A popular post from September 2009
By Julie Wright
I read a book several years ago where the characters did a great job of avoiding trouble. They skirted around it in all sorts of creative ways, but never actually confronted trouble head on. I never finished the book. I gave it a good shot--way more than it deserved and read 200 pages before frustration took over and I gave up.
Nothing was happening. YAWN.
Your characters have to get into trouble because that's what creates conflict. Conflict is interesting. Trouble is interesting. Trouble can also be . . . well . . . trouble.
I don't know about you, but sometimes my characters are great at getting into major trouble, but not so great at getting out again. They can wind up in all sorts of huge calamities, the entire world can be falling to piece around them and I agonize over how to piece that world back together again.
Over time I've learned that if my characters can get into a fine mess, they'd better just get themselves out.
Convenience is a writer's enemy. It's tempting to help your characters out and throw them the olive branch of convenience, but you aren't doing them (or yourself) any favors. Convenience looks just like it is--too convenient. You lose your reader's trust when you start making your characters do things that don't make sense to the character you've developed. You can't betray the persona's you've created simply because you NEED the character to get up in the middle of the night and go downstairs for leftover cheesecake so they can overhear a conversation that will lead them to the murderer when your character is a deep sleeper and they're allergic to cheesecake.
Stay away from convenience.
And your character got into their own trouble . . . make them smart enough and resourceful enough to get out of it. We like characters who can think on their feet. The damsel in distress who always needs to be taken care of by the hunky hero is really not compelling. A butt-kickin' chick who can break out of her own prisons? She's someone we want to read about, even if it is her own fault she landed herself in prison.
Also stay away from false conflicts.
The kind where the character thinks they are in all kinds of life threatening peril but in reality the character's best friend is in control the whole time. It's the difference between the tummy tickle of a roller coaster while you're strapped into the train car and the tummy tickle you get when jumping out of an airplane dependant only on a parachute that you packed yourself. Did you pack it right? Do you know how soon to pull the cord? That is the parachute on your back, right? You didn't grab your backpack by mistake?
That real peril--way more interesting.
At least in books. I don't personally make habits out of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. I don't care who packed the chute.