Thursday, January 23, 2014

How much is too much?

Hiya! It's Lisa again, and I'm here today to pick your brains.

"I'm mean to my characters." It's a common phrase among authors. We laugh it off without considering: Are we too mean? Have you ever read a book and considered the conflict to be too much to be realistic for one character? All the twists and turn of events and just bad things in general that was thrown at the character was just too much to be believable? Is it realistic for a person's dog to die, mother to get into a wreck and be in a coma, house burn down and get a snake bite while running away from said burning house...all in one week? Sure we're in the conflict business but we have to consider, what are the odds of this really happening to one person in this time frame. If nil, then perhaps we should reconsider adding in that snake bite. :)

Have you ever pulled back on your character's conflict to make the story more realistic? Do you think that's necessary? Are you staring at your computer screen right now, trying to figure out the best way to say "Shut your yapper, Lisa."

Karlie: This is one of the things that plague me, Lisa. I'm always agonizing over should I have really killed this character? or does this ending seem cheap and overly dramatized because so much went wrong for him? 
So yes, I have pulled back on conflict. Is it necessary? I think it all boils down to making the consequences, good or bad, reflect the character's choices. Just as every action has a reaction in life, every move the character makes needs to have a countermove somewhere in the story. A tragic death in the right place makes the book stick in a reader's mind long after they put it down. A tragic death in the wrong place just results in eye-rolling and the reader going off to find something else to read.
Instead of putting a character through hell just because you can, ask yourself "What needs to happen next, to keep the plot going?" If it calls for more beating up on your character's girlfriend, fine. If not...maybe you better let her off with a warning. ;)

Caitlin: I very rarely have this problem and am  constantly criticized (by my writers group and even my husband :) ) for being way too nice to my characters. I love them and want them to succeed and have fun, which doesn't make for very suspenseful plots.... I have been getting better though. I even had a character run through bullet fire and get nicked in the arm! Only to hear that guns in that situation were unrealistic. Sigh....  I still think though, for me, I should keep trying to put more danger and obstacles  in, at least in early drafts, because that's my challenge. I can always scale back later.

Lisa: In the book I'm planning now, I've been rethinking part of my "plan." I do think I'm being too hard on my character for it to be realistic, hence the idea for this post. But some of these particular plot points still have to come through for the plot to work. I have a character who must decide something. But I've built up his determination too well to make the choice that I need him too. So I was trying to figure out what would make him finally decide this. Got it! This one person he has a bond with says he should do it, they argue about it, then she dies. One of her arguments was life is too short...with her dying, he's got proof in his face that life really is too short. So he decides.

So, what do I do now that I've decided this is too much combined with all the other things I've put him through? I think I'll make it where her death announcement is a misunderstanding. It was someone else who died, but he's not going to be told so for an entire 24 hours. He does his deed before finding out. (It took me a full 24 hours to decide this. LOL, my character was paying me back.) My point is fake it. If some of the stuff you're loading on your character is too much, make one of the bombs you drop an innocent misunderstanding, or make it where someone tricked him. Plot point is met - business is done.

That's my advice. What's yours? Do you think it's possible to put too much bad luck on one character?

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