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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Congratulations, You Showed Up: Power Porn, Part 2

Hello hello!

So, here's the second half of my exploration of taking it easy on characters. In real life, I'm a social democrat, and I've noticed that supporting people as a society is better for everyone. I'm not here to talk about politics, though, because in fiction, suffering is the way to go. You need to be hard on your characters, and that means making sure that they don't always have the best of everything or an easy time of it. I've been reading too many manuscripts where things come easily, and frankly, that's a bad practice to follow. So, how do you up the ante and the excitement in your story?

Take it easy--actually, don't

Characters need to work against the odds. Sure, you may want to give them a happily ever after, and you totally can, but they need to work for it. This isn't about politics or anything else--success has a price. Winning isn't free. Lunch can't show up on your character's table, or your audience will fall asleep. A simple apology shouldn't be all it takes to win back a lover, conquer a frenemy, defeat an enemy, or solve the world puppy shortage. There's a reason those CEOs and one-percenters are so hated, and it's because their lives are much too easy (there are other reasons, but again, character studies are my focus, not rampant economic corruption and injustice--today, anyhow).

Love takes a toll, and so do relationships. The real difference between a comic book hero and a villain is circumstances and how they deal with them. Even then, the good characters sometimes make bad decisions.  One of the reasons I love Farscape and Doctor Who is that the characters do make bad decisions. Shameless plug time--that was a major factor when I wrote Janelle's character in The Underlighters; she is mostly a Lawful Good sort of person, but there were a few things she did that were, let's say, ethically dubious at best. However, she also had some really shitty runs of luck, which I can't talk about because they would involve blatant spoilers.

How does it go Pete Tong?

The thing that screws over most stories is excessive back-patting. Again, be harsh with your characters. Talking about how their cafe is the bestest or their apartment is the nicest or giving them free money usually make your readers sick. Spoiled people are annoying, and when we have to read about them, doubly so. It cuts into the likeability factor of a protagonist very heavily. Giving them shallow, easy-to-defeat enemies, justifying their actions too much, and rewarding them for the most minor victories is really unpleasant. Playing a game on 'easy' mode is one thing, but reading a story in 'easy' mode is boring as hell unless you're six.

David Tennant is a wonderful actor. But that doesn't excuse the fact that his Doctor gets away with murder and torture.

I don't understand what you're getting at. What do you mean by 'too easy'?

Story time, kids! Here's some flash fic to illustrate a character who's having things work too easily.

Gloria rode through the night, her perfect and completely natural red hair waving behind her on her motorbike like fire in the night. As she pulled up to the curb, removing her helmet in slow motion, a crowd of men turned towards her. A single glance from her emerald eyes was enough to make them all fall over like fainting goats. 

"That was a real nice pull in," said the blonde at the movie theatre's ticket booth grudgingly. 

"Thanks," said Gloria, tossing her hair. "That'll be one for the scariest action flick you have."

"Oh, wow, I didn't know women watching things other than rom-coms," said a handsome stud conveniently walking nearby. "I'm so impressed that you have the self-determination to watch a movie and own a vehicle! It's stunning! Please, marry me." 

One of the men from the curb ran over, his glorious brown eyes cutting into the newcomer. "I saw her first!"

"Sorry, boys, I don't roll like that," said Gloria. She leaned into the booth and seized the blonde by the lapels, kissing her deeply. The blonde fainted, falling back in her seat, and Gloria strode into the movie theatre. 

"What a woman!" said the first stud. "She's such a badass!"

This is an example of a character who doesn't actually do much. Frankly, she's vain, is willing to kiss someone unconsensually (which is basically diet sexual assault), and is a total showboat. But the characters around her are giving her unmerited praise and bending over backwards to be jealous of her. If you gender-swap this character, you basically have any of the protags from Supernatural, Doctor Who, or Sherlock, or without gender-bending her, a very average romance or thriller novel protagonist. The only thing worse than a vain, annoying character who's worshipped by everyone is an inconsistently-written character.

But...but..my character...

Stop it. You won't get anywhere by making them precious and saving them from trouble. I know this from editing my own work. Suffering is necessary in art, but it doesn't have to be yours--usually, it's your characters'. I use badassery as my whipping-boy, but saintliness is just as bad. Characters need flaws and moments without dignity. They need doubt and bad decisions. This is my 'how to fix it' section--hurt your character, and then hurt them more. When you get to your happy ending--or not--you and the reader will both know that the character really, really deserved it. And that's what makes for a good ride, and a good book.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

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