Wednesday, May 07, 2014

STRUGGLE


 I believe there is an important principle for authors to remember when writing fiction. This is: the victory a character achieves is directly proportional to the struggle needed to acquire that victory. The greater the struggle, the greater the victory. And the greater the struggle, the more readers will pull for that character to win and take joy when he or she does.

This holds true no matter the ‘level’ of the struggle. It doesn’t have to be a fight to the death. It doesn’t have to be a “save humanity or it goes extinct” kind of conflict. A child struggling against prejudice, a woman struggling to escape an abusive relationship, a man striving to find meaning in a world where he feels like a spent coin are all examples of the kinds of struggles that could, and have, become engaging fiction.

I’m reading a book now where the writer didn’t know this simple fact, or at least hasn’t illustrated his knowledge of it so far. The book is Zanthar of the Many Worlds by Robert Moore Williams. A man is transported to another planet. Within a few moments he acquires some allies who decide he’s a god, and he defeats a horde of attackers. He kills something referred to as a “miniature dinosaur” with one blow from a “copper  hammer” he’d been carrying in his lab when the transportation occurred. He has no problem communicating with his new friends, one of whom proves capable of healing any wound merely by laying hands on it and concentrating.

First I’m yawning. Then I start to scan. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a day on this real world where everything has gone that easily. And I've never even had to kill a miniature dinosaur with a hammer. Is the author going to get a clue? I’ll give it another dozen pages or so and see. I’m not confident.
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20 comments:

cs harris said...

I'm always amazed by how easily writers forget things they know. I'm thinking I'll print this out and stick it up near my computer! Well said.

Heather said...

Funny, it's usually the first thing I think of if I get an idea for a story!

Randy Johnson said...

I was mildly interested for a minute by the cover. But I'd likely be as bored as yiu seem, it's all so easy.

Seth Lindberg said...

Charles, nice post. I think you mean a "direct relationship" rather than an "inverse relationship" between struggle & reward.

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, thanks. Yes, it seems pretty easy to fall into bad habits.

Heather, I think the author was probably hired to quickly churn out some titles and just took the easy route.

Randy, yeah, the cover and the idea that it was sword and planet had me interested but...meh.

Seth, you are correct. Thanks.

Cloudia said...

Another important writing lesson, Charles!


Thanks. Aloha

Ty Johnston said...

Oh, thank goodness. I thought you were going to talk about one of my books. :-)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Makes you realize how boring a perfect day can really be.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, thankee.

Ty, dude, Of course not.

Alex, indeed.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I'd have picked up this book and read it solely on the Conan-like cover, but then covers can be deceptive.

Angie said...

I've run into writers who loved their protag so much, they didn't want to do anything mean to him/her. :/ Also writers who wrote out wish-fulfilment fantasies where their avatar-protag had everything go right for him or her, and they became rich and powerful and adored, and the bad guys were all stupid and cardboard-evil and easily defeated. I suspect this guy is one or the other of these types. And I agree, their work is generally pretty boring to read.

Angie

Lisa said...

writing I think is about having a voice

Tyhitia Green said...

Charles,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that novel. Never heard of it before. More importantly, thanks for the writing advice. ;)

Okay, so now I don't feel bad about being so mean to my characters. Lol.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, I got it because I heard it was sword and planet and I'm a big fan of the genre. This is not a good example, though

Angie, I also wonder if the writer thought he was writing just for 12 year old boys who might enjoy such wish fulfillment stuff. Although I'm probably doing 12 year old boys a disservice.

Lisa, a hugely important element, and not much of a voice in this tale.

Tyhitia, yeah, be mean as can be too them. It's our job! :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

It took me five complete edits of my ms. to figure out the exact nature of the struggle. It turned out to be very different from what I thought.

the walking man said...

Boring is the read when the author transfers their own personal hatred of conflict onto the page of fiction. dull dull dull.

Brian Miller said...

so true...it does make for a pretty good yawn when everything comes so easy for the hero in the story...and it def does not relate to real life...got my 28 page paper done...so i think i should go slay a dino pretty easy....

Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, the overall struggle for sure. But smaller individual struggles have to happen all along the way and this one doesn't give us much of that.

Mark, yes indeed. Or even the arising of conflict that is so easily dispatched you hardly knew it was there.

Brian, my students were in agony over having to do a 10 page paper, with 8 pages of text. You'd thought I would have assigned them to rewrite War and Peace.

Angie said...

Charles -- LOL! When I was doing lower division, the teacher would assign an essay, say 800-1000 words. All the other kids would be moaning and griping, "How can I write 800 words on this?!" and I'd be moaning and griping, "What the heck can you say in 1000 words?!" :D I guess you can tell who's destined to be a writer.

Angie

Charles Gramlich said...

Angie, absolutely. :)