

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