Intriguing Observations: Putting the Hurt On to Create a Compelling Page-Turner
The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Agency, Wendy Paine Miller (@wendypmiller)
I’m not shy about admitting characters are the heart and soul of why I write. That said, I also understand the inherent value of putting protagonists to the test—shoving them in the fire to see how they fare. Everyone roots for an Abednego. Readers love stories of triumph.
But in order to give them that, first you need to create the fire.
Here are specific ways to douse gasoline on your character’s goals:
Back Her into a Corner
Take away her resources. Introduce complications into the relationships she trusts most. Plot your story so your protagonist is faced with gut-wrenching decisions.
Play Up Her Strengths
The earlier you invest in establishing the likability factor—developing a well-liked main character, the more readers will grip their seats when her head’s on the chopping block. We don’t want the bad guy to win. We especially don’t want the bad guy to win when he’s threatening the life (or goals) of the beloved MC.
“No matter what types of protagonists and antagonists you use, though, keep in mind that conflict is what will bring your characters to life and make them real for the reader. When you describe a character, you give the reader an image of him. But when you put him to the test by putting into conflict, then he springs to life. He is forced to make a decision and act upon that decision.” –Elizabeth George
Tap into Her Weak Spots
You’ve done well if you’ve exuded what your character feels passionately about from chapter one in your novel. You want your reader to empathize—to feel how badly it hurts when your antagonist presses into her bruised, sensitive wound. Because you’ve depicted your protagonist’s vulnerabilities for the reader in advance, they know exactly when to cringe. And when to shout mercy.
At times you might need to remind yourself you are causing your MC to scream ouch for the sake of writing an impossible-to-put-down novel.
Don’t Invent an Easy or Unrealistic Way Out
Readers are smart. They can sniff out an over contrived or slapdash escape. Think long and hard about how your protagonist will walk out of the fire. A woman who has never arm wrestled in her life is not about to turn into a ninja fighter, dropkicking her enemies into oblivion.
Intensify Flames to Trigger Worry
James Scott Bell asserts, “In fact, one could argue that the skill of the fiction writer boils down to the ability to exploit intensity.”
Increase conflict. If the protagonist’s problem starts with raining cats and dogs, make it build with a downpour of sharp-horned wildebeests, then send in the torrential storm of rhinos. Put the hurt on.
Bring Her to the End of Her Rope
The most loveable and memorable characters are those who overcome. But before they can reach that prevailing place, you serve the story to exhaust your protagonist. Strip her of her defenses. Tire her out. Make her believe that there’s no way she’ll be able to endure one more hardship.
Then do what all adept novelists do, lead her out of the fire. She may be covered in ashes. She might reek of charred fumes. But have her walk from the flames victorious. A powerful resolve after all that pain.
*I used “her” in my examples because I’m a women’s fiction writer
Wendy Paine Miller’s works have been published in anthologies and on numerous websites. Having completed eight women’s fiction manuscripts, Wendy is just getting started. She feels most alive when she’s speeding in a boat, reading, writing, refurbishing furniture, laughing, running, and trusting God. Wendy lives with her husband and three children. She’s represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Agency. Wendy appreciates connecting with readers. She’d love for you to visit her blog: http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ @wendypmiller (twitter)