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Welcome all dreamers, fantasists, bibliophiles, and romantics. Join me Mondays and Fridays for speculation about other worlds, exploration of the human heart and soul in fiction and fact, sojourns in history and science, advice and tidbits in the realms of story, and thoughts on everything in between...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Throwing Rocks at Characters

This year has been crazy for me. I’ve had one thing to deal with after another. When I thought about them the other day, I realized my list might make a good example of how an author can hurl rocks at a character.

Rocks represent difficulties, injuries (physical, emotional, mental, or any other form), and trials. For an author, throwing rocks is an essential component of making a story interesting. If a character doesn’t struggle and, yes, hurt, he doesn’t arrest our attention for long.

So, if I were a fictional character, here would by my list of rocks thrown at me this year. At the end of it, however, I’ll get into why it’s actually a poor series of things to do in a story.

In 2013, I had to weather the following:

3 deaths in the family

2 miscarriages

My husband losing his job

Another 3 family members ending up in the ER, two of them multiple times

Having to short sell my house because we couldn’t afford it anymore

A scare where we thought my eldest son might have hearing problems (Turns out, it’s an easy fix, but still.)

A fallout with two other family members. (Doing better on that one, but we’re still not fully recovered.)

Because of all this, a pretty thorough destruction of any plans I’d made this year for my career as an author, in fact, a flat out stalling, or nearly so, at times. I barely managed to get the sequel to Red and the Wolf to my editor in a reasonable timeframe.

And to top it off, another of my sons brought home the flu from school to share with us this Christmas.

As you can see, it was a pretty hellish year. Now at the end of it, I can’t wait for 2014, a year I’m determined must be better.

So as much as this may seem like a nice list of rocks to throw, there’s a major difference between it and actual rocks in a story, a difference that makes this list unfeasible in fiction: lack of purpose and unbelievability.

Life doesn’t have to make sense. In fact, it often doesn’t. Why all these things happened to me has tugged at my mind with unanswered question for months and each time a new one got added. I’ve searched for purpose, but found little.

Fiction, on the other hand, must make sense. Everything that occurs in fiction has to fit snuggly into everything else and come with a purpose. If I were to talk even half this list and write it into a story, I would be hard pressed to make it believable to a reader. In fact, most readers would roll their eyes at my “melodramatic overuse” of hurtful events. They might even toss the story aside and say, “This is all ridiculous. No one goes through all that. The author is just trying to make the hero suffer.” It wouldn’t matter that such things do happen in real life. My year is testament to that. But we read fiction, in part, to make sense of life; therefore, if it makes as little sense as real life, readers usually lose interest.

When looking for rocks to throw at characters, by all means, draw inspiration for real life, but make sure the fictional events have purpose and true impact. In essence, ensure all those rocks help push the hero toward a satisfying climax. If they don’t, they probably don’t need to be in the story.

Can you name any example of stories that handle the rock throwing well and stories that do it poorly? Which held your attention the longest?


Be sure to swing back by on Monday for our next segment of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, where we’ll learn more of how to execute a story well.

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